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# THE IMPACTS OF SLOPE ANGLE APPROXIMATIONS ON PIT OPTIMIZATION

## Filipe Beretta - SRK Consulting (UK) - fberetta@srk.co.uk

Alexandre Marinho - MiningMath Associates - alexandre.marinho@miningmath.com

RESUMO
Durante o processo de otimizao de cavas, necessrio definir mtodo e parmetros para
aproximaes dos ngulos de talude. Este artigo apresenta a sensibilidade dos resultados
da otimizao ao mtodo e parmetros considerados. O mtodo baseado na precedncia de
para variaes do parmetro nmero mximo de bancadas para um depsito de cobre. O
mtodo de precedncia de blocos mostraram uma variao de at 10.4% nas reservas e
2.8% nos fluxos de caixa, com erros de at 7.8 graus nas aproximaes dos ngulos; contra
nenhuma variao e 0% de erro para o mtodo baseado em superfcies.

## ngulo de talude; otimizao de cava; Whittle; SimSched.

ABSTRACT
During the pit optimisation process, methods and parameters for slope angle approximations
must be defined. This paper presents the sensitivity of the optimisation results to the method
and parameters considered. The method based on blocks precedence, adopted in GEOVIA
Whittle software, is examined, comparing the results for the variation of the maximum
number of levels parameter. The method based on mining surfaces, implemented in
MiningMath SimSched software, is explored and compared with the previous results. The
ultimate pits produced by the blocks precedence method have shown a variation of up to
10.4% in reserves and 2.8% in cashflow, with errors up to 7.8 degrees in slope angle
approximations; against no variation and 0% error for the surface based method.

## Slope angle; pit optimization; Whittle; SimSched.

INTRODUCTION

Every mining project must present economic forecasts, so that investors are able to make
decisions related to the future mining operations. The mineral deposit is traditionally
discretized into mining blocks, and mine planners must decide which blocks should be
exploited, when and whether they should be processed or not. This decision process is
defined as the mine scheduling problem (Johnson, 1968 ).

Considering the computational complexity of giving an optimal schedule directly from the
resource orebody model, called Direct Block Scheduling (Jelvez, 2012 ), the historical
developments have guided mine planners to solve these problems into steps: ultimate pit
limits with nested pits; mining phases; operational schedule; blending; cutoff optimization;
stockpiles; etc. Given that each step is obtained separately, the final mine schedule is not
guaranteed to be optimal, even if each individual decision could be taken optimally.

The ultimate pit problem is the first step of this simplified process. The objective is to
determine the limits of the economic extraction of the deposit in order to maximize the project
cashflow. It should be noted that only slope angles are taken into account; the costs of time,
production and operational constraints are ignored at this stage. The ultimate pit with its
nested pits is a well-accepted approximation of the reality, which should be taken only as a
guide for the following mine planning steps. The ultimate pit does not have to be, necessarily,
the actual final state of the mine after the whole scheduling process.

The available software technology has allowed pit optimisation to be performed from a
simple scoping study up to complex on-site problems, as discussed by Dagdalen (2001) .
For decades, different pit optimization algorithms have been developed (Zhao and Kim, 1991
; Hochbaum, 2008 ). One of the most popular methods (Lerchs and Grossmann, 1965
) maximizes the project undiscounted cashflow using graph theory and discretizes the pit
space, usually by changing the metal price with revenue factors, which generates nested pits
(Whittle, 1999 ).

Used in many technical publications, such as Amankwah (2011)  and do Carmo et al.
(2006) , the Lerchs and Grossmann (LG) algorithm efficiency has been attested for
decades. LG is based on a fixed economic value for each block, considering that block
destinations are pre-determined. The input parameters are the economic aspects related to
the deposit, as well as the geotechnical slope angles.

In order to obtain the ultimate pit solution, the input parameters must be determined with the
appropriate level of accuracy. Economic parameters are normally well-analysed prior to the
optimization process. However, other inputs that affect the calculations are, in several
opportunities, neglected by the software user. Some parameters, despite being considered of
low impact, can result in noticeable economic differences that deserve the users attention,
depending on the characteristics of the deposit being considered.

Some of these parameters are the slope angles and the maximum number of levels
considered for the slopes approximation, as presented by Gallagher and Kear (2001) .
The sensitivity of the pit optimization to these parameters is going to be explored within this
paper. The current technology and the commercial softwares available on the market adopt
different methods to achieve or improve the approximation of overall slope angles so as to
represent the geotechnical assessment of the deposit.

This paper illustrates the impact of the slope angles approximations on ultimate pit reserves
and cashflows, and the accuracy of those approximations for a copper project. The
commercial softwares GEOVIA Whittle and MiningMath SimSched, which are based on
different methods for slope angles approximations, are used herein. The respective methods
of blocks precedence (Whittle) and mining surfaces (SimSched) are revisited. Results and
comparisons follow.

## SLOPE ANGLE APPROXIMATION METHODS

The reality of open pit mines is that, at the start of the operations, at the end of each mining
period, at the end of the life-of-mine, or at any point in time, there is a surface in the field that
represents the state of the mine at that time. Humans need to approximate this reality into
computational models so that computers are able to recognize, present and take decisions
that represent the reality reasonably well. Herein, the two most common methods to
approximate slope angles have been chosen to assess their impacts on the reserves and the
cashflow of a real project.

For decades, mining professionals have represented mines into tri-dimensional blocks with
values. The method based on blocks precedence, adopted by Whittle, attempts to create a
list of block predecessors for each block, which means that, for removing block B, it is
necessary to remove the set of blocks PB (predecessors of block B), in order to give access
to block B. Figure 1 shows, in a section view, that a given overall slope angle is not always
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achievable with the desired degree of accuracy, causing imprecisions in the resultant
ultimate pit slope angles. The black line is an example of one wall of the mine respecting
exactly the desired slope angle; the blocks are represented in light grey in the background.
Each green line represents one possible approximation for the black line, which would be the
desirable overall slope angle of the mining surface. The slope angles approximations are
based on block centroids. In order to limit the vertical distance of the search, the blocks
precedence method uses a parameter referred as the maximum number of levels. Set by
the user, this parameter determines the maximum number of blocks vertically searched for
the slope angles approximations (red lines in Figure 1), and, for simplicity, it will be called
herein by number of levels. The measure of the differences between the input desired and
the resulting slope angles is referred as the error of approximation.

Figure 1: Imprecision of blocks resulting from the precedence method (Whittle, 1998 )

In Figure 1, the bottom left block can only be mined if all other blocks above the chosen
green limit approximation are mined. In this example, if the number of levels is set to 1, only
the blocks from the first level above each block are considered in its list of predecessors;
therefore, by propagation, only the blocks crossed by the red lines would have to be mined,
which generates a steeper slope angle than requested. The best approximation was given by
the highest number of levels setup. If this parameter is increased, the list of predecessors is
extended to more levels, which also increases accuracy and processing times.

Figure 2 presents a feasible solution, looking only at blocks and considering a 45 degrees
overall slope angle. Note that, for each 50 m horizontally (two blocks), the vertical advance
also has 50 m (five blocks), which is a fair approximation of reality.
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## Figure 2: A feasible solution for the blocks precedence method

However, if the mining surface is represented by the basis (or centroid) of each block, there
will be situations like the one presented in Figure 3. Note that the reasonable approximation
of Figure 2, in reality, has regions with slope angles steeper than the requested 45 degrees.

## Figure 3: Slope angle approximation errors

In this two-dimensional example, if one wants to guarantee that the situation in Figure 3
never happens, a conservative setup would be necessary, like the one illustrated in Figure 4.
Note that this configuration forces the overall slope angle to 38.7 degrees, which is overconservative and could result in economic losses.

## Figure 4: A conservative slope angle approximation using blocks precedence

Most of the academic results and commercial softwares are based on the blocks precedence
method. Whittle has a report that calculates the errors associated with each setup of the
number of levels. An example is presented in Figure 5.
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## Figure 5: Example of the slope profile Whittle report

The second method evaluated herein is based directly on a representation of the mining
surfaces. Slope angles are controlled on the surface, not by dependencies between blocks.
Each horizontal red line represented in Figure 3 and Figure 4 could be seen as a part of the
mining surface being considered. These red lines are called grid cells, or simply cells. The
name grid is associated with the fact that there is one cell for each column of blocks in the
orebody model. Each cell can assume any position within its column. This representation is
well-known by users of softwares such as GEOVIA GEMS, where it is called a Surface
Elevation Grid (SEG), or MineSight 3D, where it is called a Grid Surface File (GSF). The
center of each cell could be seen as a point in space, which could be triangulated so as to
generate a tri-dimensional surface.

If one wants to control slope angles over surfaces, each cell elevation must be compared to
its adjacent cells. The slope angle is evaluated as illustrated by the diagonal red lines in
Figure 3 and Figure 4. Figure 6 shows two possible representations of surfaces and their
associated mined blocks in grey. For any mining surface given, the blocks that have
centroids above their cell elevations are considered within the ultimate pit, or mining period.

## Figure 6: Examples of surfaces respecting a 45 degrees slope angle setup

This approximation is 100% accurate, with no need for any parameter adjustment. Surfaces
resulting from algorithms based on this approach will have no triangles with a slope angle
higher than requested. For complex deposits with highly variable geotechnical zones, there
are no extra difficulties in slope angle management. Based on this representation, different
mine scheduling methods have been proposed (Goodwin et al., 2005 ; Marinho, 2013
; Guimares and Marinho, 2014 ).

## The deposit considered in this study is a copper porphyry occurrence in a highly

metamorphosed setting, associated with significant sulphide mineralization. The mineralized
domains outcrop and are hosted within gneisses and amphibolites, bound by schists with
lower degree of metamorphism. The deposit was discretized into regular blocks of
25x25x10 m.

This deposit was selected due to its average complexity in terms of geotechnical zones.
Figure 7 shows section views of the three geological domains considered. Overall slope
angles have been defined for each domain. The input slope angle for the waste is 40
degrees. For the base case, the mineralized domains 1 and 2 assume slope angles of 45
and 50 degrees, respectively.

Figure 7: Plan view and vertical section representing the blocks by domain

In order to measure the variability of reserves and cashflow, the number of levels was varied
for different pit optimisation runs, using Whittle. All the remaining parameters were kept fixed.
These parameters are described in Table 1.

The surface based method was executed in a single run, using SimSched, which does not
require a parameter setup.

Parameters

Units

Value

Waste

(Deg)

40

Ore 1

(Deg)

45

Ore 2

(Deg)

50

Geotechnical

Mining Factors
Dilution

(%)

10.0

Recovery

(%)

90.0

Ore 1

(%)

80.0

Ore 2

(%)

87.0

Mining Costs

(\$/tmoved)

3.50

## Incremental Mining Cost

(\$/bench)

0.05

Reference Level

(m)

3,130

Processing Costs

(\$/tore)

18.00

(\$m/year)

40.0

(\$/tore)

4.00

(%)

3.1

Processing Recoveries

Operating Costs

General and

Selling Costs

(\$/tmetal)

187.55

(\$/t)

6,050

Metal Price
Copper

## RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Base case

The resulting reserves and cashflows, with respective physical ultimate pit limits, for the
number of levels set to 10, 20 and 40, are presented in Table 2 and Figure 8. Results for the
surface method are also included in the comparison. With the increase of the parameter
being tested, the maximum error decreases from 3.0 to 0.3 degrees, the reserves decrease
by 5.4%, the average grades have negligible changes and the cashflow decreases by 2.4%.
The maximum error is the largest difference found between the resulting slope angles and
the desired input value, considering all the faces created for the optimised pitshell.

## The method of surfaces, implemented in SimSched, has no approximation errors and

presents higher cashflow, even when compared to the Whittle result with 1.8 degrees of
maximum error. As illustrated in Figure 4 and observed in Figure 8, in order to reduce the
errors associated with slope angle approximations for the blocks precedence method, the
assumptions must be more conservative, which results in a lower cashflows for the project.
Figure 8 shows the oscillations of the ultimate pit shells for the blocks precedence method,
while the ultimate pit for the surface method has clear straight lines, changing only in the
transition zones of the different domains. The solution for the parameter set to 10 levels has
steeper slope angles than the others. If the remaining solutions are compared, it can be
noted that the solution given by SimSched has more ore and less waste, but the ore has a
lower average grade than the Whittle results.

Method

Blocks
Precedence
Surface

Number of

Maximum error

Ore

Strip Ratio

Cashflow

Levels

Degrees

Mt

t/t

% Cu

M\$

10

3.0

119.3

1.16

0.89

1,706.04

20

1.8

115.8

1.21

0.89

1,670.25

40

0.3

112.9

1.20

0.90

1,665.33

0.0

116.5

1.15

0.85

1,692.80

10

## Constant slope angle case

Another scenario was run with both methods using a constant input value for the slope
angles. The base case was changed assuming a slope value of 40 degrees for all domains.

The results for this case are shown in Table 3 and the comparison between the resulting
surfaces is shown in Figure 9. This scenario shows the smallest differences among the
results, as there is no slope angle transition at the contacts between domains. When the
number of levels was set to 10, the maximum error was 2.0 degrees.

## Table 3: Results for the scenarios with constant slope value.

Method

Blocks
Precedence
Surface

Number of

Maximum error

Ore

Strip Ratio

Cashflow

Levels

Degrees

Mt

t/t

% Cu

M\$

10

2.0

105.6

1.43

0.91

1,518.88

20

0.8

104.1

1.48

0.91

1,489.76

40

0.3

103.0

1.48

0.91

1,486.93

0.0

101.6

1.39

0.87

1,508.00

Figure 9: Vertical section 1 showing the impact of the constant slope value

## Abrupt transitions case

In order to show the sensitivity of the methods to abrupt transitions between slope profiles,
an exaggerated scenario was created considering the input values for the slope angle as 60
degrees for mineralization 1 and 30 degrees for mineralization 2. For the waste material, the
input slope angle remained 40 degrees. The same values for the number of levels were
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considered for the blocks precedence method in comparison to a single run of the surface
method.

Due to its complexity, this is the most sensitive case. The scenario using 10 as the number of
levels results in a maximum error of 7.8 degrees, being the highest error found within this
study.

Among the blocks precedence results, the difference achieves more than 10% on the ore
reserves, and the cashflow varies 2.8% for the same group of tests. Table 4 summarizes the
results for the cases performed with abrupt transitions and Figure 10 shows the differences
of the resulting surfaces. As the Whittle software has limitations for the number of columns in
a slope cone, and it could not compute the precedence arcs for the 40 levels setup, the
number of levels was restricted to 35 for the last blocks precedence run.

Table 4: Results for the case with abrupt transition between slope profiles.
Method

Blocks
Precedence
Surface

Number of

Maximum error

Ore

Strip Ratio

Cashflow

Levels

Degrees

Mt

t/t

% Cu

M\$

10

7.8

128.8

1.06

0.87

1,745.10

20

1.4

115.9

1.09

0.89

1,705.75

35

0.6

116.7

1.12

0.89

1,696.87

0.0

133.0

1.13

0.82

1,707.20

Figure 10: Vertical section 1 showing the impact of the abrupt transitions case

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Figure 11 shows details of the slope transition zone at the right wall of the pit in the section
view. It should be noted that in transition zones from a 30 degrees region to a 60 degrees
region, which happens from blue blocks to red blocks, the Whittles blocks precedence
method solution is optimistic, frequently assuming the highest value of 60 degrees. The
SimSched implementation of the surface method assumes the average slope angle at
transition zones, creating a more conservative surface.

## Slope correction for the blocks precedence method

In order to perform a fair comparison, the surfaces generated by the Whittle implementation
of the blocks precedence method were corrected by the surface method algorithm
implemented in SimSched, so that the maximum error was set to zero and the same criteria
at transition zones was adopted. There are no parameters in Whittle for slopes
approximations capable of returning zero error and/or less optimistic criteria for transition
zones. Figure 12 shows the given surface when the number of levels was set to 10 and the

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same surface after slope corrections. The corrected surface includes more ore and waste,
and the strip ratio increases by 6.6%.

Figure 12: Vertical section 1 showing one surface before and after slope corrections

Figure 13 shows the surfaces for the different number of levels after corrections with results
in Table 5.

## Table 5: Results for the abrupt case after slope corrections.

Method

Blocks
Precedence
Surface

Number of

Maximum error

Ore

Strip Ratio

Cashflow

Levels

Degrees

Mt

t/t

% Cu

M\$

10

0.0

132.2

1.13

0.82

1,690.70

20

0.0

118.2

1.11

0.84

1,681.60

35

0.0

118.7

1.12

0.84

1,677.50

0.0

133.0

1.13

0.82

1,707.20

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Figure 13: Vertical section 1 showing the surfaces after slope corrections

Notice that for the same parameters of Table 1 plus the geotechnical setup of this
subsection, a given user could have run Whittle and taken the ultimate pit with 128.8Mt of ore
and 1,745.10M\$ of cashflow from Table 4, while another user, who decided for a more
conservative setup, using a maximum of 35 levels and followed by slope corrections, could
have found 118.7Mt of ore and 1,677.50M\$ of cashflow from Table 5. This represents an
8.5% difference in the ore reserves and a 4.0% difference in cashflow given only by
differences in slope approximations criteria.

CONCLUSIONS

This study shows the sensitivity of the ultimate pit reserves and cashflow to the method and
the selected input parameters for slope angle approximations. The blocks precedence
method has errors associated to slope angles approximations, and requires the setup of the
number of levels parameter. The surface method has zero error, and requires no parameter
setup; therefore, it is more reliable in terms of physical and numerical results reported.

The results for both methods are equivalent for the case with a constant slope angle. The
major differences were noticed for the case with abrupt changes between slope profiles,
which translates to larger errors for the blocks precedence method. The ultimate pits
produced by Whittle have shown a variation up to 10.4% in ore reserves and 2.8% in
cashflow, with errors up to 7.8 degrees in slope angle approximations. It was observed that,
if the deposit is more complex in terms of geotechnical zones, the impacts on the final results
will be higher when varying the number of levels.
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Both Whittle and SimSched algorithms look for maximum cashflow. If slope angle
consequences are ignored and accepted as reasonable, all cases show similar results
between methods with differences in cashflow no higher than 2%. If the Whittle surfaces are
corrected for a fair comparison, SimSched produced an ultimate pit with similar ore and
waste production, but 1% higher cashflow than the best of the three results produced by
Whittle.

The Lerchs-Grossmann algorithm offers cashflow maximization for the given input
parameters. Although it is a deterministic algorithm with a guaranteed maximum cashflow,
the user must be careful when defining the number of levels. A more conservative parameter
(a higher number of levels) results in a lower cashflow. The current algorithms based on
surfaces do not mathematically guarantee the highest cashflow, as they have heuristics built
in, but they do not lose value with slope angle approximations and guarantee zero error on
resulting surfaces.

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##  Marinho, A. (2013) Surface Constrained Stochastic Life-of-Mine Production Scheduling.

MSc. Thesis, McGill University, Montreal, Qc, 119 p.

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