Vertical crater retreat

From QueensMineDesignWiki
Revision as of 11:43, 15 February 2011 by TChakela (talk | contribs) (Blasting)

Jump to: navigation, search

From Queen's University Mine Design Wiki

This article is about the orebody requirements and developmental steps involved in Vertical Crater Retreat planning and mining.

Vertical crater retreat (VCR), also known as Vertical retreat mining, is an open stoping, bottom-up mining method that involves vertically drilling large-diameter holes into the orebody from the top, and then blasting horizontal slices of the orebody into an undercut.  A system of primary and secondary stopes is often used in VCR mining, where primary stopes are mined in the first stage and then backfilled with cemented fill to provide wall support for the blasting of successive stopes [1].

Similar to Sublevel open stoping and Blasthole stoping methods, VCR mining is used for steeply-dipping (>45º), or both vertically and horizontally large orebodies with competent ore and waste rock strength.  It differs from other open stoping methods in that it is a bottom-up method, as opposed to a left-to-right method, and it does not require the excavation of sublevel drifts before blasting and mucking can take place. The thickness of one horizontal slice varies between 2 and 5 meters in height[2].


Orebody Characteristics

VCR is a suitable mining method for orebodies that exhibit the following characteristics:



'    'Orebody Dimensions                                           

  • Steeply-dipping orebodies (>45º), with widths of no less than 12-15m, OR
  • Very large both vertically and horizontally [2]
   Ore and Rock Strength          
  • The strength of the waste rock must be competent in order to blast against it without having excessive amounts of dilution
  • The ore deposit is to be of medium to competent strength [2]
  • VCR is not a selective mining method, therefore the ore grade should be low to medium, and it should be relatively uniform throughout the entire orebody [2]
  • VCR mining can occur at any depth.  Work is carried out in reinforced, small drifts; and given the nature of the mining method, no personnel has to work directly within the drift.  Therefore, safe execution of VCR mining can be carried out in deep mines [2]
         Oxidizing Ores
  • Given the small, localized stope size in VCR mining, ore can be recovered very soon after blasting occurs.  Therefore, oxidizing and self-cementing ores such as pyrrhotite can be mined using this method [2]


  • Safety: Miners are working in drifts that are adequately ventilated and have fully supported roofs.  Furthermore, no workers are required to work inside the stope, minimizing the risk of unexpected injuries.  VCR mining also allows for the use of automated machinery, in which case workers are not at risk of equipment-related injuries
  • Good Recoveries: Continuous mucking from the drawpoints can take place after blasting.  Furthermore, VCR mining can be used with a high degree of mechanization, generating a high level of productivity
  • Cost: Once the pre-mining development is in place, mining has a low operating cost, as it is a bulk mining technique and employees are not required to manually operate the mucking machinery
  • Wall Support: VCR stoping shares some great features with sublevel open and shrinkage stoping.  Good wall support is offered during the VCR stoping phase, using shrinkage [3]  


  • Dilution of the ore can result if waste rock is less than competent in strength, or improper blasting techniques are carried out.  In addition, sorting is not possible
  • Risk of drawpoint blockage: If improper blasting techniques are carried out, large rocks can get lodged in the drawpoint and arrest the movement of material through them.  This results in lost production [2]
  • Large capital investment is required to establish the essential drift infrastructure required for proper VCR mining to take place.  Furthermore, the acquisition of equipment is necessary before mining can occur.
  • Subsidence of overlying stope zones can be a problem as open stope expanses are left after mucking.  This can be avoided by using a backfill, which comes with additional costs

Overall Mining Process

Underground Mine Design Flowchart - Applicable to VCR Mining[4]
The first step in designing a VCR mining operation is establishing that the orebody meets the required characteristics.  Not only must the dimensions, ore/rock strength, grade and depth be suitable for the bulk gravity teachnique, but the orientation of the orebody must be such that pre-mining infrastructure can be developed. A capital investment is required in order to establish the necessary infrastructure, such as shafts and drifts, as well as to acquire the necessary equipment. 

Planning Steps

The first characteristics to evaluate are the size, dip and plunge of the orebody, which is important because the installations of draw points are essential to the gravity flow of the blasted ore for collection.  The second element to assess is the shape and consistency of the orebody.  Two horizontal drifts are required before mining can take place, which are to have a very large vertical separation.  The distance between the two drifts depends on the consistency of the ore, the drilling accuracy, accessibility, and competency of the hanging wall.  These drifts are cut inside the orebdoy in order to minimize developmental costs.  The next step is assessing the blasting characteristics of the rock, which will help to determine the drilling pattern and stope sizing of the mine.  These tests can be done on similar ore blocks, or simply theoretically.  Early consideration of equipment selection can be done at this point, as they will be based on stope and block size, as well as production requirements, and most importantly availability [3]

Development of Infrastructure

Once the essential planning is complete, development of the pre-mining infrastructure begins. All working drifts are reinforced with the necessary ground support. The pre-mining development for VCR mining includes:

  1. Haulage drift along the orebody, at the drawpoint level
  2. Drawpoint loading arrangement below the stope
  3. Undercut of the stope
  4. Overcut - as access for drilling and blast charging [5]

Mining Process

Holes are drilled vertically from the top drift through to the bottom drift.  Holes are charged such that blasting of horizontal slices of the orebody occurs, progressing from the bottom drift to the top drift.  In any new region of the mine, the ore zone is assessed as soon as possible, so that ore data can be collected and compared with the original estimates calculated by mine engineers.  This offers the engineers a chance to analyze the data and make any required modifications before the following stope layout is planned.  Extraction of the blasted material can now occur as fast as the system is designed, however just enough broken ore is mucked from the stope to create the required volume of space for successive blasts.  Blasted ore is collected at the drawpoints using LHD vehicles, and then transported to orepasses, sometimes to be crushed, before it is transported to surface for processing.  Upon completion of the ore extraction, the stope is often backfilled from the top drift, providing rock stability for upcoming blasts.  This process is repeated until the orebody is mined.   


Stope Development and Access

Stope layouts, like all components in the mining process, are continually modified and updated based on discoveries that occur during mining. Based on the drilling exploration program, an outline of the orebody is developed, which influences the layout, size and shape of the stopes. Geologic data is the primary information used for developing stope layouts. Plan views of the orebody are developed, and then stope plans begin, with the goal of minimizing required development and optimizing the drilling and blasting within the stope.

Based on the ground conditions, orientation and size of the stopes, pillars may be left in the top sill. The distance from the top sill to the ore itself is designed to be very small, to maximize ore extraction while minimizing development. The drift is arched, and is typically 9 x 9 ft (2.7 x 2.7m) or 10 by 10 ft (3 x 3m), based on the size of the LHD equipment operating in the area.

The development of the top sill consists of driving an access into the orebody, and then cutting out the ore in that region, along with any waste also inhabiting the zone. Once complete, ground support is implemented so that working crews can maneuver safely within. This is the platform from which drilling occurs, going down to the bottom sill.

The main haulageway is usually driven along the strike of the orebody, with approximately 40 to 50 feet separating it from the bottom sill. Scrams are then driven into the sill every 30 to 50 feet along the strike, with the actual spacing dependent on the ground conditions. The smaller the spacing, the higher the potential extraction ratio (without the required use of remote controlled mucking). However, a higher extraction ratio means that smaller pillars are left behind, which raise potential stability issues.

In some cases, the stopes are designed to be stacked. If this is the case, mine engineers will often make the top sill from one stope into the bottom sill for the next stope. Access to the orebody from the top sill can thus be utilized to gain access to the ore during the extraction from the next sill.

Extraction of the ore is done from drawpoints at the bottom sill. The design of successive stopes is very important to ensure that equipment can get access to the blasted ore after blasts. In some cases, the ore may extend below the bottom sill, in which case a cut of approximately 12 ft can be taken out of the sill. This ore will be extracted using the system in place, and waste material will be brought in to replace the cut made in the sill.




1994 Atlas Copco 352 Jumbo Drill[6]

During the stage of mine development, the preferred drilling equipment is the diesel Jumbo, a one or two-boom pneumatic hammer drill.   With one worker at the control panel, a Jumbo drill can complete a pattern of 60 blast holes, each at a depth of 4 meters, in just a few hours [1]

Longhole Production Drill Rigs are used for the production blastholes.  These machines are equipped with a powerful hydraulic rock drill, as well as a carousel storage for extension rods.  In addition, drilling can be performed by remote controls, so that the operator may remain in a safe position [1]Down-the-Hole Drills can also be used for the blastholes, which operate by breaking the hard rock into small flakes and then blowing them clear using an exhaust system.

A 25-ton LHD Vehicle in Use at the Malmberget Iron Mine near Gällivare, Sweden[7]

Load-Haul-Dump (LHD) Vehicles are the most commonly used mucking equipment in VCR mining.  These four-wheel drive, rubber-tired machines are either electric or diesel powered and maintain a low profile.  They are centre-articulated front end loaders and are common in various mining methods, as they provide in-stope mobility.  These machines operate using buckets that range in size from 0.5 yd3 (0.38m3), for "micro" scoops, to 14 yd3 (10.7m3) for large scoops.  A typical unit with a 4 to 6m3 bucket size, transporting material over an average distance of 150m, can move between 550 to 800 tonnes of material per hour.

LHD vehicles however have high tire wear costs, due to their constant operation on rough ground surfaces and movement over irregularly-shaped rock fragments.  These tire wear costs can range from $0.75 to $3.00/tire per hour, therefore total unit costs have been calculated to range between $3.00 and $12.00/hour.  In addition, mines incur a large capital expenditure when purchasing new tires for these machines, with prices per tire ranging from $4,000 to $6,000 [2].

Some VCR mining operations use CAVO Muckers to transport material from the drawpoints to the crushers or orepasses. Cavo Muckers are made by Atlas Copco, and they are maneuvered by an operator that stands on the side. They scoop material and dump it into their bucket and when it is full, the material is dumped out of the back of the machine. CAVO Muckers are typically used in remote, smaller stopes, as well as in hard-to-ventilate areas [3].

Material Handling

Production Drilling

Drilling is done from the top sill all the way down to the bottom sill. The cross-sectional dimensions of the top sill must be 11ft (3.4m) high and 15ft (4.5m) wide in order for the drill mast to achieve clearance and maneuverability: . The most common drill hole diameter used in VCR mining is 165mm, however 140mm diameter holes have been used as well as 205mm diameter holes, in some rare cases. The benefit of using 165mm diameter drill holes is that it allows for a simple 4 x 4m drill hole spacing. Drill holes can be up to 60m (200 ft) in length.

Drill pattern configurations are modified and adapted for every stope, and they differ from mine to mine. General guidelines dictate that an 8 by 8 ft (2.4 by 2.4m) pattern is used, in order to minimize breaking in the handing wall and drill footage. However, this can vary up to 10 by 10 ft, based on ore recovery and changing geometries of the orebody between the sills.

Holes drilled from the top sill right down to the bottom sill are called “breakout” holes. As drill holes are so lengthy, accuracy is very important. Drill accuracy is determined by the drill pattern laid out in the top sill. Often times mines will check the bottom sill for proper alignment before drilling of the hole is complete. This is done to determine if there is a large amount of deviation from the planned pattern, in which case additional holes would need to be drilled to correctly cover the stope.

Once everything is set up, drilling can proceed at a fairly rapid pace. Many drill crews can average 200ft (60m) in a shift.


Before the drill holes are loaded and blasted, they are first measured. Typically this is done using a piece of wood approximately 3 ft long, attached to the bottom of a rope and lowered into the hole. Once it hits the bottom surface it is pulled up until the stick is horizontally flush with the bottom of the drill hole. If the bottom of the hole has not broken through the rock, the stick may be substituted for a steel weight.

After all of the holes in the stope design have been measured, the amount of void space between the bottom of the drill hole and the surface below must be estimated, in order to account for the swell of the blasted material. The next step is to determine the position at the bottom of the blast hole that should be blocked, for explosives to be placed on top. The angle of the blast hole dictates generally how high the block distance is above the bottom of the hole. Sample blocking height values, based on hole angles are displayed in the following table.

Blocking Height (Above Bottom of Hole)
Hole Angle (°)
80 - 90
57 - 79
50 - 56
Less than 50

Ground Support





  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Stellman, Jeanne Mager. "Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety Fourth Edition" Stellman, Jeanne Mager. International Labour Organization, 1998. p. 74.14.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Archibald, J. F. "Mining Systems and Methods." 2007. MINE 210. Department of Mining Engineering, Queen's University at Kingston.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Osborne, Kelly and Baker, Vern. "Vertical Crater Retreat Mining". SME mining engineering handbook, voloume 2, 1992.
  4. Singhal, Raj K. "Mine Planning and Equipment Selection '98" A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, 1998. Accessed online:
  5. Atlas Copco RDE. "Vertical Crater Retreat -VCR".$All/2B0103C539FA78984125674D004AA392?OpenDocument, 2000-2008.
  6. Prolinx Asia. Photograph. Accessed online:
  7. LHD unit: underground mining. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 10 Feb. 2011. <