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Asymmetric Blasting: A Rock Mass Dependent Blast Design

J B Segui
Blasting has been the most frequently used method for rock breakage
since black powder was first used to fragment rocks, more than two
hundred years ago. This paper is an attempt to reassess standard design
techniques used in blasting by providing an alternative approach to blast
design. The new approach has been termed asymmetric blasting. Based
on providing real time rock recognition through the capacity of
measurement while drilling (MWD) techniques, asymmetric blasting is
an approach to deal with rock properties as they occur in nature, ie
randomly and asymmetrically spatially distributed. It is well accepted
that performance of basic mining operations, such as excavation and
crushing rely on a broken rock mass which has been pre conditioned by
the blast. By pre conditioned we mean well fragmented, sufficiently loose
and with adequate muckpile profile. These muckpile characteristics affect
loading and hauling (Scott, 1996). The influence of blasting does not end
there. Under the Mine to Mill paradigm, blasting has a significant
leverage on downstream operations such as crushing and milling .
There is a body of evidence that blasting affects mineral liberation
(Djordjevic, N, 2001). Thus, the importance of blasting has increased
from simply fragmenting and loosing the rock mass, to a broader role
that encompasses many aspects of mining, which affects the cost of the
end product. A new approach is proposed in this paper which facilitates
this trend to treat non-homogeneous media (rock mass) in a
non-homogeneous manner (an asymmetrical pattern) in order to achieve
an optimal result (in terms of muck-pile size distribution). It is
postulated there are no logical reasons (besides the current lack of means
to infer rock mass properties in the blind zones of the bench and onsite
precedents) for drilling a regular blast pattern over a rock mass that is
inherently heterogeneous. Real and theoretical examples of such a
method are presented.
Blasting operations are known to have an important effect on the
subsequent operations in the mining process (Revnitsev, 1988;
Kojovic et al, 1998; Scott et al, 1998; Nielsen, 1998; Djordjevic
et al, 1998). The blasting influence goes even further than the
classical view about loading and hauling improvement.
Comparative energy consumption between blasting and
grinding can be a hundred times lower and costs twenty-five
times lower (Scott, Segui and Kanchibotla, 2000). The Mine to
Mill concept places the blasting process as the first stage in the
mineral liberation process where the energy requirements (and
costs) are lower. The importance of the blasting operations has
become significantly higher and new approaches and better
techniques are necessary for blasting operations.
Reviews of the present basic principles that govern blasting
design are discussed and a new approach to blasting design is
Many years of research and a great deal of effort have been
dedicated to develop a better knowledge of the rock mass.
Different engineering areas such as tunnelling, high wall
stability, rock excavation and bench blasting have incorporated
knowledge developed during the last 50 years in rock mass
characterisation. From all rock mass systems available, the
author suggests the Q system (Barton, 1974) and Bieniawskis
(Bieniawski, 1973) are the most suitable ones for rock mass
characterisation for blasting purposes .
The common feature of all rock mass characterisation systems
is that they rely mostly on visual information. Although they add
valuable information, all observations limited to a single plane:
the free face. Coring can provide information but is not used for
characterisation of the rock in every blast pattern.
The main joint sets are often regular enough to permit us to
project their geometry some metres from the observed free face
through the bench. However, small joint sets and other rock mass
discontinuities, such as voids, changes in texture, bedding planes,
etc, cannot be visually detected inside the bench or inferred from
the free face. Rock mass characterisation systems provide a
statistical description of the joint sets in the rock mass. However,
they are not able to tell the drill and blast engineers where the
discontinuities are. Without knowing the precise location of the
discontinuities, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to avoid
undesirable variations in blast results.
The more heterogeneous the rock mass, the more difficult it is
to achieve a uniform and optimal muckpile. Figure 1 shows a big
boulder, which is in sharp contrast to the regular fragmentation
of the muckpile in the background. These occurrences are
undesirable. However, present blasting techniques are limited in
the means to avoid such things because of the lack of the
knowledge about the rock mass that makes up the bench.
Poor knowledge about the rock mass in the bench leads to
unpredictable results, poor control and higher final costs.
Further improvement in blasting depends on a better rock mass
characterisation technique or tool.
Two main reasons for the present blasting performance
variability are:
EXPLO 2001 Hunter Valley, NSW, 28 - 31 October 2001 1
1. PhD Student, Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre,
Isles Road, Indooroopilly QLD 4068.
FIG 1 - An undesirable boulder and optimal muck pile in the
1. the rock mass is not sufficiently known; and
2. the rock mass is treated as a homogeneous material.
To answer the first item it is important to analyse the present
blastability models. Blastability models developed to date have
an inherent limitation. When rock properties are translated to a
numeric value they are considered a unique value. The whole
bench is described by one single number, one single
mathematical entity. All properties derived from scan lines as
joint properties and from lab test as rock strength are assigned to
the whole bench. Experience shows that this is not the case most
of the time (Figure 2).
Figure 2 illustrates the limitations of trying to assign the whole
bench with just one number or rock factor. Moreover, the
variability shown in the free face cannot be extrapolated to the
whole bench by any of the geotechnical methods used for rock
mass characterisation. The presence of a hard boulder does not
tell anything about its end. Likewise, the absence of a
discontinuity in the free face does not assure that it will not occur
in the invisible volume of the bench. There is a blind zone that
cannot be measured but only inferred. Because of the limitations
of using a visual assessment of the rock mass, new rock mass
characterisation methods must be devised to overcome this lack
of information.
Blasting design is the exercise of trying to apply the most
suitable means of releasing energy into the rock mass to achieve
an expected outcome.
In general the process is summarised by the flowchart shown
in Figure 3.
The mining restrictions are put in first place because this
flowsheet tries to represent what happens in a day to day mining
operation where the basic aspects of the blast design blasthole
diameter, bench height, etc have been already determined. The
blast design analysis is based only on the rock mass properties of
the bench to be blasted and the objectives of the blast
(production, final wall, etc). The analysis of the flowsheet
highlights two interesting points.
Firstly, there is no room for correction of the blasthole pattern
after the drill and blast engineers approved the design. There is
no feed back tool to report to the drill and blast engineers while
the blast design is being implemented. Any correction of the
blasthole pattern occurs only in extreme cases, such as a
collapsed blasthole. No attention is given to the possibility of
improvement while the drilling operation is being carried out.
Secondly, all feedback comes from post blast analysis (muck
pile profile, size distribution and over break, fly rock, back break,
dilution, contamination, etc). There is no active mechanism to
retrospectively record drilling data while it is being executed.
Result analysis is an important procedure. However, alone it
cannot provide an accurate correction for the next blast because
the rock mass variations remain unknown.
The worst limitation of this assessment is poor information (or
sometimes, total lack of information) about the rock mass
variation throughout the bench. To overcome that difficulty some
techniques can be used, such as geophysical methods.
Geophysical logging has proved to be a reliable tool to
characterise the rock mass. Unfortunately, geophysical methods
are time consuming and cannot be applied during normal mining
operations without disrupting the schedule. This problem has
prevented geophysics to be fully used and present blasting design
techniques rely on paucity of data.
Other sources of information for blast design are the
exploration drill logs but these are too widely spaced and the
information retrieved from them is very limited. More recently,
mining industry started to rely in other source of data acquisition.
Measurement while drilling (MWD) techniques were first
developed for the oil industry. The main reason behind the MWD
techniques was a necessity of avoiding the blindness of the
drilling process. Since its first utilisation in 1911, tremendous
advance have been achieved by MWD techniques. The acronym
has changed from MWD to LWD for logging while drilling. The
technique evolved from simple, basic measurements during
drilling, to rock recognition systems. By the 1980s, the technique
started being transferred to the mining industry (Peck et al,
1990). Presently, there are a number of commercial MWD
systems available on the market. Most of the development is due
to the increased computational capability of modern computers.
Figure 4 shows how to represent the rock mass throughout the
whole bench.
The next step is having a 3D representation of the bench to
include the MWD variation along the blasthole length,
represented by five rock types as shown in Figure 5.
The MWD signatures along the blasthole length accurately
depict the rock mass variations that otherwise would remain
unknown and unassigned (or improperly assigned) in the blast
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FIG 2 - This free face bench photo depicts three different zones where the
rock strength and the rock structure vary considerably in terms of
strength and structure.
FIG 3 - Blast design and optimisation flowsheet.
The information available by MWD techniques represents a
considerable improvement on blast design data.
Most of the rock mass in the bench will remain undetected but
the sampling provided by the drill bit is far more informative
than traditional rock mass assessment.
This wealth of data will permit corrections to the blast design
geometry in real time, ie during the drilling operation.
The author proposes a way to assign explosives properties to the
rock mass is as shown in Figure 6.
Blast patterns are normally regular with exceptions only in the
pre-split and/or buffered areas. Even the main software packages
used in the market bring this standard widespread approach. In
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FIG 4 - Geology (hardness) represented by MWD parameters (rate of penetration divided by pulldown pressure) can produce a very fine representational
model for blast purposes.
FIG 5 - Rock mass variations along the vertical dimension as captured by MWD parameters.
fact, it is so traditionally accepted that it is taken for granted that
the blastpattern has a regular grid. There are many references on
how to design a blast, equations that relate geometric blast
entities eg burden and spacing and rules of thumb where
some guidance is given regardless any other consideration eg
burden equal X times the blasthole diameter.
There is, on the other hand, recognition that some
asymmetrical elements should be included on blasting designs.
However, these asymmetrical elements are introduced only in
individual blastholes when blasting engineers face different
lithologies and other structural variations in the rock mass. The
introduction of decks and busters is the adopted solution for
these cases. It is known that the rock masses are rarely
homogeneous and are discontinuous. The variation can be
captured by geostatistical methods but the geostatistical
representation cannot predict exactly how the rock mass will be
in any place of the bench. Such a statistical representation of the
rock mass does not provide enough information for a reliable
blast design. The best blast design models use as input rock mass
properties extracted from the free face (as joint characteristics)
and from the muck pile (as rock samples for lab
characterisation). The properties obtained by these means are
assigned to the bench as a whole. The blastability models use
these properties as input for figuring out geometrical properties
of the fire pattern. As the rock properties are the same for the
whole bench and the geometrical properties of the blast pattern
repeat throughout the bench, the model is called a
one-hole-model. The entire blast pattern is only the repetition of
the same blasthole burden/space relationship throughout the
It can be said that some blastpatterns present some
asymmetries. Some have different burden dimensions or charge
for the first line or the last one or two lines.
This asymmetry is not representative of the variations on the
rock properties. They are used for cast blasting, pre-splitting or
other purposes but do not represent geological variations in terms
of rock strength or rock mass structure. On mines using MWD
for blast design, the advantage of knowing the actual rock mass
blastability along each blasthole region is used presently for
adapting the charging characteristics to the different rock types.
A further step can be done if a reliable statistical database is
available (a number of blasthole MWD profiles). Based on the
spatial variability of the rock, an estimation of its spatial
continuity will permit to use the rock mass characteristics in this
region to figure out how far should the next blasthole be drilled
to generate the desirable size distribution curve. There will be no
need of designing the blast pattern in advance, as it is done in
real time. The design will be performed in real time accordingly
to the rock mass variations found by the drilling signatures. The
algorithm to define the geometric position of the future blasthole
might incorporate a buffer coefficient to avoid an exceedingly
large spatial variation due to exceedingly large variation in the
rock mass properties. A regular spacing, for instance, will
gradually adjust accordingly to the rock properties. If the drill bit
finds a harder zone, the next blasthole position will be drilled
closer than the previous one. Conversely, a rock region much
softer than the previous blasthole will determine an increment
accordingly to a coefficient site dependent.
A final issue is the firing sequence. In order to cope with
different dynamic burdens for every single blasthole the only
option is the utilisation of electronic detonators. By doing so, an
individual detonation time will be assigned for every blasthole
according to its detonation sequence position in the bench.
When the variation on blastability occurs only in the vertical
plane, the traditional approach may be utilised ie, the explosive
charge/type can be changed. When the variation in blastability
occurs along the horizontal plane burden and spacing are
redesigned according to the spatial variability of the site.
An example of an actual asymmetric blast in iron ore is
presented in Figure 7. The geometry should be 7.50 m 6.50 m
in the iron ore and 9.30 m 8.20 m in the shale region. Small
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FIG 6 - A four-axis diagram can address properly the prefect adjustment
among various blast design components.
FIG 7 - Actual fire pattern (BHPIO-Newman) where the south part has only three rows. This kind of fire patterns shows how rock properties can be
properly addressed into the general blast design. The different colours of the blastholes represent different explosive types.
variations in the blasthole positions are real collar error
positioning. ANFO was used in the shale region. In the iron ore
zone two types of blasthole charge were used: T5030 a 30 per
cent emulsion content Heavy ANFO, loading density 1.14 g/cc,
(RWS 92 per cent ANFO) as the bottom charge and ANFO as
column charge in the intermediate strength zone. Pure T5030
was used in the hard zone. The blasthole charging decision was
made based on the BH-PIOC standard procedure recalibrated by
the MWD system.
The concept of asymmetric blast design can be extended to a
drilling pattern where there is no symmetry in the final geometry
of the blastholes. An example of such a blast pattern is shown in
Figure 8.
The blast design represented in Figure 8 is rock dependent and
shows the variation in rock mass strength from east to west. An
asymmetrical blast design would be utilised to blast the
hypothetical rock mass shown in Figure 9.
The feedback analysis of the MWD parameters that would
generate the blast design of represented by Figure 8 is shown in
Figure 10. The difference between traditional blast design
procedures is that the rock properties captured by the MWD
parameters are used as a feedback for finetuning the
burden-spacing geometry during the blast design
The intention of this paper was to discus the present limitations
of blast design techniques and blast design tools in the light of
the restrictions due to the blindness of traditional systems
regarding the rock mass properties hidden inside the bench
volume. In this new approach, the designing by art and gut
feelings is substituted by statistics and by feed back of rock mass
properties during drilling.
There seem to be a general agreement that present explosives
and accessories quality is quite acceptable either in terms of
detonic characteristics and in terms of variations of these
However, present blasting models in spite of being able to rely
on good quality of explosives and accessories, are restricted to
generalise rock properties along the bench volume. In some
cases, where the rock mass variability is significant inside the
bench volume, this approach produces poor blast performance.
MWD techniques can provide better information about the
rock mass in zones where traditional methods have no effect.
Asymmetric blasting aided by MWD is suggested as a suitable
way to overcome the tendency of regular blast patterns to
produce undesirable effects in the muckpile caused by variations
of the rock mass.
Electronic detonators can further complement asymmetric
blasting designs by providing rock property and spatially related
individual timing for each blasthole.
EXPLO 2001 Hunter Valley, NSW, 28 - 31 October 2001 5
FIG 10 - Asymmetric blast design flowsheet showing the feedback
provided by the analysis of the rock mass properties during the
drilling operation.
FIG 9 - Representation of rock mass variation corresponding to the
asymmetric blast design described in Figure 8.
FIG 8 - Asymmetrical blast design illustration.
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