Rapid construction is the key to success in mining.  Alan Moss of Rio Tinto heads up the research part of Rio Tinto in Vancouver.   In a fine speech this morning at the 2009 SME conference he told us how a program he is managing is succeeding in find new ways to drive drifts faster and more cost-effectively so that block caving can begin sooner.  Here is the abstract of his paper:

A number of very large scale underground mines are in various stages of development.  A common characteristic is the need for many kilometers of development of drifting prior to production start.  Even a small increase in the drifting rate can have enormous economic consequences.  The Rio Tinto program to increase development rates is discussed.

He prepared no technical paper but if you contact W, Hustrulid with NIOSH in Spokane, WA, he will send you a copy of Alan’s PowerPoint presentation and the presentations of the other presenters in the session on Controlled Blasting and Rapid Excavation. 

Not being an expert my summary in the following is probably not comprehensive.  But here goes.  It seems that civil engineers can achieve advance rates of 10 to 15 m a day in the construction of tunnels.  F. Nilsen in a talk following Alan’s, told of advance rates in tunnels in Norway of up to 30 m per day. 

Bu comparison Alan noted that typical mining rates are less than 4 m per day.  At Diavik, Alan lead a team that increased such low rates to nearly 6 m a day.  And he believes they could get to 10 m a day given the right circumstances. 

In the presentations and Q&As of the session some explanations for the difference of tunnel advance rates in civil and mining engineering were discussed.  Seems as though the use of the right equipment and trained teams is the the key to fast tunneling.  Equipment includes computerized drilling, proper blasting caps, and measuring tools to quantify what you are doing.  Teams include skilled people with the best communications equipment, training, and high pay.  It seems as though civil engineers do more planning and work the plan than miners who leave the “planning” to the shift boss and the experience of the driller.

As an outsider to both civil and mining tunneling practice, I sure got the impression there is enormous opportunity for miners to see and copy what civil engineers do to rapidly advance tunnels.  it will be difficult for there are different cultures.  History and precedent play important roles in the practices in each industry.  Pay scales also differ and hence the nature and motivation of the teams at the face of the tunnel who make the rate or fail to advance on schedule. 

We can only trust that Alan and his teams succeed in finding ways to change mining cultures and practices and hence make mining more rapid and hence profitable.