Software takes hard work out of rocks

Predicting rock behaviour under stressful conditions, either natural or mining, has become easier with the development of software that provides a practical and efficient method of analysing its structure.

CSIRO's exploration and mining division in Brisbane has developed a system which can be used to create accurate, 3D models of a rock mass from which geological, geotechnical and certain surveying data can be gained.

Called Sirovision, the software helps to predict how a rock slope will act in various situations helping to identify and prevent possible future structural problems in a mine.

Until now this type of predictions were an expensive and often inaccurate task involving a lot of close physical examination with attendant risks to the safety of personnel and, more recently, some experimentation with laser technology.

CSIRO research group leader George Poropat believes that the program is a significant benefit to the mining industry because the information calculated on Sirovision can be exported to other software, which mines use traditionally throughout the world.

“Rock has natural cracks in it and the software is used to identify the fractures, characterise them, plot them on a 3D image and predict their depth, direction and reaction if the rock were to move,” Poropat said.

Digital photographs of a rock face are taken, sometimes up to 700m away; the images are processed and become the centrepiece of billions of computations used in the Sirovision program to develop 3D models of the rock face and of what lies behind. The model can then be used to predict the behaviour of the rock under various conditions or “what if” situations.

“The 3D images generated using Sirovision extract spatial information that cannot be obtained as cost effectively, easily or quickly by any other method.”

The program is already being used in almost 30 mines throughout the world including mines in North and South America, Africa and Australia.

Sirovision has been predominantly coded using Matlab scientific software from the MathWorks, allowing computations and graphs to be produced quickly providing end users with accurate information in a relatively short period of time.

“The system is computationally intensive, making millions of computations in minutes. We couldn’t have built the extensive features of Sirovision, with the available resources, in any other software development environment,” Poropat said.

For the product development team at CSIRO, Sirovision is an ongoing development.

“We started testing it two years ago and have done some strong development since then. Technology is also changing, particularly digital technology and 3D imaging, so that has to be accounted for,” Poropat said.

The CSIRO is commercialising the Sirovision system as a packaged shelf product of value to not only the mining industry but also in other geotechnical areas of science and natural resource management.

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