Drill and blast is an essential step in a mining operation with many flow-on effects from the outcome of the blast. When there are poor blasting results such as excessive dilution or poor diggability, the first finger pointed is often towards the drill and blast team. With the perception that drill and blast is a simple process, how can the drill and blast team get it so wrong?
The Problem: Poor Communication Lines
I have had the privilege of visiting many operations around the world and there is one observation that is clear about sites with poor blast outcomes – they tend to have poor communication and cooperation with other departments. Conversely, sites with great blast outcomes usually have highly functional drill and blast teams who engage in high levels of communication and cooperation.
A great blast requires many teams working together, and not just internally with drill and blast personnel. In a planning phase, effective communication is essential between drill and blast engineers with their technical services colleagues. Likewise, in an implementation phase, effective communication is a must between engineers and drill and blast crews, and additionally between the drill and blast crews and all operational teams.
The Solution: One Team, One Dream
In the early stages of my career, I learnt a lot about inter-team cooperation through daily production meetings on mine sites. A good production meeting allowed us to stay agile and responsive to issues, as well as highlight successes. These meetings were held in rooms that were jokingly called ‘war-rooms’, so I am sure that paints a picture of the types of conversations that happened here. So, how did we stay cooperative? Luckily, we had a great Mining Manager who fostered cooperation simply by repeating his favourite catchphrase, “one team, one dream”.
Now, it is probably obvious to everyone reading this that cooperation and communication is crucial to any operations. The question is whether it is practiced in your operation. Another observation I have made so far is that cooperation between teams on site is actually not so common. Sure, implementing new technologies and blasting methodologies to overcome issues is important, but so is making sure everyone involved has clarity over the geological features, planning requirements, as well as drilling and blasting constraints.
Good Cooperation On-Site
What does good cooperation between Technical Services departments look like? This is a question that every team on site should be asking themselves. Can every person honestly say that they go above and beyond to help each other achieve excellence? Does everyone take time out of their day in ensuring all communication has been understood through clear and transparent conversations?
In this article we will start with the interaction between the mine planning and production planning teams, with the drill and blast team. Cooperation is crucial, otherwise mine plans are simply not achievable. When designing pit limits, ramps, and schedules, it is crucial that all drill and blast constraints are considered. Understanding these constraints goes beyond drill fleet capacities, and daily explosives loading capacities. These are often the only considerations of drill and blast in the mine plan. As drill and blast professionals, we must also offer constructive and iterative feedback on how likely the plan allows us to achieve a good blast result. Additionally, we must be in constant communication with production teams over the expected digging conditions and have a continuous feedback loop to truly understand how the digging went. Here are some examples to elaborate on these points:
Wall establishment blasting is a common way to establish pit shell limits, for example presplitting, and is extremely crucial for ensuring wall stability and resource recovery. So, taking our drill and blast constraints into consideration, are our walls designed in a way that is achievable through blasting? Blasting energy does not turn corners, so how practical is presplitting a wall section with quick and sudden changes in dip and azimuth? Could we try novel blasting methods to get better and more reliable outcomes in wall stability?
Confinement of blasting free faces can be used to stagnate the movement during blasting, a consideration to make if the team is trying to minimise dilution. Does the mining schedule allow for buffering material to be left over? Did we review enough blasting videos to adequately understand blast movement with and without confinement?
As drill and blast professionals, do we have a robust conformance checking process? It is crucial to highlight inconsistencies with the blast to alert production teams creating dig plans. Inconsistencies can be, for example, many collapsed holes that may lead to areas with hard toe. Do production teams leave a consistent quality of mined areas for drill and blast teams to move in quickly for the next pattern? Read this article on bench preparation from Datamine’s Drill and Blast Specialist, Aron Muniz.
While these examples are not an exhaustive list of ways to foster teamwork, it will hopefully get us all thinking about how we can improve blasting results together, as “one team, one dream”. It can be very easy to get a blast wrong, but with the right cooperation between departments, we can also very easily get a blast right. Even though pointing fingers is often the easiest escape, it completely stops us from improving upon our failures. The first step to improving is to repeat the following, “one team, one dream”.