The Mechanics and Design of Sublevel Caving Systems

Kvapil, Rudolf
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 18
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
INTRODUCTION Sublevel mining is a mass mining method based upon the utilization of gravity flow of the blasted ore and the caved overlying waste rock mass. As with any other mining method, sublevel caving has advantages and dis¬advantages which must be carefully considered and evaluated. The major advantages of sublevel caving are dis¬cussed as follows: Because all of the mining activities are executed in or from relatively small openings, sublevel caving is one of the safest mining methods. Drifts, which are the pri¬mary working places, are distributed in a uniform pat¬tern on all levels. Normally the maximum dimensions of the sublevel drifts are about 5 m wide and 3.7 m high. The transportation drifts can have the same section, or the height may be increased to about 4.5 m when trucks are loaded in the transport drifts. The stability and safety of such drifts in competent rock can be easily controlled by smooth blasting or by a combination of smooth blasting with shotcreting. In less competent rock masses, stability can be achieved by combined reinforc¬ing, for example, by a combination of smooth blasting, shotcreting, and rockbolting. The major mining activities can be broken down into three groups: drifting and reinforcing; ore fragmenta¬tion, i.e., production drilling and blasting; and ore draw¬ing, loading, and transportation, and all are relatively simple. Because of the repetitive nature of the mining system, one can standardize almost completely all min¬ing activities. This means that a high degree of work efficiency can be achieved. Because the components of mining production in sublevel caving can be standardized, a high degree of mechanization is possible. In modern sublevel caving the sections of drifts and tunnels are sufficiently large to allow the introduction of large trackless mining equip¬ment. The advantages of a trackless system can be then broadly utilized not only for direct mining but also for all services, including the transportation of mining per¬sonnel to the working place. The flexibility of mining is very good. Standardiza¬tion and specialization of mining activities and equip¬ment on separate levels (lower level or levels in de¬velopment, upper level or levels in production mining) together with the trackless system yield a high degree of flexibility. This allows a rapid start-up of mining and good flexibility in making production rate changes. The method lends itself to good work concentration, organization, and working conditions. Normally, on the lower levels, various phases of development are under¬way. Upper levels are in various stages of extraction. Therefore the work can be easily organized into a sys¬tem which excludes interference between mining activi¬ties. Safety of mining (in small dimension openings), good work organization, high mechanization using large modern mining equipment, etc., comprise very good working conditions. Naturally such a system enables a high work concentration and rationalization of separate specialized mining activities and therefore mining by sublevel caving can be effective and relatively in¬expensive. The major disadvantages of sublevel caving, on the other hand, are: There is a relatively high dilution of the ore by caved waste. Various types of ore loss can occur. When the ex¬traction limit (that point yielding the maximum accept¬able amount of dilution) is reached, the remaining highly diluted ore represents an ore loss. Some ore is lost in passive zones located on the level of extraction between the active zones of the gravity flow. Part of the ore from these passive zones can be recovered together with ore extraction on the lower sublevel, but some un¬diluted and often not fragmented ore located in passive zones above the plane of the footwall is lost. In gen¬eral, these losses are larger as the inclination of the ore body and the footwall is reduced. A relatively large amount of development is re¬quired. This includes transport drifts, usually located in the footwall waste rock on each sublevel, and sub¬level drifts, which connect the active mining areas to the transport drifts and as a result are partially in ore and partially in the waste rock of the footwall. The waste rock length increases as the inclination of the ore body and footwall decreases. It also includes orepasses, used for transport of the ore or waste from the separate sublevels downward to the main haulage level, and normally driven in waste; and inclined drifts or tunnels, which provide a connection for the trackless equipment between the main haulage level and the separate sublevels and are driven in waste. Finally there is the de¬struction of the surface through subsidence. To maximize the ore recovery, minimize the dilu¬tion, and achieve a high efficiency of mining by sub¬level caving, good data regarding the gravity flow pa¬rameters for the blasted ore and the caved waste are of utmost importance. The exact type and amount of data required depend upon the purpose and needs of the study. For the first feasibility study, it may be sufficient to utilize the data from other sublevel caving operations with similar conditions and circumstances. For any higher level of mine planning it is clear that more exact data, including analytical and experimental analyses up to full-scale in-situ testing, are necessary. Basic gravity flow principles and design guidelines for the application of the sublevel caving mining method are presented in the following sections. Although some¬what simplified, they should provide a basis for mine planning and operation. The gravity flow principles described can be effectively applied to other mining situations, with some modification. Also, steep dipping coal seams can be effectively mined by modified sub¬level caving.
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