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How 3D Modeling has Changed the Face of Mine Planning

Technology touches every part of our lives.

Mining operations are no exception to this trend. Robotics, advanced gradiometers, and automated drilling are only some new mining breakthroughs.

3D Modeling is a recent but important innovation. It allows you to show subsurface structures in three dimensions. This feature has great advantages over two-dimensional representations of underground space.

Because of this fact, 3D Imaging has become standard in the mining industry, and for good reason. It's likely a part of your mine planning.

But why is it so important? Why did 3D Modeling change the game?

Let's read on to find out!

The Mine Plan: An Overview

When designing a mine plan, you are creating the optimal underground operation that allows you to access your material. In conjunction with this overall goal, the mine plan has two other essential elements:

- maximize profit
- provide the safest working conditions possible
- Experts from various fields collaborate to craft the mine plan. These individuals include, of course, geologists. Also included are engineers and mining experts who specialize in finance or permits/compliance.

It is a complicated endeavor, but everyone working on the mine plan is united by one goal. They want to overcome the uncertainty inherent in mining operations. This is the main issue, and it extends to the following areas:

- geological
- technical
- economical
- unknown facts related to possible events or accidents
- A hurricane may occur during the operation of the mine. Prices of your mineral might decline drastically. The mining industry is full of unknowns.

A well-thought-out mine plan, though, takes into account and plans for events like these beforehand. 3D Modeling technology is an ideal resource when planning for these unwanted events. Let's learn more about it.

3D Modeling Technology

Mining operations use a 3D Model to get a geological picture of materials in mineral deposits. The resulting picture has to be in a form that mining engineers can access and understand.

This 3D Modeling is usually part of interactive software, from which reports and graphics can be distributed. The creation of information from 2D models was often clunky and time-consuming.

In fact, traditional methods of design often utilized:

- manual and slow processing of data
- the geological feature itself as the starting point
- application of the geometrical analysis
- analysis of the stripping ratio
- high costs
- small investments (no software programs, etc), but only approximate processing results
- 2D images only

Contrast these with 3D Imaging, and you will see why it is more useful:

- data processing is computer-based
- data processing time is shorter
- begins with computer models of ore body (divided into blocks)
- blocks are analyzed in terms of optimal mining sequence
- low project costs (but larger investments in computer equipment, programs, etc.)
- data processing is accurate
- 2D or 3D imaging for all objects

The advantages of the 3D Modeling are clear. It seems likely this type of technology will become much more prevalent as time goes on.

The summary above gives you a technological and financial overview of the differences between 2D and 3D Imaging. In the next section, let's look at how 3D Models benefit mine planning specifically.

The Influence of 3D Modeling on Mine Planning

Because of the volatility of the mining industry, any technology that can simplify and expedite mine planning is a good thing. Geological models have historically been part of the design and planning process. Now, 3D Modeling makes that process easier and more effective.

3D Modeling creates better, more lifelike pictures of underground features. These images accelerate the entire planning process. They allow you to understand the nature and amount of underground deposits more quickly.

In fact, 3D Models can be constructed easily. They, in turn, will provide information about:

- the risk of exploration
- mine stability
- grade distribution

- Accuracy is also important when you are planning for your buildings or construction. Mining is a very risky job, and sturdy structures based on reliable geological features are necessary to complete the project. Not only is safety a concern here, but so is cost control as well as the overall success of the operation.

In fact, mining operations have been saved after an unforeseen disaster by 3D Imaging technology. When an earthquake struck a gold mine in South Africa in 2009, 3D technology allowed the workers to outline the shape of the mine. They were then able to get back to work faster.

3D Models make mining operations safer in general. The more true-to-life your data and images are, the less chance there is of unforeseen disasters. But if there is an unexpected emergency like the one above, you can respond to it more quickly.

In addition, because the images are digitized, they can be kept and used on other projects. No one has to draw them all over again when starting a new operation. This saves time down the road and increases later profit margins as well.

Finally, accurate 3D images make sure the production phase of the project is successful. Individuals using the images can forecast many important parts of the operational process. Some of these factors might include allocation of machinery and the engineering of roads.

Productivity scenarios can also be analyzed before the project begins. What's more, clients and individuals understand the project better when they see more accurate pictures.

All these factors contribute to higher cost-efficiency. With 2D Modeling, there were extensive research and development projects just to get going. Research had to be done to gauge the depth of the mine, as well as to assess the environment and general conditions in it.

3D Modeling cuts out much of this work. It allows operations to begin that much sooner. Because there is less busy-work, engineers can also be more creative in their designs.


As you can see, 3D Modeling has changed the mine planning game. It produces outlines of underground structures with greater precision. This simple fact enables the entire planning process to go forward more smoothly.

We use several modeling software programs to give our clients the best mine plan possible. Our geologists, engineers, and mining experts can help make your mining operation a success. Why not give us a try today?

About the Author

Marshall Miller & Associates performs a wide range of geological, environmental, hydrogeological and mining engineering services. MM&A’s seasoned staff of engineering personnel delivers design solutions for a variety of projects and industry-specific applications.