Undercut-and-Fill Mining - Introduction to Undercut-and-Fill Mining

Murray, Joseph W.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 8
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
GENERAL DESCRIPTION The undercut-and-fill method of mining was devel¬oped by Inco Ltd. in the Sudbury district of Ontario, Canada, to deal with abnormal ground conditions en¬countered in pillar recovery. Although it is now some¬times utilized as a primary stoping method, the main application continues to be in pillar recovery. In any mining method in which fill is employed, pillar systems tend to fail gradually as stoping pro¬gresses. As a result, most pillars are completely destressed and broken by the time pillar recovery com¬mences. Control of the back in such ground becomes a major problem and is contingent on local conditions as they exist in the workplace. In most mining methods, operations such as drilling, blasting, slushing, and tim¬bering can be readily assessed and the mining cycle pre¬dicted. However, in the mining of pillars with overhand methods, the time and effort required to maintain a safe back varies to a quite unpredictable extent. For years the square-set method was the most effective means available for pillar recovery. However, in areas where bad ground was encountered, square setting was a costly and sometimes hazardous method. As the tonnage mined from pillars increased, it was apparent that a safer and less expensive approach was required. Past experience indicated that the best way to deal with broken ground was to mine from the top down. Top slicing systems were examined but were rejected due to the major sub¬sidence which resulted. However, ideas generated from studying top slicing finally developed into the present method of undercut-and-fill. This method, which has almost completely replaced square-set mining, exhibits reduced costs, has improved safety and efficiency, elimi¬nates the factor of bad ground overhead, and allows a closer prediction of the actual mining cycle. The result is more accurate scheduling of pillar production. This factor is of increasing importance as the tonnage from pillar recovery increases in relation to total mine pro¬duction. Undercut-and-fill is a method of extracting a block of ore by mining successive cuts, working from the top down. After a cut of ore is completely mined out, lami¬nated timber stringers are constructed along the sides for the full length of the cut. Round logs covered by a wire screen are laid across the stringers to form a mat. The cut is then tightly filled with hydraulically placed cemented sand fill. Mining is then resumed on the cut immediately below the mat. As the cut advances, the timber stringers are supported by round timber posts seated on the solid bottom of the cut. Drilling, blasting, muck removal, and timbering operations are repeated until all the ore in the cut has been removed. At this time, another log mat is laid and the cut is filled. This sequence is continued until the block has been mined from level to level. The basic principles of undercut-and-fill can be adapted to a variety of mining situations. It can be applied transversely or longitudinally in ore bodies of varying width, that dip from vertical to flat lying. The method can be applied using conventional equipment or it can be mechanized through the introduction of small diesel or air-powered units for muck removal. Undercut¬and-fill is a selective method, ore recovery is high, and dilution can be controlled to an acceptable level. How¬ever, it is a high-cost, labor-intensive method and as such its use is restricted to areas where the less costly meth¬ods of ground support are not successful or where bulk mining methods are not adaptable. One basic require¬ment for undercut-and-fill is an adequate source of hydraulically placed cemented sand fill and a dependable sand plant and distribution system. The success of the undercut method is to a large degree dependent on the competence of the fill placed in each of the successive cuts. In theory, the weight of the fill on each cut is supported in part by the cemented sand itself as it binds to the rough sides of the mined¬out areas next to the pillar walls, and in part by the tim¬ber support. As mining progresses beneath the mat, a downward pressure is exerted within the cemented fill and a voussoir arch develops above the mat, across the full width of the cut. This supports the major portion of the load. The log mat and posts have a double func¬tion in that they carry the remaining weight not sup¬ported by the voussoir arch and in addition prevent any pronounced settling of the fill mass. Excessive settling breaks the bond between the cemented fill and the pillar walls, eliminating the arch effect and transferring the entire load to the mat and posts. The theory of a voussoir arch forming within the cemented sand fill mass is substantiated in practice by the fact that pillars have been mined from level to level with no more significant weight on the bottom cuts than was experienced on the top cuts. In effect, as mining progresses downward, there is no additional transfer of weight from previous cuts to the cut being mined. APPLICATION OF UNDERCUT-AND-FILL Because of their size, the Sudbury ore bodies are, for the most part, mined transversely and, to a considerable extent, by filling methods. Transverse stoping blocks are designed with 9-m (30-ft) crown pillars established be¬low each level and with stopes separated by vertical rib pillars. In past years, floor pillars were left above the level as well, but present practice favors the silling of primary stopes at the base of the rail. Rib pillars are designed to meet the ground control requirements of the primary stoping methods. Local conditions and past experience generally dictate their size. Historically, since the square-set method was to be used for recovery, rib pillars were designed to accommo¬date standard 1.7-m (5'h-ft) sets. A typical rib pillar is four sets wide [6.7 m (22 ft)] when located between two square-set or cut-and-fill stopes having a width of 8.4 m (27.5 ft). When the undercut-and-fill method was de¬veloped, a mat width of two sets was adopted. This di¬vided each cut of the common four-set pillar into two
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