Improved understanding of sublevel blasting : Determination of the extent of the compacted zone, its properties and the effects on caving

Abstract: Sublevel caving (SLC) is a mass mining method relying on the flowability of the blasted material. The ore is blasted in slices against caved material which is mainly waste rock. The result of the confined blast is greatly influenced by the interaction between the blasted material and the caved material. During blasting both materials change characteristics; the blasted material increases its porosity and compressibility due to breakage and swelling while the caved material is compacted and decreases in porosity and compressibility. The understanding of the mechanisms involved in this process is of significant importance.The behavior of the caved material (confining material) was studied in laboratory under dynamic loading. A new apparatus was developed to conduct impact tests to simulate blasting conditions. The tested material was a blend of crushed waste rock from drift development in the Kiirunavaara mine with maximum particle size 32 mm. The material was tested for two conditions, i.e. dry and wet (pendular state), and with different impact velocities (low (5 m/s), medium (8 m/s) and high (10-12 m/s)). During the impact tests, two types of measurements were taken; dynamic measurements based on the recordings from the installed accelerometers on the machine and static measurements pre- and post-impact. Additionally, the angle of repose, the impact duration, and the fragmentation was measured.In addition to the laboratory tests, small-scale blasting tests were carried out to investigate the burden behavior in confined conditions. The blasted specimen was a cuboid magnetic mortar block and the confining material was crushed concrete with maximum particle size 16 mm. The blocks were instrumented with custom-made incremental displacement sensor.After the analysis of the results from the above experimental work, two confined pillar tests (test #1 and test #2) were carried out at the Kiirunavaara mine. The preparation work for the pillar tests involved the development of instrumentation and installation techniques. The experimental configuration contained two blastholes and measurement holes in between the blastholes drilled from the neighboring drift. Test #1 mainly focused on the evaluation of the instrumentation and techniques while test #2 was focused on the interaction between the blasted burden and the confining material. The confining material in test #1 was a blend of ore and waste material from drift development at the Kiirunavaara mine. The characteristics of the material were unknown. Test #2 was split into two parts, the confining material in the first part was the same as in the laboratory impact tests and the second part of the pillar was confined by caved masses.The instrumentation was installed in the burden of the pillars and was equipped with accelerometers and displacement sensor. Additional instrumentation was also installed in the confining material.The burden in the small-scale blasting tests reached maximum velocity 29 m/s and maximum displacement 12.6 mm. In pillar tests, the burden movement was in the range of 0.9 to 1.1 m. In both pillar tests, burden erosion material was observed in the gap between the intact and the blasted burden. This material was finer compared to the blasted burden. The origin of this material was from the vicinity of the blastholes.The results of the laboratory tests showed that the wet material exhibited larger compaction zone than that of the dry material. The wet material showed apparent cohesion close to the impact surface of the tested material. A similar observation was made in test #2 where an agglomeration of the confining material, as a result of apparent cohesion, was observed on the surface of the blasted burden. The displacement data from the instrumentation in the burden and inside the confining material showed that the compaction zone follows an inverse exponential behavior. After the blast steeper angles of repose were measured indicating higher frictional forces between the particles. Moreover, the evidence of apparent cohesion and a larger angle of repose indicated the introduction of tensile strength in the material.The mass of the confining material was compressed elastically and plastically during the blast. After the blast, the material recovered its elastic deformation and pushed the blasted burden backward as observed in the small-scale blasting tests and the pillar tests. At this stage, the burden erosion material was compacted. Hence, there were 3 materials, i.e. burden erosion material, burden and confining material, which were compacted with different compaction rates. This condition promotes interlocking of the particles in the materials. If this behavior is correlated with a production SLC ring, then it indicates disturbances in flowability of the blasted material.