Ground support

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This article is about the application of ground support strategies and techniques to "underground mining projects". For the article on general geotechnical design see Geotechnical design.

Ground support is a set of techniques, elements and methods that enable the conservation or mobilization of a rockmass' initial strength. The rockmass is given the ability to self-support throughout the course of mining. The ultimate goal of this practice is to allow for mining to occur safely while maintaining the stability of created underground excavations.These techniques can be divided into two main categories [1].

Support techniques refer to the action of applying an external reactive force to a rock surface in the process of deformation, i.e. submitted to strain causing changes in the shape, size and volume of the rock [2]. Reinforcement techniques refer to the action of adding internal support, e.g. rockbolts, to maintain or improve the rockmass' properties prior to deformation. Of course, the selection of ground support is an integral part of the underground mine design process. See Main Article: The information required for the mine design

Significant properties of support elements

Uses of ground support

Historically, the installation of ground support was confined to temporary or permanent excavations.
Miner in Kentucky, 1950, U.S. Steel[3]
Temporary excavations such as small and narrow shrinkage mining stopes, see article on The selection of mining methods, would have been supported with long timber members to prevent ground failures in these workings. These workings would typically have remained opened for short periods of time (1-2 weeks). As for permanent excavations such as shaft stations which can remain opened for years, permanent support and reinforcement was installed. Often times, the temporary support previously put in place was removed and replaced with more permanent forms. This is contrary to modern practice where the rock-support interactions are an important design consideration.
Active vs. passive

Unlike the distinction between temporary and permanent support, the distinction between active and passive support refers to the load existing in the chosen support prior to its installation. For example, active support forces a load onto the rock surface in order to support broken rockmass and ensure its stability. Examples of active support types are: tensioned rockbolts, cablebolts, hydraulic jacks and powered supports for longwall mining. Passive support on the other hand is reactive to the ground's movements. It develops its load as the rock deforms. Examples of passive support types are: untensioned rockbolts, meshes and screens, reinforcing bars, shotcrete, timbered sets and steel arches. A combination of active and passive supports is typically optimal for most mining situations.

Primary vs. secondary

A more modern way of relating ground support techniques and systems is to define a primary and secondary support strategy. The primary support is installed in conjunction with excavation and serves supporting and reinforcing functions. This enables simultaneous control of boundary displacements. Any support applied at a later stage will be defined as secondary support. This ground control strategy maximizes the capacities of the support selected. As the excavation size and displacements are increased, the selected support develops the required load to maintain the required internal pressure[4]. Figure 1 below clearly demonstrates this principle.

[[Image:Support-Displacement Relationship (Daeman 1977).jpg|frame|center|Support-Displacement Relationship, (Daeman, 1977)[4]

This design strategy is also explained through the analysis for ground support reaction curves. These analyses are necessary in the design stages of a ground support strategy in order to determine the true failure mode of an excavation.

Types of support [5]

Since the development of the first mechanical rockbolts in the United States, where the first rockbolting occurrence is recorded in 1936 at the St. Joseph Lead Co. in Missouri [6],
the types of ground support available have greatly increased and offer a range of functionalities and capacities. The types of support can be divided in the following categories:

Various Rockbolts, DeHuia (China)[7]

The use of timber supports is seldom used for mining applications as its use underground is related to many hazards such as fire and is easily replaced by other support types.

Rockbolts and cablebolts

Rockbolts and cablebolts  are the most common type of ground support in current use in underground mines. The great diversity of rockbolts and cablebolts allows for selection of the most geotechnically and economically appropriate ground support element for a specific situation. The sections below describe some of the characteristics [8] and cost[9] of various rockbolts and cablebolts in greater detail:

Mechanical Bolts, (McKinnon, 2001)[5]

Mechanical rockbolts

Mechanical rockbolts are the type of ground support traditionally used. These are favourable for short term support as they are only anchored in the rockmass at both ends of the bolt. Furthermore, they are subject to blast vibrations and corrosion[5].These bolts come in two varieties: threaded or forged ends. The threaded end rockbolts which are inserted into the rock face and held in place by a face plate and a nut allow for adjustment to the rock face surface and the angle of the face plate. As for forged ends, the end of the bolt is forged to the nut allowing for less flexibility.

Different manufacturers offer different lengths and steel gauges (C1060 Steel, C1070, C1070M, C1055 (A29), A29 (gr75 for USA)) for mechanical rockbolts. In the United States, these manufacturing standards follow the American Standards for Material Testing ASTM F432[10]. (Please note that these standards are accessible through Queen's Library, see External Sources) For example, Dywidag Systems International (DSI)[10], one of the world leaders in underground support systems, offers mechanical rockbolts in diameters of 5/8" (14.2mm), 3/4" (17.3mm) and 7/8" (20.1mm) and lengths from 2.5' (0.762m) - 10' (3m).

Mechanical rockbolts, due to their temporary nature, are often used in shorter lengths. A typical cost for these bolts, including the face plate, are $US 4.63 for a 3' (0.8m)bolt and $US 9.22 for a 10' (3m) bolt both of 5/8" diameter.

The 2008 report on dynamic behaviour of rock support tensors provided by CANMET and Workplace Safety North (MASHA) provides technical information for a typical mechanical rockbolt of 1.5m in length of comparable steel grade to the DSI products and after 85mm of displacement (C1070 grade).

Technical Information Data Sheet - Mechanical Bolts (CANMET, 2008)[8]

Frictional rockbolts

Frictional rockbolts or friction bolts attribute their name to their support mechanism. The bolt is maintained in the rockmass when fricition is created along the bolt. Due to this characteristic, friction bolts can slip in the hole when ground movement occurs. This makes friction bolts very efficient in dynamic conditions although they are subject to corrosion and have a lower load bearing capacity compared to supported bolts, i.e. mechanical and grouted bolts. The two main varieties of friction bolts are SwellexTM, developed by Atlas Copco[11], and Split-setsTM, developed by Ingersoll-Rand and manufactured by DSI[10].

Inflated Swellex, (McKinnon, 2010)[5]


SwellexTM develop the frictional contact with the rock wall by inflation. The bolts are inflated by high water pressure. SwellexTM are manufactured from 1.2-3.6m (standard) and 3.0-6.0m (super)in length in a regular steel gauge or a manganese alloy for corrosion resistance. The SwellexTM rockbolt diameter is specified in terms of the required hole for installation. These hole sizes vary from 32-52mm.

The cost for SwellexTM rockbolts is not specified by the Mine Cost Service Handbook (Volume 2, p.38)[9]. The Handbook only specifies the cost for "friction bolts". For a hole diameter of 32mm and 52mm respectively, the costs of 1.2m bolts are $US 5.31, $US 6.78 and and for 6.0m bolts $US 17.10, $US 22.90. It is specified that any galvanizing on the bolts, i.e. manganese coating, increases the price of the bolts by 30%.

The 2008 report on dynamic behaviour of rock support tensors provided by CANMET and Workplace Safety North (MASHA) provides technical information for a typical Swellex of 1.8-2.1m in length of comparable steel grade (Atlas Copco) and after 150mm of displacement.

Technical Information Data Sheet - Swellex Mn12 (CANMET, 2008)[8]

Pile of Split-sets (McKinnon, 2010)[5]


As for split sets, their split ends and slightly larger diameter than the hole diameter allows them to be squeezed inside the drilled hole to create friction along the bolt. Common sizes for split-sets are refered to as SS33, SS39, SS46 which defines the bolt diameter in mm, i.e. 33mm, 39mm and 46mm[12]. The lengths of split-sets vary according to the manufacturer but are slightly shorter than the lengths of Swellex bolts. For a 33mm bolt, the lengths vary from 2.5' (0.762m) - 8' (2.4m). For a 46mm bolt, the lengths vary from 3' (0.91m) - 12' (3.65m). As with the Swellex bolt, the only specified cost is for a general "friction" bolt, refer to the costs of a Swellex bolt.

The 2008 report on dynamic behaviour of rock support tensors provided by CANMET and Workplace Safety North (MASHA) provides technical information for a typical split-set (39mm) of comparable steel grade to the DSI standards and after 150mm of displacement.

Technical Information Data Sheet - Split-Set (CANMET,2008)[8]

Resin Grouted Rebar with Chamfered End (Hoek, 2009)[13]

Grouted rockbolts

Grouted rockbolts refer to the use of reinforcement bars (rebar)[14] or threadbars[15] in combination with a grouting agent for creation of a bond along the rebar's entire length or a selected length.

The bonds are most often created using plain cement or a set of resins; fast acting at the toe, and slow acting along the bar. The required length of the bond is easily determined from strength factors of the bolt and diameter of the bolt.

Equation 1: Bond Length Calculation (McKinnon, 2010)[5]

Since the development of resins, the use of cement is less common in mining applications. Just as in mechanical rockbolts, rebars come with forged or threaded ends. Furthermore, their chamfered end allows the rebar to break through the resin or cement cartridges [16].

Fasloc Resin Cartridge (DSI)[17]
Resin grouted rebar[17]

Resin grouted rebar is the most commly used grouted support. When installed appropriately, see Installation methods, its full length bond allows for efficient long-term support in static conditions. Furthermore, the resin used allows for corrosion protection as only the tip of the rockbolt is exposed.

Rebar is typically manufactured in four sizes #5 (15M - 16mm), #6 (20M), #7 (22M), and #8 (25M) which refer to the bar's diameter in mm or the thread size. Thread sizes are also refered to in imperial measurements with the following naming convention 5/8”- 11 UNC, 3/4”- 10 UNC, 7/8”- 9 UNC, 1”- 8 UNC. Rebars can be cut to specific lengths for the application up to 10' (3m). Of course, as with other ground support elements, their design follows manufacturing standards. In Canada they are manufactured to ASTM F432, Canadian Standards Association's CSA M430 and CSA G30.18M specifications. (Please note that these standards are accessible through Queen's Library, see External sources).

As for the manufactured resins, they come in various set times, from 15 seconds to 7 minutes, at a specified temperature. In order to create a quick bond at the end of the rockbolt a combination of fast set and the appropriate spin rate is used. These resins come in two compartment cartridges when the resin and the activator are kept separate until installation. The cartridges come in various diameters to accomodate the selected rebar/hole size (23 - 40mm) and various lengths, 12"- 60" (30.4 - 152.4cm). Most commonly, because various set times are desired at the bottom and top of hole, 12" cartridges are used. The following figures refer to appropraite spin times and temperatures for the different products. 

Required RPM and set-time for resins (DSI)[17]
Set time for various temperatures (DSI)[17]

The costs for this type of support depends on the selected bolt and resin. The Mine Service Cost Handbook assigns costs of $US 4.63 for a 3' rebard and $US 9.22 for an 8' rebar. As for the resin cartridges, the price for one cartridge, regardless of its set-time, is estimated at $US 0.55 for a 17" cartridge and $US 3.07 for a 49" cartridge.

The 2008 report on dynamic behaviour of rock support tensors provided by CANMET and Workplace Safety North (MASHA) provides technical information for a typical resin grouted rebar (1.5m long) of comparable steel grade to the DSI standards and after 25mm of displacement.

Technical Information Data Sheet - Resin grouted Rebar (CANMET, 2008)[8]

Cement grouted rebar[17]

Cement grouted rebars follow the same principles as resin grouted rebars. As the name implies, the only difference is in the bonding agent; cement cartridges instead of resin cartridges. For lengths and dimensions of typical rebars see the section on resin grounted rebars.Contrarily to resin cartridges, cement cartridges have a fixed set time. The cartridges, which contain dry cement material, need to be submerged in water for approximately 1.5 minutes (no longer than 5) prior to installation. The set-time is fixed all along the selected bond length of the bar at approximately 20 minutes and full yield strength is typically obtained after 24 hours of curing.Diameters for these cartriges vary from 25-38mm in lengths of 305mm. Due to the less common usage of cement cartridges, the cost of these cartridges can be inferred from the typical cost of Portland cement ($CAN 273.00/ton). The 2008 report on dynamic behaviour of rock support tensors provided by CANMET and Workplace Safety North(MASHA) provides technical information for a typical cement grouted rebar.

Technical Information Data Sheet - Cement Grouted Rebar (CANMET, 2008)[8]


Threadbars are simple dywidags very similar in design to rebars. Their entire length is threaded with a simple nut that ties on to one end. The end is also chamfered for breakage of cartridges. The use of simple threadbars, not to confuse with threaded rebars, see Threaded-end rebars, is the least common in the mining industry due to their lack of adjustability to variable rock surface, i.e. no head. Their length and diameter are similar to those of manufactured rebar: #6 (19mm), #7 (22mm), #8 (25mm), #10 (32mm), #11 (35mm), #14 (44mm) at lengths up to 10' (3m). Costs for threadbars are not readily available. The 2008 report on dynamic behaviour of rock support tensors provided by CANMET and Workplace Safety North(MASHA) provides technical information for a typical cement or resin grouted threadbar of 2.2m in lenght and 0.5m bond at 65mm displacement.

Technical Information Data Sheet - Resin or Cement Grouted Threadbar (CANMET,2008)[8]

Comparison of rockbolts and cablebolts

The comparison for the strengths (yield and break) of various ground support elements is useful for the design of a support system.

Comparison of Bolt Strengths (Pakalnis and Vongpaisal,1993)[5]

Types of Cablebolt Lays (McKinnon, 2010)[5]

Cablebolts are also commonly used in underground mining applications. Due to their greater capacities, in comparison with standard bolt-type support, cablebolts are most often used in large span applications such as in hanging wall support and open stoping support designs. Cablebolts are manufactured as 7-strand cables with various strand diameters: 0.5", 0.6", 0.7" [10] and, as they are purchased in rolls, can be cut to any specified lengths, typically 5'(1.52m)-50'(15.2m).

The strands are layed using one of the defined types: plain, birdcaged, bulbed and nutcaged. All of these bolt types are grouted in cement along their entire length. The selected lay impacts the cement grout/rockmass/cable contact.
Bircaged vs. Plain Lay (McKinnon, 2010)[5]

The bulbed or birdcaged lays offer the best frictional resistance. Furthermore, the strands of the cable can be galvanized for corrosion protection. Also, in dynamic conditions cablebolts can be partially covered in order to prevent bonding of the cable with the grout. This allows the bolt to extend with rock deformation.

Mesh and screens


Empirical support design

The appropriate ground support strategies are selected through various engineering design techniques. In Ontario, this design selection is governed by legal requirements defined in the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. and Masha design guidelines (GCMP)

Historical methods of support

[19] [20]

1879 development of rock mass classfication for ground support requirements in tunelling applications reference

Design parameters

Select for the right mode of failure

Installation methods



  1. Brady, B. H.G. and E. T. Brown. "Rock Support and Reinforcement." Brady, B. H.G. and E. T. Brown. Rock Mechanics. Springer Science, 2005. p. 312 - 346.
  2. Nelson, Stephen A. "Physical Geology - EENS 111." 2007. Tulane University.
  3. Mining USA. (n.d.). Old Photo - Lynch Kentucky. Retrieved from
  4. 4.0 4.1 Daeman. "Support-Displacement Relationship (Fig. 11.1b)." Brady. Rock Mechanics. 2005.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 McKinnon, Steve. "Moodle - Ground Support Slides." 2010. Moodle - Queen's University - Mine 469
  6. Bieniawsky. "Ground Control, Section 10.5" Cummins, Hartman, Given, Howard. SME Engineering Handbook. SME, 1992
  7. insert ref
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Beauchamp, Luc. "Technical Information Data Sheets - Design Guidelines for the Dynamic Behaviour of Ground Support Tendons." 2009. Workplace Safety North - Technical Projects.
  9. 9.0 9.1 USA, InfoMine. Mine Cost Service - Volume 2. Jennifer B. Leinhart, 2009
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 International, Dywigad Systems. Products. January 2009.
  11. Atlas Copco. (2008). Swellex Bolts. Retrieved from Atlas Copco - Mining Products: Bolting and Miscellaneous&view=&plid=EN&slid=ES&GetonBoard=Yes&LanguageID=Yes
  12. International, Dydiwag Systems. Friction Stabilizers. January 2009.
  13. Hoek, Evert. Practical Rock Engineering. 2009
  14. International, Dywidags Systems. Rebar Rock Bolts. January 2009.;
  15. International, Dywidag Systems. DYWIDAG Threadbar. January 2009.
  16. Dywidag Systems International. Resins . January 2009.;
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Resins. January 2009.
  18. International, Diwydags Systems. Plates and Mesh. 2010.
  19. Bieniawsky. "Ground Control." Cummins, Hartman, Given, Howard. SME Engineering Handbook. SME, 1992
  20. Hoek, Evert. Practical Rock Engineering. 2009

External sources