Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
Print version ISSN 0038-223X
This paper gives an overview of the difficulties associated with determining the strength of hard-rock pillars. Although a number of pillar design tools are available, pillar collapses still occur. Recent examples of large-scale pillar collapses in South Africa suggest that these were caused by weak partings that traversed the pillars. Currently two different methods are used to determine the strength of pillars, namely, empirical equations derived from back analyses of failed and stable cases, and numerical modelling tools using appropriate failure criteria. The paper illustrates that both techniques have their limitations and additional work is required to obtain a better understanding of pillar strength. Empirical methods based on observations of pillar behaviour in a given geotechnical setting are popular and easy to use, but care should be exercised that the results are not inappropriately extrapolated beyond the environment in which they are established. An example is the Hedley and Grant formula (derived for the Canadian uranium mines), which has been used for many years in the South African platinum and chrome mines (albeit with some adaptation of the K-value). Very few collapses have been reported in South Africa for layouts designed using this formula, suggesting that in some cases it might yield estimates of pillar strength that are too conservative. As an alternative, some engineers strongly advocate the use of numerical techniques to determine pillar strength. A close examination unfortunately reveals that these techniques also rely on many assumptions. An area where numerical modelling is invaluable, however, is in determining pillar stresses accurately and for studying specific pillar failure mechanisms, such as the influence of weak partings on pillar strength. In conclusion, it appears that neither empirical techniques nor numerical modelling can be used solely to provide a solid basis for conducting pillar design. It is therefore recommended that both these techniques should be utilized to obtain the best possible insight into a given design problem. Owing to the uncertainties regarding pillar strength and loading stiffness, monitoring in trial mining sections and in established mining areas is also an essential tool to test the stability of pillar layouts in particular geotechnical areas.
Keywords : pillar design; bord and pillar mining; stable pillars.