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The Mechanics and Physics of Electronic Blasting

H.P. Rossmanith
Vienna University of Technology
Institute of Mechanics
Wiedner Hauptstr. 8-10/325, A-1040 Vienna, Austria


This contribution introduces the fundamental concepts of wave propagation and fracture mechanics
which form the basis of electronic blasting, i.e. precise initiation timing using electronic detonators. The
concept of Lagrange diagrams will be frequently used for the calculation of the delay time between
blast-holes in a row and rows of blast-holes. The effect of burden and structural geology will be briefly
touched. It is found that the advanced blasting technology based on the use of electronic detonators
introduces a change of paradigm. It will be shown that knowledge in wave propagation and fracture
mechanics is essential for the successful application of the new blasting technique in industry. In
particular, the delay time, the wave speeds in the rock mass, the shape of the wave pulse and the acoustic
impedance mismatch have become decisive parameters in advanced blasting. Utilizing the wave speed
and wave shapes of detonations, large scale tests Utilizing the wave speed and wave shapes of
detonations, large scale tests in various countries (Australia, Chile, etc.) have shown that optimal delay
timing requires shorter delay times in conjunction with allowing for a wider drilling pattern and the use
of a reduced amount of explosives, i.e. a lower powder factor. This seemingly contradictory arrangement
is fully justified by using scientific principles in blasting, and converting blasting from an art to a
scientific discipline.


The current state of affairs in the mining industry is characterized by an accelerating decline of the
mining industry in many industrial countries such as England, Germany, Japan and others. Any new
development will be driven by several constraint factors among which cost reduction and improved
safety will be most important (Lopez et al 1995). Excessive increase of the cost of labor and increasing
technological difficulties have forced many countries to shut down most or, in some cases, all of their
mines which, at one time, were valued national treasures, as they constituted the lifelines of their
industries, success and national pride.

Around the world, even and controlled fragmentation - a requirement for the optimization of the blasting
process - has been a strong motivation for science and industry to develop new technologies. Controlled
fragmentation involves two basic requirements: knowledge of the geomechanical parameters of the rock
and rock mass, and availability of a precise initiation timing system.

Short delay time blasting was the subject of a National Science Foundation sponsored project at the
University of Maryland (Fourney et al 1973-78), and research institutions such as Svebefo in Stockholm
in Sweden, the Fracture and Photo-Mechanics Laboratory at the Institute of Mechanics of the Vienna

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University of Technology in Austria (Rossmanith 1978-2002) and others were involved in similar
research work. At the time, dynamic fracture mechanics had just been developed to a degree where it
was of use to engineers. Hence, the application of stress wave propagation and the newly established
discipline of fracture mechanics naturally led to the question: Using the mechanical principles of
fracture and wave propagation, what is the proper timing for optimal fragmentation?

Ultimately, the research work was successful and failed at the same time. It was successful, because
many of the fundamental mechanisms which operate during blasting and fragmentation could be
identified using high speed cameras in conjunction with dynamic photo-elasticity (Rossmanith &
Fourney 1982). The program failed from an applications point of view, because the lab tests, based on
micro-second delay timing, could not be translated into the milli-second delay time world, because the
electric detonators, available at that time, showed an inherent scatter too large for any of the precise
timing experiments required. Optimal fragmentation based on the application of scientific disciplines of
fracture mechanics and wave propagation was not possible at that time, and therefore, the subject lay
dormant for a while.

However, when reliable electronic detonators became available in the mid-90’s interest again arose in
precise timing and achieving improved fragmentation. The world-wide use of explosives with low
detonation velocity, together with detonating systems of timing capability characterized by large
scatters, has yielded consistently poorer blasting results. Using emulsions with higher velocity of
detonation, some of the pertinent problems could be overcome, but non-uniform fragmentation was still
a common problem and severely influenced the downstream costs in quarry and mining operations.

One fact became obvious ever since the laboratory scaled model tests were performed in the 70’s and
80’s: a strong dependence of the delay timing on the geophysical rock data such as the
• speed of the propagation of the elastic stress waves,
• the shape of the stress waves and
• the acoustic impedance of the rock mass.

This could now be proven in the field through initial field testing. Classical blasting did not require the
first two parameters and the third one was only occasionally accounted for.

The theory behind the new blasting technology, developed through dynamic laboratory scale testing
during the last 25 years, could now be put to work through field testing at various sites around the world.
However, blasting engineers form a tight group of people who often display excessive skepticism and
exhibit a did-it-always-this-way-and-worked habit. Starting in the late 90’s initial trial tests and a few
large scale production tests with emulsion mixtures and advanced electronic initiation systems including
electronic detonators on several continents and performed by several companies have proven highly
successful (Sulzer, 1999-2000; CODELCO/Enaex, 2000). Not only have these blasts yielded excellent
uniform fragmentation results but they also have revealed a strong tendency towards substantial
reduction of primary cost of drilling and blasting. In addition, vibration control can be achieved from an
improved viewpoint.

However, when the electronic detonators became commercially available, their real benefit was not
immediately recognized by the industry. With an initial price ratio of 10:1 in favor of the electric caps,
mine operators and contractors were hesitant to follow the advice of the detonator producers to replace

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electric detonators by electronic ones. At the end, this switch did reduce the scatter in the timing which
led to certain improvements and savings. However, there is more to it: precise initation timing opens the
door for a new way to blast using shorter delay times and resulting in better fragmentation and leading to
additional considerable savings.

The recent development of reliable electronic detonators and initiation systems, however, does not only
constitute one more turning point (Cunningham 2000; Holmberg 2000) but will fundamentally change
the scene of blasting. Only a radical shift from conventional blasting to advanced technology blasting
using precise initiation timing will display the real power of the electronic detonators and the
opportunities offered by the advanced blasting technology. And this shift includes the use of the basic
principles of fracture mechanics and wave propagation. Blasting experts and technicians will be
subjected to a change of paradigm, i.e. they must learn how to cope with scientific issues, as the efficient
application of the new technology requires an understanding of the physical processes which are behind
blasting for fragmentation. Hence, science has taken a firm hold in blasting, as exploiting the benefits of
the new technology will only become possible, if the mechanisms acting during blasting and
fragmentation will be well understood. What is required is a basic understanding of the fundamentals of
wave propagation and fracture mechanics, in order to appreciate the benefits of the new technology
(Rossmanith 2000).

The New Approach

New parameters have emerged in the blasting arena: the speed and shape of stress waves and the
acoustical impedance have suddenly become important technical items. Classical blasting does neither
care about the speed nor the shape of a blast wave, because none of the standard equations and fist-
formulae in textbooks and handbooks on blasting refer to stress waves and their interaction with cracks.
Laboratory scale tests have shown that optimal fragmentation can be achieved, if the blast waves and
cracks interact in a particular way.

When a blast-hole detonates a blast wave is radiated into the surrounding material. For a linear elastic
material, theory and lab model tests show that this blasting-induced stress wave consists of a leading
compressive pulse and a trailing tensile pulse. The length of this wave depends on several factors: the
type of explosive (brisant or non-brisant explosive) and the type of rock. The rock mass takes into
account the structural geology which is one of the controlling factors in blasting and fragmentation. The
length of such a wave varies between a few meters and can be as long as 150 meters (492 ft.) in granite
bedrock. The character and magnitude of the tensile tail strongly depends on the structure of the rock
mass and, in a highly jointed rock mass, it may completely be absent. The wave speed (not the particle
velocity!) varies between 2000m/s (6560fps)(soft sandstone) and 6,500m/s (21,320fps) (basalt and

Considering two adjacent blast-holes (Yamamoto et al. 1999), maximum fragmentation is achieved in
those sections between the blast-holes, where the two tensile trailing sections of the blast waves meet.
For simultaneously detonating charges this happens at the midsection of the spacing of these blast-holes;
for a delayed charge it occurs off-centerline. Time-wise, this normally occurs within the range of a few
milliseconds, hence, the inter-hole delay time must be chosen appropriately. In order to make full use of
the adjacent rows, a considerably shorter delay time is chosen than in conventional blasting in order to

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exploit the superposition effect of the stress waves. However, care must still be taken, as the rock
material in the leading row must move before the stress waves of the adjacent row arrive in order to find
a free face. Again, the delay times can considerably be shortened as compared to conventional blasting.
Optimal fragmentation has been achieved in all applications with electronic detonators, particularly in
Chuquicamata in Chile, in various open-pit mines in the Hunter Valley in Australia and elsewhere, with
an inter-row delay of between 16 to 25 milliseconds.

The presence of one or several joint sets and faults is still a problem and wave propagation theory has to
be merged with structural geology. The blast design must take into account the presence of the structural
geological features and delay times must be altered according to the quality of the joints and faults and
the thickness, orientation and quality of the rock layers in the rock mass. Unfortunately, in most cases
the characterization of joints and faults, i.e. the identification of their position and the properties,
remains highly incomplete and this situation renders the appropriate execution very difficult if not
impossible at present.

A third important quantity is the acoustic impedance, which is the product of wave propagation velocity
and density of the rock. Again, previously, this parameter was not an ultimate necessity for achieving
good fragmentation. Theory shows, that not only the acoustic impedance of the explosive (= product of
velocity of detonation times the density of the explosive) is important, but even more so the ratio
between the impedances between explosives and rock and between two types of rock in stratified rock.

All of the following can basically be treated by using computational mechanics methods, i.e. by using
more or less sophisticated computer software packages which feature dynamic codes based on either
finite elements or some other numerical method. This would allow the user to highly extend the method
to include non-linear material behaviour and introduce into the analysis the effects of geological
structure as well as other additional complexities. However, the goal of this paper is to ‘gently’
introduce the reader into the engineering fields of wave propagation and fracture mechanics. This will be
accomplished by means of the very instructive method of Lagrange diagrams. The reader will not be
burdened with pages of equations but will capture the important issues by visualizing and understanding
the process of interaction of cracks and waves which is one of the basic physical events in fragmentation
by blasting of rock.

Like every theory the new blasting theory also rests on some simplifying initial assumptions, some of
which may later be relaxed. These assumptions concern the rock mass as well as the mechanical
treatment. The essential assumptions are:

a) The rock mass is treated as a continuum with finite tensile and compressive strength and
b) the effects of structural geology are not taken into account.

As mentioned earlier, the delay time, the acoustic impedance mismatch, the wave speeds in the rock
mass, and the shape of the wave pulse are the decisive parameters in advanced blasting.

Waves and Cracks in the Lagrange Diagram

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In its simplest form the Lagrange diagram (Graf 1975; Rinehart 1975) has a time axis (ordinate) and a
position axis (abscissa) (Figure 1) and this suffices to describe one-dimensional problems such as the
propagation of plane waves, spherical symmetrical waves, and cylindrical symmetrical waves (where the
column charge detonates instantaneously) (Rossmanith 2002).

time, t
C C ...crack
S....shear wave
S P…longitudinal wave

position, x
Figure 1
Lagrange diagram representing the one-dimensional propagation
of longitudinal (P) wave, shear (S)-wave and a crack (C)

Solids transport various types of waves: bulk waves and surface waves. Within the body of the material
two types of waves can propagate: P-wave (longitudinal or primary wave/pulse) and S-wave (shear or
secondary wave/pulse). These two waves/pulses are of importance in blasting, and a full understanding
of their behavior is required for short time delay calculations as well as optimization of fragmentation. In
Figure 1 the P-wave, the S-wave, and the crack are marked with “P”, “S” and “C”, respectively. The
tangents of the associated lines are the inverses of the speeds cP , cS and cC of the P-wave, S-wave, and
the crack, respectively.

A stress wave is the propagation of a disturbance in space and can be described in two ways: in space or
in time. Figure 2 shows an arbitrary stress wave of pulse type with finite pulse length (Figure 2a) and
finite duration (Figure 2b) which consists of a leading (compressive +) and a trailing (tensile -) part. The
length of the pulse is Λw with the leading part Λw+ and the trailing part Λw-. In the time description the
pulse duration is τw, the leading part τw+ and the trailing part τw-. The correlation between the space and
time description occurs via the wave velocity: within a time interval dt the elastic wave/pulse travels a
distance dx. The corresponding speeds are cP for a P-wave/pulse (w = P) and cS for a S-wave/pulse (w =
S). These wave speeds are constant if the material is linearly elastic and the amplitudes are small. The
following relationships hold: ΛP = cP τP and ΛS = cS τS for the P- and S-waves/pulses, respectively.

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stress, σ

stress, σ

σ−max position, x time, t

+ − + −
Λw Λw τw τw
Λw τw
a) b)

Figure 2
Representation of a one-dimensional stress wave/pulse in the
a) space domain and b) time domain

It is important to note, that the term one-dimensional does not imply that there is only one stress, e.g. s r .
In spherical blasting problems there is also a non-zero tangential stress.

Although the appearance of the cracks ruins the overall symmetry, consideration is here restricted to the
plane where the blast-hole crack extends.

Blasting of a finite length column charge constitutes a fully three-dimensional problem, i.e. a non-
stationary wave problem, which is characterized by three distinctive dynamic elemental events: the non-
stationary initiation, quasi-stationary or steady-state blast, and non-stationary termination of the blast. In
real blasting of short columns the intermediate steady-state phase may be completely absent or hidden in
the dynamics of the non-stationary parts. In addition, the stress and strain field associated with a finite
velocity detonating charge is very complex and becomes dependent on the ratios between the velocity of
detonation and the wave speeds in the rock mass (Rossmanith et al. 1997; Kouzniak & Rossmanith
1998; Uenishi & Rossmanith 1998). Nevertheless, for the steady-state phase of constant velocity
detonation the one-dimensional representation is appropriate.

Plane stress wave propagation in linear elastic materials is dispersion free, thus, the length and shape of
the pulse are invariant, i.e. they do not change. For spherical and cylindrical wave propagation, as well
as finite detonation speed wave propagation the length and shape of the pulse are not invariant, i.e. they
change as a function of the distance traveled. This effect is called dispersion.

Stress Waves Emerging from a Detonating Blast-Hole

Figure 3 shows the stress waves (P-wave and S-wave) which, upon detonation of the explosive charge,
emerge from the blast-hole. Within the close vicinity of the blast-hole the P- and S-waves overlap, but

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further out, e.g. at position x*, the two waves have already separated because the two waves travel with
different speeds.


time, t
PE τs

τp = τs
x* position, x

Figure 3 P-wave (P F, PE) and S-wave (SF, SE)

emerging from a blast-hole upon detonation

When the explosive detonates a pressure pulse p(t) acts on the boundary of the blast-hole which gives
rise to a stress shock wave and vibrations of the blast-hole wall. For real detonation waves (which are
dispersive in nature) the (here parallel) lines for the fronts and the ends of the P- and S- pulse would
(slightly) diverge when the wave travels along the positive x-axis.

Stress Wave Interaction from Detonation of Two Blast-Holes

When blasting in difficult rock with complex structural geology, the blast-holes in the blast pattern may
be charged with different amounts of explosives which may also be arranged appropriately to take into
account the existence of possible weak zones, faults etc which intersect the blast-hole or are located
nearby. Hence, the charge density distribution along the blast-hole may vary from hole to hole, i.e. the
explosives topography and therefore the energy density distribution in the rock mass may vary

Consider two adjacent blastholes separated by the spacing s. The elementary event is the interaction of
two stress waves: P1 -P2 , S1 -S2 , P1 -S2 , and S1 -P2 . Figure 4 shows the interaction of the stress waves
emerging from two simultaneously detonated blast-holes.

Several zones of interaction can be identified:

1) P1 +P2 + Interaction of the leading compressive parts of the P-waves (retrograde hatched)
2) P1 -P2 - Interaction of the trailing tensile parts of the P-waves (prograde hatched)
3) S1 S2 Interaction of the S-waves (horizontally hatched)
4) and a range of mixed wave interactions, e.g. P1 S2 of the P1 wave of blast-hole #1 with the S2
shear-wave from blast-hole #2.

Size and location of the stress wave interaction regimes strongly depends on the ratio of the length of the
pulses and the spacing and the delay time. Longer waves/pulses result in more spread-out and super-

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time, t


SS interaction
tension PP interaction
compr. PP interaction
PF2 PF1 compr. P-tension P

0 position, x
#1 #2
blasthole blasthole

Figure 4 Lagrange diagram showing interaction of stress waves emerging from two simultaneously
detonated adjacent blastholes and the corresponding wave interaction patterns.

imposed interaction regimes. For non-brisant explosives which produce very long stress waves the
interaction regimes may cover the field between the blast-holes up to several times and, if the energy
density is high enough, fragmentation is expected to be excellent throughout.

The general case of the interaction of two arbitrary waves, w1 and w2 (e.g. in P1 -S2 where w1 is a P-wave
from blast-hole #1 and w2 is a delayed S-wave from blast-hole #2) is shown in Figure 5 where the wave
velocities are cw1 and cw2. The relative delay time interval ∆12 = ∆02 - ∆01 follows the initiation delays
∆01 and ∆02 which are the absolute time delays of the blasts with respect to the origin of the Lagrange

From Figure 5 follows the condition

∆01 + τw1 ζw1 + xα / cw1 = tα = ∆02 + τw2 ζw2 + (s - xα) / cw2 (1)

from which, upon elimination of the time tα, general equations for the position and time of the
interaction are obtained in the form:

xα = (1 + κ)-1 [s + cw2 (τw2 ζw2 - τw1 ζw1 + ∆12 )] (2a)

tα = (1 + κ)-1 [s/cw1 + ∆01 + τP1 ζP1 + κ (∆02 + τP2 ζP2 )] . (2b)

where the abbreviation κ = cw2 / cw1 has been introduced.

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time, t
w1 -wave

tα τζw1 = τ w1 ζw1 A w2-wave
∆ 01 > 0 position, x
∆ 02 < 0
xα = α s s – xα τζ w2 = ζw2τw2
#1 #2
borehole borehole
Figure 5 Interaction of the waves w1 (= P1 wave) and w2 (S2 wave) of two delayed detonating blast-
holes and identification of locus of maximum interaction x α of the sub-fronts ζw1 and ζw2

Wave – Crack Interaction

The preceding equations can also be applied to the interaction of a stress wave and a crack if the crack
propagates in the plane connecting the two blast-holes.

Upon detonation, a strong shock wave is emitted at the blast-hole wall which quickly decays into an
elastic stress wave which, in the far field, is responsible for the initial ground movement in the form of
vibrations (Rossmanith 1983; Atkinson 1987; Blair 1999; Broek 1988; Clark 1987; Kanimen & Popelar
1985; Rossmanith 1996). The radial extent of the shock wave regime is in the order of a few blast-hole
diameters and has been suppressed in Figure 6. The radial-axial blast-hole cracks emerge with speed cc
from the deformed blast-hole boundary r = rc. This incubation period before crack initiation is a small
delay ∆c. The ensuing crack movement can be rather complex as the various waves will interact with the
propagating, arrested or re-moving crack tip giving rise to various crack-wave interaction scenarios:

a) running crack interacts with P-wave,

b) Arrested crack interacts with P-wave,
c) Crack re-initiated due to interaction with P-wave interacts with S-wave, and
d) Re-arrested crack interacts with the S-wave.

In a real three-dimensional situation the wave front shapes, depending on the velocity or detonation,
vary from conical to pseudo-spherical for supersonic to subsonic detonation, respectively (Rossmanith et
al 1997; Uenishi & Rossmanith 1998). Again, the resulting interaction patterns are not axi-symmetrical.
Hence, the resulting fracture or fragmentation pattern is highly dependent on the direction of incidence
of the stress waves.

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The general scenario of crack-wave interaction is shown in Figure 6. The crack initially propagates due
to the emerging stress wave P1 and comes to arrest when the wave outdistances the crack. Then the crack
is hit by the P2 -wave, reinitiates, again comes to arrest and is reinitiated again when hit by the S2 -wave.

Equations similar to eqs (2a,b) can be derived from the Lagrange diagram for the time and position of
interaction with the stress waves and as these equations include the initial delay of the initiation of the
adjacent blast-hole, these equations can be employed to calculate the necessary delays between the holes
in a row.
time, t



τP2 = τS2
ζ P2τP2 = τζP2
∆c ∆ 12
#1 rc
position, x
blasthole r cP

Figure 6 Formation of blast-hole cracks and their interaction

with P2 -wave and S2 -wave from blast-hole #2
(IP = point of re-initiation due to the P-wave, IS = point of re-initiation due to S-wave)

Optimization of Fragmentation Between Two Blast-Holes

In many cases the goal is achieving optimum fragmentation by blasting. Using methods of precise
initiation delay timing (also called Advanced Blasting Technology) will facilitate this task. An optimal
fragmentation pattern is achieved if the chain of ensuing operations of loading, hauling, crushing,
grinding etc. yields a better output. In quarrying the requested output is usually an amount of broken
rock with a specified fragment distribution arranged in the form of an appropriate muck-pile
characterized by a certain degree of diggability for easy handling and hauling. In mining the requested
output would be maximum high grade ore content mass flow in concentration plant etc. In other
situations the requested output may be different, e.g. less fine material (fines) without loosing the
crusher throughput.

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Here, optimal fragmentation is understood in the sense of achieving a uniform fragmentation pattern
with a certain specified fragment distribution around and between the blast-holes during blasting.
Meeting the required output is a delicate problem and a step forward towards achieving this goal is taken
if the delay time between the blast-holes in a row (inter-hole delay time) and between the rows (inter-
row delay time) is selected appropriately. Initial trial tests, performed in an Australian gold mine near
Kambalda and several collieries in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, by the contractor Thiess &
Co., and in Chilean CODELCO-owned copper mines in Chuquicamata and near Santiago de Chile,
revealed that the application of short delay time initiation resulted in a better blasting product
characterized by a more uniform fragment distribution within a narrow band. Non-ideal delay timing
resulted in an increased number of large boulders left for secondary fragmentation.

Optimisation (in the above-mentioned sense) of fragmentation in a general blast pattern design is
not a trivial matter and requires the study of the interaction of more than just two adjacent blast-holes. In
fact, each additional blast will spread out stress waves which are going to interact with the entire volume
of the rock involved in the blast operation, i.e. the volume of rock already blasted and the volume of
rock still to be blasted. The general problem is fairly complicated because of the non-commutativity of
the creation of fragmentation in blasting. Figure 7 features the wave-induced extension of blast-hole
cracks and wave interaction between the blast-holes.
time, t



∆c APP ∆ 12
#1 #2 position, x
blasthole blasthole

Figure 7 Wave-induced blast-hole extension and regions of interaction

of P-waves, S-waves for delayed detonation of two adjacent explosive charges

Numerous experimental laboratory studies have identified tensile fracturing and crushing as the main
mechanisms of blast-wave induced rock fragmentation. For very long waves these regimes may overlap
and the stress field becomes fairly involved due to multiple superposition. If the detonation of the second

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blast-hole is delayed, the various regimes discussed above move closer to the delayed blast-hole. Hence,
delayed detonation is a means to control the fragmentation pattern. On the other hand, if the stress waves
become longer the regimes overlap and the potential for enhanced fragmentation increases. Long stress
wave pulses are obtained by using explosives that which are characterized by a lower velocity of
detonation and lesser brisance. Such explosives are usually associated with a larger volume of gas

Reflection from a Free Face

In bench blasting in quarrying or in open pit mining the bench face represents a free face which, from a
mechanics point of view, represents a stress free surface from which stress waves are reflected according
to the laws of wave propagation. The Lagrange diagram in Figure 8 shows the reflection of a normally
impinging P-wave at a free face.
time, t

C K4 c+t
tens. A c+t
comp. lC
ζ PτP PF lA
position, x
lPP = lD
blasthole B free face

Figure 8 Superpositional interaction of normally incident P-wave and reflected PP-wave showing the
region of superimposed tensile and compressive stresses and the length of the interaction regimes.

Upon detonation of the blast-hole a radially symmetrical P-wave and, due to blast-hole breakdown, a
possibly non-symmetrical S-wave radiate from the blast-hole. These body waves with curved wave
fronts are reflected at the free face where they generate pairs of –and S-waves, i.e. PP and SP for the
impinging P-wave and SS and PS for the impinging S-wave. Normal incidence as shown in Figure 8
renders a reflection coefficient R = -1 for a free face, i.e. an incident compressive pulse will be reflected
as a tensile pulse. During reflection of a P-wave at a free face, several different regimes where the

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various waves superimpose can be distinguished. Figure 8 shows that the dominant tensile regime is
formed near the free face where the trailing tensile part of the incident P-wave superimposes on the
reflected leading tensile part of the PP-wave. This shall be termed superpositional interaction of the
waves with a sub-front, whereas the interaction between the tensile part of a wave with a sub-front shall
be termed simple interaction.

The range of tensile fracture of joints, i.e. the extent of the interaction regime, lPP , follows from
Figure 8 and stretches from the free face to the position given by lPP = lD = τP cP / 2. The locations lA-
= τP + cP /2 and lD- = (τP - τP +) cP /2 determine the time duration of the interaction ∆tPP = tD- – tA- =
τP / 2. The regime of tensile interaction is bounded by the points A- – C+ – D- – D.

Fragmentation and Throw in the First Two Rows of Blast-Holes Near the
Free Edge of the Bench
Bench blasting is the fundamental physical process in open pit mining and, in general, a compromise has
to be found between optimal fragmentation and throw of the material to form a muck-pile. It will be
shown that the requirements for optimal muck-pile formation are different from the requirements for
optimal fragmentation.

The treatment of open pit blasting with a free edge can be reduced to the problem of wave interaction
and cracking in the region between the second row of holes and the free face. The basic problem is
shown in the Lagrange diagram depicted in Figure 9 where the free face is at the rhs, the first row is at a
distance B (first burden) and further rows are at distances b (burden). It is possible that b = B. The blast-
holes in the two rows can be charged with different amounts of explosives. The rock mass is assumed to
exhibit the same mechanical behavior between the rows and in the burden B. At this moment the rock
mass is considered perfectly homogeneous and isotropic, hence, the structural geology is not taken into

In bench blasting, in most cases, the following three requirements have to be met:
a) the rock material between the first row and the free face must be suitably
fragmented and loosened,
b) a gap at the position of the first row of blast-holes must be established in order
to create a new free face for the second row etc., and
c) the material of the preceding row must be thrown into position in the muck-pile from where
it can easily be collected, loaded and hauled for further processing.

Mechanically, the first requirement boils down to fragmentation of the bench due to blast-hole cracking
and multiple spallation due to stress wave reflection from the free face. The second requirement
addresses the throw of the material and the formation of the muck-pile. The main problem in this task is
the assurance that the material between the first row and the free face must be completely removed from
its original position and propelled beyond the edge of the bench in order to make room for the material
from the next rows. Short delay times seem to be in contradiction with the relatively long delay times
requested for mechanical movement of the rock mass.

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The general physical problem can be broken down into several fundamental problems which have been
considered in previous sections. The first step is the fragmentation of the rock mass just behind the free

time, t

ζ P2τP2 PF2

PE1 tP1P
∆12 tζP1
∆bhb PF1 tP1
ζ P1τP1
position, x
b B
blasthole #2 blasthole #1 free face
row #2 row #1

Figure 9 Gap formation due to gas pressurization and stress wave reflection
during bench blasting for the first row of blast-holes (two-dimensional model)

face. For this the reflection of the P-wave at the free face is the governing mechanism. Next comes the
requirement to open a gap at the position of the first row of blast-holes to create a free face for the
reflection of the ensuing stress waves coming from the next row of blast-holes.

Mechanics of Gap Opening

The basic relationship for gap formation rests on the law of conservation of momentum. The total
movement of the gap walls can be constructed from the displacement of the free face due to wave
reflection, the reflection at the gap wall and due to the expansion of the gas in the gap (Daehnke et al
1996; Daehnke et al 1997).

From the Lagrange diagram shown in Figure 9 one finds that the P-wave front is reflected at the free
face at time tP1 = B/cP and the sub-front ζP1 arrives at the free face at time tζP1 = (B + ζP1 )/cP = B/cP

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+ ζP1 t P1 . The front and an arbitrary sub-front ζP1P of the reflected P1 P-wave will reach the plane of the
first row of blast-holes (which is the distance B behind the free face) at times tP1P = 2B/cP and tζP1P =
2B/cP + ζP1 t P = (2B + ζP1 ? P )/cP , respectively.

During the time interval tζP1P the stress waves radiating from the blast-hole and the gas pressure in the
blast-hole perform work to form cracks which emanate from the blast-hole wall. These cracks propagate
in radial directions. The reflected P1 P-wave is a tensile wave and, in general, its energy and momentum
will be used to create a sequence of spalls and to propel the spalled blocks. The remainder of the
reflected P1 P-wave will reach and interact with this radial cracking pattern and in due course a gap will
be opened which essentially connects the blast-holes in the first row. This gap will become the new free
face for the stress waves coming from the next row of detonated blast-holes.

In practice, the face of the bench is corrugated and a large portion of the high frequency content of the
wave will be diffusely diffracted by the irregularities of the bench topography. Hence, in general , only
the low energy low frequency content of the pulse will be reflected.

Wave reflection and gap formation are two processes which are based on two different kinds of
velocities. Wave propagation speeds are typically of the order of a few km/s, whereas gap formation
occurs with a velocity in the order of a few m/s. The reflected P1 P – wave will cause the material
between row #1 and the free face to move to the right hand side, i.e. towards the free face of the bench.

Theoretically, the earliest time for arrival of the P2 -stress wave from the next row of blast-holes (row #2)
at the gap is determined by the instant when the free face is generated. Assuming that it takes a time
interval ∆bhb to break down the bore-hole and a time interval ∆G to form the radial cracks, pressurize
them and form a new free face (connecting the blast-holes of row #1), then the minimum condition for
the delay ∆r12 of row #2 is calculated from the time equivalence

∆r12 + b/cP = ∆bhb + ∆G , (3)

which indicates that the blast-hole in row #2 can be ignited before the gap has been established because
it will take the wave some time to reach the gap.

The P2 stress wave impinging from the left onto the gap will move the interface to the rhs and thereby,
trying to compensate the opening created by the gas pressure and the reflected P1 P-wave. The
contribution of the gas pressure to gap opening is much larger than the one induced by the reflected P1 P-
wave which is now a very low amplitude wave with the amplitude proportional the inverse of the
distance 2B. In contrast, the P2 -wave is much more powerful with an amplitude proportional to the
inverse of the distance b. Hence, the ratio of their amplitudes is equal to 2B/b which is usually in the
order of 2. One can, therefore, conclude that, for all practical purposes the delay between the rows must
be larger than the theoretical minimum delay.

Using the notation of the sub-front for the P1 P-wave the delay of blasting row #2 follows from an
improved time (in)equivalence

∆r12 + b/cP ≥ min {tζP1P = (2B + ζP1P )/cP ; ∆G }. (4)

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Theoretical investigations show that the reflected wave is not a candidate for gap opening and, therefore,
the blast-hole gas pressure is needed to create a positive opening of the gap. Even earlier arrival of the
wave from the second row makes no sense as the energy and the momentum of the second row wave
would be carried into the burden volume and no spallation of the inter-burden would occur. Hence, the
action of the gas pressure is necessary to successfully disintegrate the rock mass by opening up a gap
along the line of the first row of blast-holes. The same phenomenon then takes place at the succeeding

Wall movement due to stress waves and wall movement due to gas pressure in the blast-hole occur on
the same level of velocities, i.e. the particle velocity is the dominant velocity. However, the gas pressure
acts much longer on the rock wall than the duration of interaction with the stress wave, i.e. a few
milliseconds for the stress wave interaction as compared to a few hundred milliseconds for the duration
of gas pressurization. The detailed mechanism of the formation of a blast-hole fracture network is very
complicated and is not of importance for the creation of a gap except for the requirement that two
diametrically located radial cracks be generated which are approximately parallel to the free face of the
bench. In due course these cracks open up and gas rushes into them and pressurizes the crack faces.
These crack faces become part of the gap wall which is of concern in this section.

Regarding Figure 9 one may easily notice that, for the delay ∆r12 between the first two rows, the burden
B plays a decisive role. For very large burden B, gas pressurization and gap formation will begin before
the stress wave P1 P1 reaches the gap site. If the burden B is reduced, the reflected P1 P1 wave may reach
the gap site before gap formation due to gas pressurization has started. In this case, shorter delay
between the first two rows may be chosen.

For very heavily jointed rock mass the energy and momentum of the reflected P1 P1 wave may be
completely consumed by multiple spalling. Regarding the magnitude of the various terms in eqs. (3) and
(4) one may easily conclude that the deformation due to the stress waves is generally negligible in
comparison with the gap width formed by the gas pressure. In this case, the delay time between the first
two rows, or, more generally, between any two adjacent rows, is controlled by the burden b, the time to
break-down the blast-hole and the time to form the radial cracks. Hence, equ (4) yields the minimum
inter-row delay ∆r12 for a given size of the gap width.


The field of blasting is now entering a decade of complete transition from blasting as an art - based on
experience collected through more than one century of activities in mining and quarrying - to become a
science-based discipline, the advanced blasting technology, which relies on modern concepts of fracture
mechanics and wave propagation (Rossmanith 2000). When using precise initiation systems in
conjunction with electronic detonators in the drive towards optimization of fragmentation, vibration
control and cost reduction, a new body of knowledge is required. Conventional experience, as nurtured
by the large majority of blast engineers, though a valuable body of information, is of little value to
effectively put the new technology to work. The transition from conventional blasting to advanced
blasting is accompanied by a complete change of paradigm.

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In the Advanced Blasting Technology, knowledge of stress waves and fracture mechanics, together with
knowledge of explosives beyond the velocity of detonation and other factors, such as the powder factor,
is required. Blast design engineers will have to be trained in the basics of mechanics in order to acquire
a full understanding of the physical processes that govern blasting and which lead to fragmentation.

Long ago, practitioners have discovered the strong influence of the rock mechanics parameters such as
the joint spacing and joint quality. The geotechnical parameters refer to the structural geology, cracking,
jointing and faulting of the rock mass. But it is only with the advent of the new advanced blasting
technology that practitioners will be confronted with another set of strongly influencing parameters:
those parameters controlling rock dynamics and their influence on the blast design. These parameters
include the wave speeds, the acoustic impedance and the wave shape, as well as the pulse length.. But
one of the basic questions „How do we implement these rock mass data into the blast design and what
level of importance must be given to the individual parameters in terms of influencing the quality of
fragmentation?“ still remains unanswered.

A final comment focuses at a particularly delicate point: the situation of the authorities with respect to
the advanced blasting technology. This topic is extremely important, as the authoritative officers, in
most cases, do not have the necessary background in science and engineering, in order to assess and
validate the rapid advances in blasting technology. Numerous field tests and piles of data might be
necessary in order to convince this group of traditionally conservative practitioners of the benefits of the
new advanced blasting technology.

The present contribution should be understood as an introduction to the mechanics and physics of
advanced blasting using electronic detonators. Much further research work and practical field testing
will be necessary to establish ready-made formulae for the daily use of the blasting engineer.

Atkinson, B.K. (1987) (Ed.) Fracture Mechanics of Rock. Academic Press.

Blair, D.P. & L.W.Armstrong (1999) The spectral control of ground vibration using electronic delay
detonators. Fragblast 3:303-334.

Broek, D. (1988) The Practical Use of Fracture Mechanics. Kluwer Academic Press.

Clark, G.B. (1987) Principles of Rock Fragmentation. J.Wiley & Sons.

CODELCO/Enaex (2000) Trial tests with electronic detonators. Private communication. Chuquicamata
Mine, Chile.

Cunningham, C.V.B. (2000) The effect of timing precision on control of blasting effects.
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Technique”, Munich, Germany, 123-128.

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Daehnke, A., H.P. Rossmanith and N.Kouzniak (1996) Dynamic fracture propagation due to blast-
induced high pressure gas loading. Rock Mechanics Tools & Techniques. Proc. 2nd North American
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Fourney, W.L. et al. (1973-87) Collection of Reports published by the Photomechanics Laboratory of
the University of Maryland. (For a list of reports and purchase of copies of selected reports please
contact Prof. W.L. Fourney via email:

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Kanninen, M.F. & C.H. Popelar (1985) Advanced Fracture Mechanics. McGraw-Hill.

Kouzniak, N. & H.P.Rossmanith (1998) Supersonic detonation in rock mass – Analytical solutions and
validation of numerical models – Part I: Stress analysis. Fragblast 2:4:449-486.

Lopez, C. J. et al. (1995) Drilling and blasting of rocks. A.A. Balkema Publishers, The Netherlands.

Rinehart, J.S. (1975) Stress Transients in Solids. Hyperdynamics, Santa Fe, NM, USA.

Rossmanith, H.P. (1978-2002) Collection of Reports of the Fracture and Photo-Mechanics Laboratory
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purchase of copies of selected reports please contact the author via email:

Rossmanith,H.P. & W.L.Fourney (1982) Fracture initiation and stress wave diffraction at cracked
interfaces in layered media: I.- Brittle-Brittle-Transition. Rock Mechanics 14:209-233.

Rossmanith, H.P. (1983) (Ed.) Rock Fracture Mechanics. CISM Course # 275. Springer-Verlag,
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Rossmanith, H.P. (2000) The influence of delay timing on optimal fragmentation in electronic blasting.
In: Proc. 1st World Conference on Explosives and Blasting Techniques “Explosives and Blasting
Technique”, Munich, Germany, 141-147.

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Rossmanith, H.P. (2002) The use of Lagrange diagrams in precise initiation blasting. Part I: Two
interacting blast-holes. Fragblast 6:1:104-136.

Sulzer, D. (1999-2000) Private communication and Short Course at Thiess Co, Brisbane, Australia.

Uenishi, K. & Rossmanith, H.P. (1998) Blast wave propagation in rock mass – Part II: Layered media.
Fragblast 2:1:39-78.

Yamamoto, M. et al. (1999) Experimental and theoretical study on smooth blasting with electronic delay
detonators. Fragblast 3:3-24.

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