Rio Tinto has partnered with CRCMining, Newcrest, and Elexon Electronics to develop cave flow tracking systems for use in block caving operations.
CRCMining’s cave tracking technology uses 3D positioning systems to enable real-time monitoring of sensors in the block cave, which move with the ore, to optimise flow of caved materials and minise ore dilution.
“The Cave Tracker system will enable real time mapping of cave material movement, which can be used to minimise dilution and maximise recovery from caves,” CRCMining’s hard rock and surface mining program leader Dihon Tadic said.
“Monitoring the material flow in block caves has not been possible previously, leading to poor control of block cave operations and sub-optimal outcomes.
“The technology will assist in development of improved caving models, which will enable miners to design better cave layouts, ultimately improving mine safety and productivity,” he said.
Rio Tinto’s general manager of geotechnical engineering and cave management for copper, Andre van As, explained the miner’s support, stating “we now have a way of remotely and wirelessly tracking rock mass movements in real-time, and preserve the integrity of the resources”.
“It has application in every method.”
Rio Tinto has been one of the major developers of the block caving methods, implementing it at its former Northparkes mine and the Argyle Diamond mine.
Rio Tinto has even created a professorial chair in geotechnical engineering at the University of NSW to support it.
“This is an exciting partnership that will enable us to develop a world-leading research, teaching and training effort in the growing field of underground mining and block caving,” the dean of engineering at UNSW, Graham Davies, stated.
Head of UNSW School of Mining, Bruce Hebblewhite, explained that "this partnership recognises the importance of geotechnical engineering as a core element for successful and safe underground mining.
"[Block caving] is the lowest cost underground mining method available and is growing rapidly around the world….and there is a significant shortage of people with skills in these areas," Hebblewhite added.
Regarding the technology and this latest block caving partnership, van As said “the real value is in preserving the security and integrity of the resource”.
“By monitoring the flow of material in real-time we can potentially minimise the dilution in recovering ore from the block cave, thereby improving performance.
“The technology will also significantly improve safety, and enable better management of the mine.”
CRCMining initially developed the Cave Tracker concept, after which it invited Newcrest Mining and Elexon Electronics to develop it into a commercial system, with Rio Tinto now joining the venture.
Testing as a first generation commercial product is slated for mid 2014.