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At the cutting edge of mining research

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Curtin University of Technology WA School of Mines postgraduate student John Player is an example of how the University’s students are provided with the chance to perform groundbreaking research.

The 38-year-old returned to university to update his skills after working in the mining industry for several years.

“You never stop learning, no matter how long you’ve been in the workforce,” Mr Player said.

After completing his Master of Geotechnical Engineering in 2004, Mr Player started a PhD involving a million dollar research project testing support systems for underground mines under the direction of Professor Ernesto Villaescusa, Chair of Rock Mechanics. 

Mr Player said his study at WASM had been well worth the extra effort.

“I know that the work I’ve done at WASM is changing how engineers in the industry design and specify ground support,” he said.

“Through our research, we’ve seen that the previously accepted empirical views for designing ground support schemes for dynamic rock failure had many problems.

“This was due to the difficulty in describing the loading wave that can potentially destroy a mining tunnel and its interaction with the installed rock bolts and support system.”

To test his theory, Mr Player developed and built a million dollar testing facility that breaks the rock bolts used to keep the mining tunnels open during the dynamic load. 

“This was a big project that required a major investment of time and money,” he said.

“We had to develop a lot of the instrumentation and software from scratch.

“This allowed us to measure and properly quantify the performance of rock bolts and what makes them fail or survive; something that has never been done properly before now.”

The test facility was sponsored by the Minerals and Energy Institute of WA, Geobrugg, Codelco, Atlas Copco, Strata Control Systems (SCS), Dywidag Systems Internation (DSI), Barrick – Kanowna Belle, BHP Billiton – Leinster Nickel, Newmont, Lightening Nickel, KCGM, Garford, Rock Australia, and Goldfields.

Mr Player said the project was still underway and WASM researchers were approaching industry for sponsorship to test and assess the combined reinforcement and support scheme in their world-class facility.

“We would like to finish what we have started and correlate the results directly to underground performance from dynamic loading,” he said.

“This is a worthwhile project and I would like to see it through because when it is finished it could make a major difference to the industry.”

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