Vulcan Automated Pit Designer

One of the ways that Maptek continues to innovate is by revisiting old problems with new technology and fresh eyes. A great example of this is the work we’re doing with the Automated Pit Designer which will be released in Vulcan 10.

 In my role as a mining engineer specializing in open pit mine optimization, I frequently engage with clients struggling to generate open pit mine contours effectively and efficiently. 

Conventional ultimate pit optimization operates on a discrete block basis classifying blocks as extracted or left in place. This is optimistic; it assumes perfect extraction of cuboid blocks with little consideration for design parameters such as minimum mining width, digability, and local geotechnical conditions. This disconnect, between the geologic model and what actually occurs in the mine, can lead to unrealistic results and erroneous decisions. Also, the current process for contouring an open pit mine is manual or semi-automated, and can be tedious.

With these challenges in mind, I began investigating the geometry underlying open pit mines. I reviewed all the open pit mines I knew of and worked at, and looked at satellite images on Google maps to find more. This research led to strong appreciation of the complexity of open pit mines, and the flexibility that an automated design tool would require. As my research continued, I realized that most pits could be described by relatively few parametric curves, each consisting of relatively few control points. These curves could then be informed from the block model, and the idea for the Automated Pit Designer began to take shape.

Of course, ideas are easy – actually doing something is much harder. I had previously only programmed research software; some plotting utilities for multivariate geostatistics, a couple of block model utilities, and a Lerchs-Grossmann based pit optimizer. The world of commercial software development is quite different. With the accumulated knowledge behind Vulcan to draw on and guidance from experienced software engineers, the Automated Pit Designer was born.


The Automated Pit Designer allows mining engineers to transform optimized block model results into operational mine design contours in a matter of seconds. Contours can serve as a base for further design work or be used to generate more accurate pit-by-pit graphs and long term schedules.

The design contours are extremely flexible. Benches can vary by elevation and height allowing for arbitrary bench configurations including double benches. The design parameters – batter angles, berm widths, and pit slopes – can vary by location and direction, allowing for extremely fine control over the projections. Operating parameters such as minimum mining width and material digability are direct inputs which can be manipulated to create operational designs.

The Automated Pit Designer was developed by a mining engineer, for mining engineers. The tedious process of manually fixing crossovers, modifying lines, occasionally having to revert to offsetting lines one segment at a time, and even busting out the drafting paper and calculator every now and then to double check things, is a thing of the past. With the Automated Pit Designer we’ve parameterized many of these considerations and automated much of this tedious process.
Suddenly the design is a fluid entity, which can be changed as new data becomes available and adapted to changing economics. Different scheduling options can be reviewed, and different design parameters can be evaluated. Mining engineers no longer have to struggle with a single unchangeable model. The new dynamic design process allows them  to work more efficiently and effectively.

Matthew Deutsch
Special Applications Development Engineer
October 13, 2015

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