Realistic Simulation Accelerates Safety Evaluation of Mine Designs

Global mining company achieves significant productivity gains with 3-D mine models developed with Abaqus finite element analysis software.

In a step change beyond traditional processes, Abaqus finite element analysis (FEA) software from SIMULIA (the Dassault Systèmes’ brand for realistic simulation), is being used to enhance mine design and engineering simulation at a number of major mines around the world. In North and South America, Africa and Australia some of the world’s biggest mining companies are applying FEA technology to evaluate safety and improve design planning, implementation, and operations.

Beck Arndt Engineering (BAE), a Sydney-based international consultancy, is a pioneer in the commercial development of engineering solutions for the mining industry. The consultancy has worked closely with engineers at SIMULIA Australia to expand the use of Abaqus FEA simulation software for mining applications.

Among the early adoptors of mine-ready FEA technology is the world’s largest miner, BHP Billiton. With BAE’s help, BHP has already applied this technology to evaluate mines in Canada and Australia. At the BHP Billiton Nickel West Perserverance Deeps Project in Western Australia, Abaqus FEA software is now being used to help engineer the safety and productivity of planned deep-mining operations.

To achieve this goal in the deep-mining environment requires significant technological innovation. Using measurements of site deformation and seismicity, Abaqus FEA models have been calibrated and, in a single day, used to simulate a full, three dimensional, inelastic analysis of a mine’s life cycle.

In recent years, similar applications at Debswana’s Jwaneng Mine in Botswana, the Newcrest Mining Ridgeway Deeps Project in New South Wales, Australia, and Rio Tinto’s Argyle Diamond mine in Western Australia have also established Abaqus FEA analysis as the leading technology for multi scale, simulation-aided mining engineering.

Dr. Joop Nagtegaal, a pioneer of FEA and a Dassault Systèmes Corporate Fellow, says that Abaqus FEA software is unique in its capabilities to enable mining engineers to investigate design innovations from the drawing board to full production. “In the design stage, Abaqus models, which include rockmass volumes spanning several kilometers around the ore body and down to excavations just a few meters across, are used to compare and optimize engineering options,” he said. “Then, as the mine goes into production, large volumes of data from the field are incorporated with the analysis models to allow them to be calibrated to a precision not previously available to the mining industry.”

Seismic event forecasting has become increasingly important at several sites where mining-induced seismicity is a concern. Dr. Stephan Arndt, principal engineer at the BAE Perth office, said the vast amount of analysis required to create solutions in today’s competitive mining markets requires new technologies and methods.

One innovation has been the development of the Dissipated Plastic Energy (DPE) analysis method. DPE analysis has been used to develop controls for potential problems, as well as to better understand how rock masses are damaged. (See Figure 1).

As the size and complexity of mining problems being studied increase, engineers are facing the need to leverage high-performance computing solutions.

“The size of the models we now use in mining is unprecedented,” said Arndt. “Distributed Memory Parallel (DMP) processing, using 32 CPUs with Abaqus FEA software, gives us the capacity to compare a number of different scenarios for mine-scale model simulations in a very short time. The level of detail achieved in these models allows us to calibrate deformation and rockmass damage, seismogenic potential and ground support performance. Abaqus has an important role to play in mining and our analysis methods are setting new standards in this industry.”  (See Figures 2 and 3).

Another application of nonlinear modeling is the design of ground support. Similar to applications in tunneling and civil engineering, mine excavations are subject to high deformation. (See Figure 4). Not so typical are the strains and loads involved. In some mining cases, tunnels must survive in very weak rock a very short distance from massive underground excavations at great depth.

“To ensure the safety of people and to achieve productivity objectives on these challenging sites with unique geological characteristics, mining engineers need to think outside the box,” said Arndt. “This technology enables quick, cost-efficient analyses, which in turn facilitate the logical decision-making process necessary for the future development of mines in safe, environmentally-sound and more economical ways.”

“Acceptance of FEA technology in mining is similar to the automotive industry experience, in which Abaqus has been accepted as a part of the vehicle body design process,” said Dr. Nagtegaal. “Auto makers have learned that performing crash simulations of their designs with FEA software is much less costly than real life barrier smashes, and provides a better platform for developing ‘what if’ scenarios.

“Today, we are integrating Abaqus as a tool for simulation-aided mining engineering in much the same way, with similar achievements in cost saving and improved safety.”