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Mining Methods Classification System

L. Adler and S.D. Thompson


The purpose of a classification system for mining methods is to provide an initial guideline for the preliminary selection of a suitable method or methods. Its significance is great as this choice impinges on all future mine design decisions and, in turn, on safety, economy, and the environment. The choice of a mining method assumes a previous but cursory knowledge of the methods themselves. It also assumes a brief understanding of ground control and of excavating and bulk handling equipment. In the formal mine design procedure, the choice of mining methods immediately follows geological and geotechnical studies, and feeds directly into the crucial milestone diagram where regions of the property are delineated as to prospective mining methods (Lineberry and Adler 1987). This step in turn just precedes the subjective, complex, and critical layout and sequencing study. To develop the proposed classification system adopted here, many existing ones (both domestic United States and foreign) were examined and incorporated to varying degrees. The result is deemed more systematic, inclusive, and understandable than its predecessors (i.e., Stoces 1966). Subsequent parts of this handbook elaborate on the selection and comparison of mining methods.

until near the end of the investigation, and then considered as modifying factors. This organization duplicates but tightens others (Hartman 1987).


Most mineral deposits have been geometrically characterized as to an idealized shape, inclination, size, and depth. Complex or composite bodies are then composed of these elements. Ideal shapes are either tabular or massive, with chimneys (or pipes) being subordinated. Tabular deposits extend at least hundreds of meters (feet) along two dimensions, and substantially less along a minor dimension. Massive bodies are approximately unidimensional (cubic or spherical), being at least hundreds of meters (feet) in three dimensions. A modification is recommended later to achieve closure with tabular deposits. For tabular deposits, the inclination (attitude or dip) and thickness are crucial. Inclinations range from flat to steep (Table 6.2-2) (Hamrin 1980; Popov 1971).
Table 6.2-1 Input statement categories
Primary Categories (Dependency) Natural conditions (invariant) Company capabilities (variant) Public policy (semivariant) Secondary Categories Geography Geology Economic engineering Business administration Monetary aspects Management aspects Regulations Taxes Contracts Incentives State of the art (mining engineering) Salient distinctions Total systems (design/control) Encumbered (and regulated) space Full-spectrum practice (manage/evaluate) Professionalism


A comprehensive statement has been developed to provide a rapid checklist of the many important input parameters (Adler and Thompson 1987). The three major areas are (1) natural conditions, (2) company capabilities, and (3) public policy (Table 6.2-1). Those parameters appearing early are generally the most important. Natural conditions require that a dual thrust be maintained concerning resource potentials and engineering capabilities. An additional basic distinction occurs between geography and geology. For company capabilities, fiscal, engineering, and management resources must be recognized. This includes the scale of investment, profitability, and personnel skills and experience. Public policy must be considered, particularly as to governmental regulations (especially safety, health, and environmental), tax laws, and contract status. Some of the latter input factors are held in abeyance

L. Adler, Professor, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA S.D. Thompson, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, Illinois, USA



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Table 6.2-2 Tabular deposits classified by attitude and related to bulk handling and rock strength
Class Flat Inclined Attitude or Dip 20

Table 6.2-5 Deposits classified by depth

Deposit Depth Underground (a measure of overburden pressure) Class Shallow Coal 61 m (200 ft) slope entries possible
122244 m (400800 ft) pillar problems

Bulk Handling Mode Use mobile equipment (and conveyors) Use slashers (metal plate can also vibrateas gravity slides) Gravity flow of bulk solids

Rock Strength Weak rock (surficial) Average rock

Ore 305 m (1,000 ft)

305457 m (1,0001,500 ft)

Surface 61 m (200 ft)

61305 m (2001,000 ft)



Strong rock (at depth)


Table 6.2-3 Surface pit slopes related to rock strength and time
Maximum Pit Slope Rock Strong Average Weak (soils also) *Infrequently up to 70. Short Term
4145(70)* 3040 1530


915 m (3,000 ft) bumps, burst, closure

1,830 m (6,000 ft)

305915 m (1,0003,000 ft) open pit

Long Term
1820 1518 1015

Table 6.2-6 Deposit classified by geometry and type

Geometric Class Tabular Flat and inclined Deposit Type Alluvium (placer) Coal (folded too) Evaporites (domes too) Sedimentary Metamorphic (folded too) Steep Veins Can be weakened or rehealed (gouge and alteration) Strong Can be weakened Good country rock, thicker Comments Near surfaceweak Weak country rockan erosion surface

Table 6.2-4 Underground deposits classified by thickness

Deposit Thickness Class Tabular Thin Medium Thick
0.91.2 m (34 ft) 1.22.4 m (48 ft) 2.44.6 m (815 ft) pillar problems 0.91.8 m (36 ft) 1.84.6 m (615 ft) 4.615.3 m (1550 ft) can cave (steep dip)



Comments Low profile or narrow mine equipment Post and stulls 3.1 m (10 ft) Small surface equipment; crib problems Pillar problems or poor recovery; benching necessary; caving considered


Igneous (magmatic) Disseminated ores


4.6 m (15 ft)

5.3 m (50 ft)

In surface mining, the inclination limits the advantageous possibility of being able to cast waste material nearby, as opposed to hauling it a distance and then storing it. For flat deposits, especially when fairly shallow, an area can be successively opened up and the waste can then be cast into the previously mined-out strips, a substantial economic advantage. Casting, in its normal sense, is not restricted to the use of rotating excavators; broadly, it means relatively short-distance hauling of waste, which can also be done with mobile loaders and/or trucks or with mobile bridge conveyors. For steeper (and deeper) deposits, stable pit slopes become important (Table 6.2-3) (Hartman 1987; Popov 1971). Where the deposit inclination exceeds that of the stable slope, both the hanging wall and footwall must be excavated and the increased waste then handled and placed. For both surface and underground mining methods, the inclination cutoff values nearly coincide (one for pit slopes, the other for face bulk handling mechanisms, whether mechanical or by gravity). While not identical, they are close enough to use similar values (20 and 45; see Table 6.2-2). The thickness of a tabular deposit is also important (Table 6.2-4), with reference primarily to underground work (Popov 1971). When three or more benches are required, the

deposit tends to be treated as massive. Primarily in flat underground deposits, thickness governs the possible equipment height (low profile), and in steep ones its narrowness. Also, in underground mining, the deposit thickness becomes a support problem, especially if effective pillars become so massive that recovery is compromised. When the upper limit of any of these concerns is reached (e.g., benching, equipment size, and pillar bulk), closure with massive deposits occurs for all practical purposes. Pillar size vs. recovery can dictate caving except where pillar sizes may be decreased because backfilling is used, such as in postpillar cut-and-fill. Finally, the depth below the ground surface is important (Table 6.2-5) (Popov 1971; Stefanko 1983). For surface deposits, even flat ones, this can obviate casting and require increased waste haulage and expanded dump sites. For underground mining, earth pressures usually increase with depth, consequently raising the support needs. The ground surface location above a deposit must be clearly identified to evaluate other parameters (see Input Statement section previously).


The inclination (dip) can be roughly related to the deposit type (Table 6.2-6). Rocks can also be related to strength (Table 6.2-7) (Hartman 1987). The strength of the deposit and its envelope of country rock can then be related to its type (Table 6.2-8). For determining pit slopes, (surface mining) and support requirements (underground mining), these relationships become important. Some variations are noted, especially for veins and disseminated deposits.

Mining Methods Classification System



Depth Related to Inclination The surface mining classification, although based on the crucial ability to cast waste material rather than to haul it, has other features. These are primarily based on the depth of the deposit being a function of its inclination. Flat seams tend to be shallow, and casting is possible; steep and massive deposits trend to depth. From this, a number of relationships result.

Table 6.2-7 Rocks classified by strength

Class Weak Moderate Compressive Strength 41.3 MPa (6,000 psi)
41.3137.9 MPa (6,00020,000 psi)

Examples Coal, weathered rock, alluvium Shale, sandstone, limestone, schist Evaporites, disseminated deposit

Depth Related to Excavating Technique and Stripping Ratio Because of the effects of weathering and stress release, excavating becomes more difficult and expensive with depth, following a continuum from hydraulic action and scooping through to blasting (Hartman 1987). As a matter of definition, the stripping ratio (ratio of waste to mineral) usually increases with depth. However, the relatively inexpensive handling of waste near the surface by casting tends to mitigate this increase, permitting higher ratios. The use of mobile, cross-pit, high-angle conveying allows greater pit depths and, along with the mineral value, also influences this ratio. Surface Mining Classification System Based on the foregoing factors, a surface mining classification has been developed (Table 6.2-9). The classification incorporates information dependent on the intrinsic characteristics of the geometry of the deposit. Quarrying appears to be anomalous because of (1) relatively steeper pit slopes, (2) specialized means of excavating and handling, and (3) less critical amount of overburden. Glory hole mining or its equivalent is making a comeback in very deep open pits using inclined

Strong Very strong

137.9206.8 MPa (20,00030,000 psi)

Metamorphic, igneous, veins, marble, slate Quartzite, basalt, diabase

206.8 MPa (30,000 psi)

Table 6.2-8 Deposits related to geometry, genesis, and strength (in order of induration)
Deposits Type Alluvium (placers) Erosion surface (swamps) Disseminated Vein (can be rehealed) Evaporites Sedimentary (bedded) Metamorphic Igneous (magnetic) Geometry Tabular-flat Tabular-flat and thin (possible folding) Massive Tabular-inclined (pipes, chimney shoots) Tabular-flat-thick Tabular-flat-thick Tabular-flat-thick Massive Genesis Surface-stream action deposition (fans, deltas, meanders, braids) Swamps (possible dynamic metamorphism) Underground channels and multifaceted advance Major underground channels (fissures), gouge, alteration (reheal) Interior drainage Shallow seas Dynamic and/or thermal Plutonic emplacement Strength and Stiffness, Deposit/Country Rock Poor/poor Poor/poor to good Poor/poor Poor to good/good Good/good Good/good Good/good Good/good Examples Sand and gravel; precious metals and stones (tin) Coal Hydrothermal ores (porphyry coppers and sulfides) Hydrothermal ores (porphyry coppers and sulfides) Salt, phosphates Limestone, sandstone Marble, slate Granite, basalt, diabase

Table 6.2-9 Classification of surface mining methods

Shape, Attitude (dip) Tabular Flat Near surface Shallow Inclined Moderate Low Moderate Moderate (remove hanging wall) High (remove both hanging wall and footwalls) Depends on depth Onsite Cast Need highwall Haul (to waste dump) Deep Haul (to waste dump) Hydraulic, scoop, dig Scoop, dig, light blast Auger Blast Placershydrosluicing, dredging, solutionat depth Open cast (strip)area, contour, mountain top Auger Open pit Open pit Deposit Characteristics Excavation Stripping Ratio Waste Handling Excavation Mining Method

Saw, jet pierce (joints) Massive Full range Haul (to waste dump) Note: In-situ mining is always possible.

Quarry Open pit; glory hole


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Table 6.2-10 Structural components located and described for underground mining
Component (time dependent) Roof (can deteriorate, slough, slakedry and crumble) Location/(Material) Back and hanging wall (envelope) Loaded by Main roofall, especially overburden (cap rock) Immediate roofbody Pillars and walls (can deteriorateslough, slake) Sides, deposit and waste (horses mainly deposit) Allespecially overburden Supported by Pillars and fill, also arched (1/5) Artificial supports can remove Floor Comments Spans ~3 m (10 ft) for coal to 30.5 m (100 ft) for rock Spans ~3.1 m (10 ft) (stand-up time) Critical: 1. Stiffness: (slenderness ratio: approximately 10/1 [coal] to 1/3 [rock]) 2. Strength (material) 3. Percentage recovery Critical: 1. Stiffness 2. Strength (bearing capacity especially if water) 3. Heave (deep-seated) Good mainly to support hanging wall. Requires greater than angle of slide and confinement. Deterioration (chemical and stress) Anchorage a concern

Floor (can settle and heave)

Footwall (envelope)

Allthrough pillar watch water

Country rock can be compacted, removed, drained

Fill (for permanent stability)

Crushed waste, sand, water

Allespecially as pillars are removed Mainly immediate roof

Footwall and floor

Artificial support (limited time)

External: Timber (props, sets, cribs, stulls, posts); concrete gunite (mesh) Internal: Bolts (headers), trusses, cables, grout, cementation


Mainly immediate roof

Anchorage in roof, etc.

hoisting. Glory hole mining utilizes a single large-diameter raise located in the lowest point of the pit, down which all blasted material is dumped. The bottom of the hole feeds into crushers and a conveying system, which transports the material to the surface through a horizontal or inclined drift (Darling 1989). In contrast to the underground classification, the surface one is not formed into a matrix. This is because depth and therefore the excavating technique, waste handling, and stripping ratio are all functionally related to the deposit geometry, particularly the seam inclination. No preceding classification recognizes this relationship (Hartman 1987; Lewis and Clark 1964; Morrison and Russell 1973; Stout 1980; Thomas 1973).

Ground Control Ground control requires knowledge of the structure (opening), material (rock), and loads (pressures). Structural components are detailed in Table 6.2-10. Earlier tables detailed the deposit by its depth and detailed rocks by strength (Tables 6.2-5 and 6.2-7, respectively). From the point of view of support, the roof, pillars, and fill are of primary concern.
Main Roof


Normally, two major independent parameters will be considered that form a matrix, unlike for surface methods. These two parameters are (1) the basic deposit geometry, as for surface methods, and (2) the support requirement necessary to mine stable stopes, or to produce caving, a ground control problem (Boshkov and Wright 1973; Hamrin 1980; Hartman 1987; Lewis and Clark 1964; Thomas 1973). Deposit Geometry Deposit geometry employs the same cutoff points for tabular deposits as in the surface classification, but for different reasons. Flat deposits require machine handling of the bulk solid at or near the face; steep ones can exploit gravity (Table 6.2-2), with an intermediate inclination recognized. If stopes are developed on-strike in steep seams as large tunnel sections or step rooms (Hamrin 1980), machine handling can still be used. The resulting stepped configuration causes either dilution or decreased recovery, or both. Because this face can also be benched, stope mining simply reproduces tunneling.

The main roof (sometimes the hanging wall) is distinguished from the immediate roof by being the critical load transferring element between the overburden and pillars. The immediate roof can be removed (mined out) or supported artificially and lightly. The main roof is defined as the first close-in, competent (strong) seam. If it is only marginally competent, heavy artificial support may keep it stable; if not, then caving can be expected. For a flat seam, the vertical (perpendicular) loads on the main roof are largely due to the overburden and its own body load. Horizontal (tangential) loads or pressures will tend to be uniformly distributed, resulting in a low stress concentration. If bed separation occurs above the main roof, this stress uniformity is enhanced; but at depth, overburden loading tends to decrease separation. Body loads are invariant, whereas edge loadsparticularly those due to the overburden can be shifted (pressure arching). The main roof is often sufficiently thick so that it can be arched below 1/5 (i.e., at less than 1 horizontally and 5 vertically) to increase stability. A guideline for coal is that stable spans are usually less than 3 m (10 ft), whereas for hard rock they are generally less than 30 m (98 ft). For an inclined seam, the main roof is the hanging wall, and the results are similar to a flat seam. Pressures perpendicular to it are more significant then tangential ones, and bed separation due to gravity is less likely.

Mining Methods Classification System


Table 6.2-11 Deposit and structural components related to underground mining methods
Deposit Geometry Tabular Flat (and inclined) Good Good Good Poor Room-and-pillar (spans 6 m [20 ft]); stope-and-pillar (spans 31 m [100 ft]) Room-and-pillar; stope-and-pillar Longwall; pillaring Immediately above Sublevel stoping (spans 631 m [20100 ft]); large tunnel section Hydraulickingcoal (spans 621-m [2070-ft] arch); shrinkage Cut-and-fill Sublevel caving and top slice spans 6 m (20 ft) (for gravity flow) Vertical slices Vertical slices Block caving (spans ~34 m [110 ft] active end stope used) Caved Self-supported Supported then filled Self-supported Supported Caved Caved Self-supported then filled Supported then filled Structural Main Roof and Floor Components Rated (pillars, walls)* Underground Mining Methods Type

Poor (roof collapses about Good free-standing pillars) Poor Steep Good Good Poor Poor Massive Good Good Poor (cap rock) Poor Good Poor Good Poor Good Poor Poor

*Rated as to strength (and stiffness of pillar). Horizontal slices can introduce the many problems associated with multiple-seam mining.


Pillars serve to support the main roof and its loads, primarily the overburden acting over a tributary area. Pillar material consists mainly of the seam itself and sometimes waste incorporated within the seam. Pillars must not only be sufficiently strong but also must be sufficiently stiff, a frequently overlooked requirement. If pillars are not adequately stiff, but still adequately strong, the roof will collapse about the still freestanding pillars, especially when differential pillar (and floor) deflection occurs. The minimum slenderness ratio for pillars to avoid this crippling is inversely proportional to the recovery. The mining of flat, thick seams of coal dramatically reflects this relationship and is a factor in classifying seam thicknesses (Table 6.2-4). For massive deposits, even in strong rock, this makes freestanding pillars of doubtful value. Upper slenderness ratios range from about 10/1 for coal to 1/3 for rock. Continuous vertical pillars are used to separate vertical stopes in hard rock that employ steep, tabular stoping methods. Even with stable ground, these are usually filled soon after mining for long-term stability. When massive deposits along with their cap rock are weak, caving is necessitated, usually performed as horizontal lifts or as block caving. Caving always requires a sufficient span 9 m (30 ft), good draw control, and also risks dilution and/or poor recovery. Soft or nonuniform floors (footwalls) act the same as do soft and irregular pillars.

mining. Because of settlement and shrinkage away from a flat back, it is marginally useful for flat deposits. When timbering is densely placed, especially with square sets, it rivals pillars. It, too, is usually filled as stoping progresses (overhand mining). These relationships are summarized in Table 6.2-11 and lead into the formal classification. Underground Mining Classification System Based on an understanding of bulk handling and ground control, the underground classification system shown in Table 6.2-12 closely follows previous ones. The primary difference is that sometimes shrinkage stoping is considered self-supported rather than supported. However, although the broken mineral provides a working floor, it is still supporting the hanging wall (roof). On the other hand, when the stope is drawn empty, it remains substantially self-supported until fill is introduced. The disadvantages of the shrinkage method are unique: (1) an uncertain working floor, (2) dilution due to sloughing and falls of rock, (3) possibly adverse chemical effects, and (4) tying up about two-thirds of the mineral until the stope is drawn. Vertical crater retreat mining is included in the classification between sublevel and shrinkage stoping (Hamrin 1980).


Fill, often a sandy slurry consisting of crushed waste, cement, and water, can be readily introduced into confined (plugged), inclined, and steep tabular stopes. When drained and dried, this hardened slurry provides permanent resistance to ground movement, especially for the walls or pillars. It is widely used in all but the caving methods. It is either run in progressively as a stope is mined out or done all at once at the end of stope

While subordinated, there are additional factors that must be closely evaluated. These deal with the broad impacts on the environment, health and safety, costs, output rate, and others. They are usually evaluated on a relative basis, although numbers may also be employed (Table 6.2-13) (Boshkov and Wright 1973; Hartman 1987). An example of where the environmental considerations on the surface are beginning to affect mining methods is in the use of high-density paste backfilling in order to return most of the tailings back


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Table 6.2-12 Classification of underground mining methods based on deposit geometry and support
Degree of Support Deposit Shape, Attitude (dip) Tabular Flat (mobile bulk handling) Inclined (mixed bulk handling) Room-and-pillar; stope-and-pillar Above with scrapers Large tunnel section (on-strike) Steep (gravity bulk handling) Coal hydraulicking Sublevel stoping Vertical crater retreat Shrinkage stoping Massive Some degree of artificial support for room-and-pillar and stope-and-pillar Above with scrapers Large tunnel section with artificial support Shrinkage stoping; cut-and-fill stoping Timbered stoping (square sets, stulls, gravity) Fill as needed Gravity fill as needed Immediately above in horizontal lifts block caving (bulk mining) Sublevel caving Top slicing (control dilution-and-recovery) Longwall (shortwall); pillaring (especially room-and-pillar) Longwall (difficult) Unsupported (open stopes) Supported Caved

Immediately above mine in vertical slices. Fillgravity placement. To remove pillars, can mine and then fill horizontal lifts.*

*For ground control problems, especially those associated with coal, treat as if they were to be extracted by thick-seam and/or multiple-seam mining. As pressure increases (especially with depth), or as rock strength decreases, shift right for suitable method (toward supported and caved).

Table 6.2-13 Secondary factors to be considered when selecting a mining method

Relative Flexibility/ Cost Selectivity
0.05 0.10 0.10

Method Placers and dredging Open-cast Open-pit

% Recovery/ % Dilution Environment Surface Mining High/low High/low High/low High impact, and water pollution

Safety and Health Fair

Output (t/h) and Productivity (t/employee) Moderate High High

Miscellaneous Need water; impact of weather Flat topography and impact of weather Impact of weather

Low/high Moderate/ moderate Moderate/ moderate Low/high

Blasting can lead to frequent Fair claims and water pollution Ground disturbance, waste piles, and some water problems Ground disturbance and waste piles Subsidence and water pollution Good Fill to avoid subsidence Fill to avoid subsidence Slope stability (slides)




Slope stability

Very low

Skilled workers and impact of weather Pillaring common Benching common Fill common Tie up 23 of ore

Underground Mining Room-and-pillar (coal) Stope-and-pillar Sublevel stope Shrinkage

0.30 0.30 0.40 0.50

High/high High/high Low/low Moderate/ moderate Moderate/ high Moderate/ high Low/low Low/low Low/low

5080/20 75/15 75/15 80/10 plucking during draw 100/0 100/0 80/10 90/20 90/20

Ground control and ventilation Ground control and ventilation Less, blast from long holes Poor floor (collapse) and stored broken mineral* Some Smolder, and fall (of personnel) Good

High High Moderate Low

Cut-and-fill Timbered square set Longwall Sublevel caving (top slicing) Block caving

0.60 1.00 0.20 0.50 0.20

Fill to avoid subsidence Fill to avoid subsidence Subsidence and water pollution

Low Very low Very high High High

Sort in stope Sort in stope High capital 12 dip 2.4 m (8 ft) thick Cave width 9.2 m (30 ft) Tie up mineral

Severe subsidence disruption Fair and stored broken mineral* Severe subsidence disruption Air blasts and stored broken mineral*

*Can pack (cement), oxidize, and smolder.

Mining Methods Classification System


underground (in order to obtain mining permits from environmental agencies). In addition, innovation is always occurring and some is currently of proven value. These include rapid excavation, methane drainage, underground gasification, and retorting (Hartman 1987). Many methods are now automated and robotized.


This chapter has been revised from the corresponding chapter in the previous edition of this handbook.


Adler, L., and Thompson, S.D. 1987. Comprehensive input statement for mine design. SME Preprint 87-71. Littleton, CO: SME Boshkov, S.H., and Wright, F.D. 1973. Basic and parametric criteria in the selection, design and development of underground mining systems. In SME Mining Engineering Handbook. Edited by A.B. Cummins and I.A. Given. New York: SME-AIME. pp. 12-212-13. Darling, P.G. 1989. Glensanda: A super quarry for the future. Int. Min. Mag. (May): 3136.

Hamrin, H. 1980. Guide to Underground Mining. Stockholm: Atlas Copco. pp. 1231. Hartman, H.L. 1987. Introductory Mining Engineering. New York: Wiley. Lewis, R.S., and Clark, G.B. 1964. Elements of Mining, 3rd ed. New York: Wiley. pp. 378403, 404416. Lineberry, G.T., and Adler, L. 1987. A procedure for mine design. SME Preprint 87-48. Littleton, CO: SME. Morrison, R.G.K., and Russell, P.L. 1973. Classification of mineral deposits and rock materials. In SME Mining Engineering Handbook. Edited by A.B. Cummins and I.A. Given. New York: SME-AIME. pp. 9-29-22. Popov, G. 1971. The Working of Mineral Deposits. Translated by V. Shiffer. Moscow: MIR Publishers. Stefanko, R. 1983. Coal Mining Technology: Theory and Practice. Edited by C.J. Bise. New York: SME-AIME. pp. 52, 8487. Stoces, B. 1966. Atlas of Mining Methods. Prague: UNESCO. Stout, K. 1980. Mining Methods and Equipment. New York: McGraw-Hill. Thomas, L.J. 1973. An Introduction to Mining. New York: Halsted Press (Wiley).