Overview of Drones in the Mining Industry
Timeless and increasing global populations, there has been a higher demand for building materials. Capturing the anticipated demand means that mining companies need to be more proactive in adopting new technologies towards improving the mining process from both a productivity and an execution standpoint. At the current stage, some of the biggest challenges the industry is facing include the following:
Accuracy and Confidence in Forecasting Production Levels
Typically, when mineworkers were to collect this information, they would resort to traditional methods such as manually conducting surveys on inventory and inspecting the live site on the ground. These practices are not conducted often enough, with some recordings done as infrequent as once per year. This has resulted in a small and limited data set, which would be hard for management to draw insights from.
Overreliance on Traditional Surveying Methods
As mentioned above, having a team of workers for surveying and monitoring multiple aspects of the site is common practice within the workplace. These surveys are shown to have an account for only 75% to 85% of correct pile volume. This inaccurate data also comes at a high risk to the workers who must walk into potentially dangerous areas of the site to obtain it.
Safety on Site
There have been significant strides in recent years to improve the working conditions for miners and to create healthier and safer work environments. Despite these best practices, miners are never too far from harm with the list ranging from collateral damage from explosions, inhalation of dangerous gases to equipment failures. Life at a mining site can be unpredictable.
Drones can enter and obtain vision in areas that might be difficult for a person to observe from ground level. Some of these risks could involve broken roads, malfunctioning equipment, or vulnerable patches of earth.
Mixed Survey Results
Mining companies use mixed surveys to get more accurate data through a combination of manual, rover, and manned aerial methods. However, this adds a more considerable amount of complexity to the process and fails to deliver overall consistency when performing audits and other assessments.
To address these strategic challenges, mining companies need to look for other alternatives for gathering accurate information while minimizing the risk for the individual. Drones are one of the digital solutions that these companies are trying to embrace. The remote locations of these mining sites away from built-up metropolitan areas are suitable for its application while acting by aviation regulations. It is not only a safer option for the people, but its technology can help improve the data collection process and help business managers make better decisions. Besides, it is more economically feasible compared to using full-scale aircraft aerial surveys.
Drones have been proven to measure inventory with an accuracy rating between 97% and 99% of the volume, a significant improvement from their traditional counterparts. Drone programs are also much quicker to execute. While traditional methods of surveying sometimes require a team of people over an extended period, a single employee can operate a drone and scan an entire 150-acre area within just 30 minutes. Beyond this, drones will eliminate the hazards employees typically face while walking through dangerous zones, navigating active sites, or climbing onto stockpiles.
Strategic Decision Making
With the benefits mentioned above, drones can provide business leaders with consistent and accurate data, allowing them to make informed decisions and protect company assets. The improved data would mean that site managers will never have to concern themselves with unreliable forecasts. Instead, they can budget appropriately, developing realistic and efficient project schedules. Drones also provide real-time information on inventory that cuts costs in terms of material degradation, wasted materials, and labor. Above all, this data can be quickly produced by on-site workers with minimal surveying experience at a fraction of the labor costs required. The aerial images the drones provide a visual assessment of the stage of haulage roads. They can provide data such as road length, slope, and turning angles, which allows them to be compared against design requirements or current legal standards.
Topography and Mapping
It is not safe for a human inspector to cover every part of the mine because of the various risks associated with hazardous conditions and potential cave-ins. Drones can be used to collect data from inaccessible or dangerous areas of legacy or less stable mines for remediation efforts. While drones might require GPS assistance to remain stabilized in flight, some are designed to operate without them. This makes it convenient for inspections that occur under a bridge, underground or inside a building.
Drones are also equipped with camera technology that allows them to produce highly accurate digital 3D terrain models capable of presenting accurate measurements of slopes and depths of pits to scale. These models allow users to view the mines’ progress and safety and help identifying minerals for potential extraction by looking at mineral patterns. In addition, they can be updated frequently and manipulated to forecast the impact of controlled explosions.
With an accurate site model produced by the drone, mine managers can now efficiently design and manage site operations while collaborating across teams. The drones would enable a person to assess more accurately the volume of material that must be extracted or moved according to the legal standards. The digital models can also show elevation that can be used to model sediment flow and plan accordingly.
Stockpile Inventory Management
Stockpiles are by nature irregular in shape, making it difficult to estimate its volume with high precision when using traditional ground-based measurements. Drones provide a more precise volumetric measurement compared to traditional surveying methods. When a drone measures a stockpile, they employ more data points that account for all surface unevenness and undulations that are identified. This makes it possible for them to reduce the deviation in stockpile volume calculations and provide users with more accurate reports.
To conclude, the mining industry is starved of innovation in terms of implementing digital practices. Currently, mining companies who practice only traditional means of operating are subjected to increased health risks, hazards, data inefficiency, inaccuracy, and inconsistency. Drones have the opportunity to bypass some of these issues and assist mine operators in planning and achieving results at a fraction of the costs. With higher quality data, companies can expect to make better decisions that will create a positive impact on their respective stakeholders.