The Use of the VRL (Virtual Reality Laboratory) for Mine Design Audit Purposes
With the increase in depth and complexity of the underground hard rock mines, the basic concept of mine planning and design has completely changed. The complex and dynamic interaction of the planning process has been well recognized and has remained the subject of considerable research.
Conventional underground mine scheduling techniques, which include spreadsheets, mine planning and evaluation software, are not suited to the rigorous evaluation of multiple scheduling options and are generally reliant on human guidance. The large number of alternative decisions required during the scheduling process makes it difficult to determine an overall optimal schedule.
Most scheduling problems are sufficiently large to prevent the scheduler from evaluating the global consequences of each decision, thereby obscuring potentially better solutions at subsequent stages of the scheduling process. For example, if a particular stope cannot be mined due to some geomechanics constraint, a certain section of the mine may become unprofitable and has to be rescheduled to minimize its effect on overall mine. This characteristic of most scheduling problems prohibits the exhaustive analysis of all possible alternatives.
Another important aspect is complex data visualization. As the mine model becomes more complex, it is more difficult to identify potential problem areas and their effects on the mining operation. A virtual reality (VR) platform can be effectively used for data visualization and problem identification. This paper introduces the dynamic nature of mine planning, identifies the various constraints to mine planning and discusses the current scheduling alternatives.
MIRARCO and Laurentian University opened a Virtual Reality Laboratory (VRL) in 2001 and this technology is gaining popularity in mining for a number of applications. The VRL facility provides an excellent platform for complex data visualization, integration and increases the participants’ overall understanding of spatial data relationships. The technology also accelerates data comprehension as well as the transfer of technical experience and knowledge. It is proposed that the VRL could be used to visualise available mine data in one location and get a better understanding of the viable options by the mine planning project team. The aim would be to arrive at better long term mine plans using mine personnel and the collaborative immersive environment of the VRL. New software tools are currently being developed at MIRARCO that would integrate with existing scheduling and mine planning software (e.g. Mine 2-4D, Datamine etc) to allow better mine plans to be developed. The paper discusses progress at MIRARCO with the VRL at Laurentian University and presents some industry related mine planning projects under investigation.