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Finding and Using Free

Mining Software
By Jack Caldwell

he universe of software used on

the average mine is huge. From
programs that track resumes
and job applications to data management systems, from the ones used by
engineers for designing accounting software to the ever-present word processing
software, there is no end. In most of these
cases, you have to pay.
Thankfully, you dont have to read
much about it in mining magazines: they
tend to concentrate on the engineeringrelated software. However, if you do seek
a relatively comprehensive survey and
source page of mining-related software,
please take a look at SoftwareMine where
we keep track of the software most commonly used on mines.
Trends in Mining Software
FreeportMcMoRan is leading the way
by installing command centres that will
monitor in real-time everything from tire
pressures to vehicle exhaust chemistry,
shovel loads and cycle times, crusher
wear, flotation efficiency, stockpile size,
and market forces that impact production
rates. The centres will enable white-coated managers to issue immediate instructions to change operations, which will
surely change the way we plan, manage,
and operate mines.
The race is on to write and sell the
software to control these command centres. The ideal solution would be what already exists for some oil companies and
Navy ships, the type of thing you see in
futuristic movies in which there is a hermetically sealed room with dim lights and
thousands of computer screens manned
by specialists watching over remote operations via computer monitors. Somehow
the hero is always there to make sense of
the data and issue timely instructions to
save the world, or at least, in this case,
mine productivity.
There will be problems. The primary
one is that of human inattention or disregard for intrusive monitors and repetitive
warning beepers. Tales are told of truck
drivers who throw coats over equipment

that monitors eye blinking to warn the

drivers when they are getting tired.
One of the suppliers already in the
market is OSI Soft. The company already
supplies such systems to the oil and gas
industry and has mastered the codes
and systems. Gemcom is taking them on
with a greater knowledge of mining, but
it has some software catching up to do.
Gemcoms marketers are out there and
may well contact you soon. Take a look
at their websites for more information on
the companys total mine management
and control systems.
NIOSH and death
NIOSH is a copious source of free software for use in the mining industry. I
found 762 Google-type listings of free
software at the link.
There are two software codes free
from NIOSH that are in the news. They
were used to analyze conditions at the
Crandall Canyon Mine prior to the disaster that killed six miners and three rescue
workers. (See this link for the full analysis
Report on the August 6, 2007 Disaster at
the Crandall Canyon Mine.)
The first is Analysis of Retreat Mining
Pillar Stability (ARMPS), which helps

users calculate stability factors based

on the estimates of the loads applied to
and the load-bearing capacities of pillars
during retreat mining operations. The
program can model angled crosscuts;
varied spacing between entries; barrier
pillars between the active section and old
(side) gobs; and slab cuts.
The second is Stress and
Displacement Calculations (LAMODEL),
which uses boundary-elements for calculating the stresses and displacements
in coal mines or other thin tabular seams
or veins. It can be used to investigate and
optimize pillar sizes and layout in relation to pillar stress, multi-seam stress, or
bump potential (energy release).
Free Geotechnical Software
Slope stability or potential instability
is everywhere on every mine, from pit
slopes to the outer edge of every dump,
dam and impoundment. Whether it is soil
or rock, there are plenty of free codes in
spite of what the commercial interests
will tell you.
Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental
Software Directory is run and maintained
by Tom Spink, who says that he updates
the list at least four times a year. This is July 2008


the most comprehensive site I have found
and you probably need go no further in
your search for a suitable free code.
Professor Kroeger at the Southern
University Illinois has a free download
software service.
Another source of free software
is the Geoengineering Website, a site
started in 2002 as a personal effort of the
founder, Dimitrios P. Zekkos, to provide
useful information for engineers, students
and academia by taking advantage of the
opportunities provided by the Internet.
At every mine there is water. Management
and control of mine water is a perpetual
headache. There is always too much or
too little surface water. There is always
troublesome seeping groundwater, and
the mines water balance is forever out of
balance. Infinite runs with free software
may help one achieve a grasp on this
nettlesome issue.
A great source of free software concerned with mine-water problems is the
United States Geological Survey (USGS)
site. From geochemistry codes to groundwater and surface water codes, there is
probably no need to spend a dime with
any commercial venture to completely
outfit your operations with usable free
software if you access the USGS site.
Geographical Information
Systems (GIS)
FreeGIS carries this warning: Free software is a matter of liberty, not price.
To understand the concept, you should
think of free as in free speech or
free markets, not as in for free. They
insist that free software is a matter of the
users freedom to run, copy, distribute,
study, change and improve the software.
The site appears to be compiled/supported by Intevation GmbH, which describes itself as an intelligent consulting
company consequently based on Free
Decision Making
Making a decision is not free. There are
many expensive codes that enable you
to sketch your random thoughts as they
occur and order them in a logical sequence or diagram. Examples you know
include fishbone diagrams, decision trees
or FAST diagrams where you can find
14 July 2008

free copies of hundreds of examples.

More fun in the realm of free software
is FreeMind. This is just a variant of the
process of generating ideas and plotting
the links and relationships between them.
Give it a try.
Virtual Mining
The best fun you can have mining is to
play those massive on-line user games.
World of Warcraft is one where you can
mine. There is free software on how to
mine at this site. It promises to help you
discover the secrets to mining masses
of gold . . . and be a Super RICH WoW
Then there is EVE Online where a
free mining robot will automate the mining
and selling of ore repeatedly. Everything
is customizable. All ships can be used
with it. All systems can be used with it,
and you can pick any belt and any station.
It includes detection protection.
To continue the story of the use of free
software at the Crandall Canyon Mine:
the process involved nine lives gambled
and lost on three numbers: 900,1,640
and 4,512. It seems Agapito Associates
believes that the strength of the pillars is
4,512 psi. It seems that Murray Energy
told Agapito that it is 1,640 and thus justified continued pillar robbing. It seems
that a junior fellow in MSHA believed that
the pillar strength was 900 and he said
so. He also said that at 900 the mine
would collapse. It seems that his boss
believed Agapito and Murray Energy and
gambled that it would work out.
Here is a more detailed analysis of
this case that shows it is not the cost of
the code that counts; it is the quality of
the intellect and the honesty of the analyses that are brought to bear.
In performing geotechnical evaluations of Murray Energys plans to mine the
barrier pillars, Agapito used the computer
models LAMODEL and ARMPS to calculate mine stability factors. Agapito documented its work in two reports. The first
report addressed the development of the
initial four entries in the North Barrier and
the second addressed retreat mining in
the South Barrier. In an email, Agapito detailed the ARMPS and LAMODEL results
for planned retreat mining in the North
and South Barriers. Together these three

documents were used by Murray Energy

to support its proposals to develop and
retreat mine the North and South barrier
pillars of Crandall Canyons Main West
In a report entitled Evaluation and
Control of Coal Bumps, mining engineers at NIOSH found serious flaws in
Agapitos analyses. NIOSHs experience in this substantive area is vast. For
deep cover mines like Crandall Canyon,
NIOSH conducted a special research
project in 1997 in which 97 panel design
case histories were gathered at 29 mines
located in 7 states. More than 40% of
the case histories, including half of the
bumps, were from coal mines in UT and
NIOSHs primary critique of Agapitos
ARMPS analysis is that it substantially
overstates the strength of the remnant
barrier pillars left between the newly developed entries and the gob. NIOSH engineers wrote in their report that Agapitos
analysis failed to distinguish between
barrier pillars, which remained between
the mined-out longwall areas and the entries, and production pillars, which are
pulled during retreat mining. This failure
resulted in overstatement of the ability of
the remnant barrier to support the load
that would be transferred during Murray
Energys retreat mining.
The result was tragedy. Lawyers
will have to establish if this is stupidity,
negligence or fraud.
Agapito has stated its case. Again I
quote from (and edit) for the report (pages
34 and following.)
NIOSH took issue with Agapitos
use of a high coal strength quantity in its
LAMODEL analysis as opposed to the
more conservative default coal strength
quantity of 900 psi. In a submission to
MSHA, Agapito states that the 1,640 psi
coal strength value was not derived from
tests of actual field samples but was extrapolated from prior successful retreat
mining operations. Agapito officials did
not actually observe the areas of prior
retreat mining but rather relied upon company officials descriptions of them. In a
recent letter to MSHA, Agapito further
defends its use of the higher coal strength
quantity by citing laboratory tests showing values as high as 4,512 psi.
So it all boils down to a coal strength
of 900 versus 1,640 versus 4,512 psi.

Agapito used 1,640 and argues for
4,512. But we know it more likely was
900. Whatever happened to sensitivity analyses as a standard part of any
The point of the list above is that much of
the standard software the scientist or engineer uses to solve mining-related problems is available for free. But will you use
it or will you pay high prices? In practice
the codes I write about are the core stuff,
the codes that solve the equations. The

problem with many is that they are primitive when it comes to ease of data input,
and they are generally not usable when
it comes to data output and plotting. The
main feature that distinguishes free software from the commercial version that
essentially solves the same equations is
the pre- and post-processing ability of
the commercial version. So the sad truth
is that you might as well pay the price
and buy the commercial software unless
you plan to do some might development,
experiment or hard work.

Regardless of what you pay for the

software or if you get it for nothing, as
we see from the Crandall Canyon case,
the software is but a minor tool. The real
issue is the intelligence and experience of
the scientists and engineers you bring to
bear on the use of the code, selection of
the input parameters and the interpretation and application of the results to realworld mining situations.

Links and References

Agapito Associates
Analysis of Retreat Mining Pillar
Crandall Canyon Mine
Crandall Canyon Mine
Report on the August 6, 2007
Decision Trees
EVE Online
FAST diagrams
Fishbone diagrams

Free software
Geoengineering Website
Geotechnical and
Geoenvironmental Software
Intevation GmbH
Mines Water Balance
Murray Energy

OSI Soft
Southern University Illinois
Southern University Illinois-Free
Stress and Displacement
Surface water
United States Geological Survey
World of Warcraft

Click here for full list of links: July 2008