Along with many other industries, the mining sector has been quick to recognize that drone technology has dramatic, even revolutionary implications for the field, particularly given the historic barriers to collecting and analyzing essential data in near-real-time.

Our new white paper reviews the topic of automated drones in mining; For this industry, in which decision-makers must continually manage uncertainty along with numerous shifting variables, what drones are used for – and how they are used within the context of an integrated digital mining environment – promises to be a key factor in ensuring future success. Virtually every facet of a mining operation can now be enhanced and expedited through the use of drones, from site mapping to pre- and post-blast analysis, equipment and road inspections, comminution and processing, and even stockpile management – in each case with considerable savings of time and expense.

 

Three available methods determine the range of drone uses

Even with such varied and valuable drone uses, early adoption of the technology has not been without some drawbacks, deriving from the approaches to deploying drones rather than to specific drone uses themselves. In one common model, drone-as-a-service, mining companies utilize specialized service companies to perform drone operations and data capture, an approach that saves them the expense of bringing the function in-house, but that cannot provide the routine, ongoing, and timely  data collection that most find beneficial.

Establishing an in-house drone operation and maintaining a consistent mapping regimen is a second model, and one that opens a mining operation up to the full range of drone uses. This has the advantage of more fully integrating drones into the overall operation of a mine, but also carries the expense of acquiring, operating, and maintaining both software and hardware, and the ongoing cost of employing and training drone operators.

Recently, a third model has become available, expressly designed to address the drawbacks of the other two, and to provide mine operators with seamless access to real-time insights about all aspects of operations. Fully automated drones provide an operator-free, end-to-end and scalable solution that ensures optimal efficiency, versatility, and timeliness of data collection. From the time a drone mission is requested through every stage up to and including delivering the processed data to the person who made the request, and even including post-flight maintenance, the mission is completely automated.

 

A closer look at automated drones

Among the numerous advantages of automated drones are both their capacity to function in a variety of ways without dependence on human operators and as-needed 24 hours a day, affording engineers and other personnel real-time data to inform critical decisions. The possible applications and drone uses that can be integrated into a mining operation include:

  • Reducing the time and expense of surveying while increasing accuracy and safety in difficult terrain; providing survey and mapping data quickly and automatically.
  • Digital Elevation Modeling (DEM) both before and after blasts to provide data regarding blast performance and volume, swell factor, and other important information. In other blast-related applications, drones are used to inform drill-hole positioning, and benchmark the effects of placement on the blasting process, as well as to capture video footage that can be used for later analysis.
  • Increasing efficiency and safety of loading and hauling operations by collecting data required to monitor and improve traffic flow, maintenance needs, and road integrity, while performing aerial tasks that obviate the need for personnel to enter hazardous open pit areas.
  • Identifying maintenance needs and performing aerial inspections of critical infrastructure by way of high-resolution video and still images, infrared scans, and 3D modeling of equipment, eliminating the need for deploying personnel for extended periods and interrupting production.
  • Reconciling stockpile information for management and accounting purposes, utilizing LIDAR and photogrammetry, to achieve greater accuracy and speed than traditional ground-based surveying can provide.

 

Automated drone systems will be integral to the future of mining

For all of the reasons mining operations are increasingly looking to deploy automated drones, the most compelling arguments driving them are not the tactical or economic ones, as persuasive as those are. Instead, automated drones are poised to become an essential strategic part of mining’s future, providing an integrated, holistic solution that bridges the gap between decision-makers and the critical data they rely on, quickly and accurately.

 

Download the white paper to learn more about this topic:

Automated Drones - A Giant Step in the Mining Value Chain White Paper

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