Block Craving - General Description

Tobie, Ray L. ; Julin, Douglas E.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 6
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
GENERAL DESCRIPTION Block caving is a distinct caving method applied mostly to large, massive, ore bodies because of its in¬herent low cost and high production capabilities. Areas of sufficient size are removed by undercutting so that the mass above will cave naturally. Drawing of the caved ore at the bottom of the ore column causes the caving action to continue upward until all of the ore above the undercut level is broken into sizes suitable for handling. When properly applied, block caving results in a lower mining cost per ton than any other under¬ground method. There are three distinct forms: (1) dividing the horizontal area into rectangular or preferably square or nearly square blocks, drawing evenly over the entire area to maintain an approximately horizontal plane of con¬tact between broken ore and caved capping; (2) divid¬ing the horizontal area into panels across the ore body, retreating by undercutting manageable areas from one end of the panel to the other and maintaining an in¬clined plane of contact between the broken ore and caved capping (thus the name panel caving); and (3) no division of horizontal area of the ore body into defi¬nite blocks or panels (this is termed mass caving). Undercutting may be from wall to wall, retreating from one end of the ore body to the other, maintaining an inclined plane of contact between the broken ore and caved capping. The total active caved area is deter¬mined by the size of block that will not produce undue stress on workings below the undercutting level and by total production requirements. This type of operation is also referred to as panel caving at some properties. SUITABLE ORE BODIES Block caving in its various forms is applicable to deposits of various shapes and ores of various strengths. Its success is governed by rigid requirements and limi¬tations. In unsuitable deposits or where improperly em¬ployed, the loss of ore may exceed that of any other mining method. Good planning, systematic work pro¬cedures, careful supervision, and good judgment con¬tribute to its success. Ore Characteristics Included as a necessary characteristic in an ore body suited to a successful block-caving operation is a proper fracture pattern. Ore hardness should be another gov¬erning factor, and the toughness or softness of the ore should be considered. There must be sufficient horizon¬tal area available for expansion of the undercut, if neces¬sary, to start the caving process. Large, massive, ore bodies usually meet these conditions. Veinlike deposits must be wide and dip rather steeply to conform to the block-caving limitations. The capping must be of such a nature as to cave when the underlying ore is being removed since the weight of the overburden aids in crushing the ore. The most favorable capping character¬istic is that it breaks into coarse pieces and resists attrition as the block is drawn. Soft capping, by breaking into fine pieces and sifting into the ore or channeling through the ore to the drawpoints, can seriously dilute the ore and hinder the extraction of clean ore from the blocks. Types of Ore In block caving, a fairly uniform distribution of val¬ues in the ore is necessary. Grade values may range from low grade to high grade, but most often the sys¬tem is applied to low-grade ores. Wide veins, thick beds, or massive deposits of homogeneous ore overlain by ground which will cave constitute suitable ore bodies. The ore must be such that it can be supported while blocks are being developed and undercut but breaks up readily when caved. Some applications include porphyry copper, disseminated molybdenite, hematite in the Lake Superior iron district, limonite deposits in northern Spain, the diamond mines of South Africa, asbestos and nickel in Canada, and massive magnetite in Pennsylvania. Size and Shape Outline of the ore body should be fairly regular, and the sides of the ore body should dip steeply. It may not be economical to mine small portions of ore extending into the walls of the deposit, and low-grade inclusions in the ore cannot be left unmined. Some dilution of the ore, as mining progresses, by low-grade or barren cap¬ping is inevitable and, unavoidably, some clean ore is left between drawpoints. Determining Cavability The use of rock mechanics is sometimes advantageous in helping to determine the cavability of an ore deposit. The US Bureau of Mines has information and testing ability which can assist in determining the cavability of ore types. Several competent consulting orga¬nizations knowledgeable in rock mechanics can also as¬sist in evaluating the cavability of an ore body. Some recent work has been done to better define the cavability index of various ore bodies; an example of how this was determined is discussed by McMahon and Kendrick (1969). The intensity of the fracture pattern is a critical parameter to be analyzed. The question to be answered is, "How intense must the fracture pattern be?" Table 1 is a tabulation of the size of rock fragments that appear at the drawpoint of various block-cave mines around the world. These are indicative of the fracture-pattern spac¬ing and, as can be seen, they vary substantially from the almost sandy material at the Mather mine to fairly sizable blocks at the Grace mine. Several sets of fractures are essential to promote good caving. Ideally, two vertical sets at nearly right angles to each other and a third set nearly horizontal are required to insure a good caving ore body. Since initial caving of an ore mass is almost always by the action of gravity acting on these planes of weakness, it is doubtful
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