Mining is one of the most ancient industries there is, and even with the centuries that have passed since humans began excavating minerals, fossil fuels and other precious resources from the earth, the core concept behind surface mining has remained much the same: make hole, get resource from hole, process resource, rinse and repeat.
In the case of surface mining, however, staying similar doesn’t mean staying stagnant. This enduring industry has long been known for its early adoption of emerging technologies, ones meant to modernize and optimize mining processes in order to minimize costs.
Mining companies constantly invest resources in technological solutions to generate greater data collection and analysis. After all, mining companies cannot afford poorly planned haul roads, or ore misclassification that may result in sub-optimal blending. The adoption of emerging technologies, meant to modernize, and optimize mining processes to successfully minimize costs, has led mining companies to leverage UAVs as an integral tool in the data collection cycle.
Automated drones have been tapped as one of the next game-changing innovations for the mining industry, largely because of the substantial cost savings they offer.
According to research by McKinsey & Company, automation has already increased productivity at mine sites by a staggering 25%. Much of this automation has been focused on below ground or on-the-ground processes, but automated drones are revolutionizing industries ranging from energy, agriculture and construction to security and telecommunications, and with their ability to take on tasks that are dangerous, demanding, time-consuming and potentially imprecise when completed by human employees, they are the ideal solution for the mining industry.
Airobotics’ automated drone system is designed for end-to-end automation, which means it operates with no human intervention. It launches, flies, lands, collects data and processes data and even changes its own batteries and sensors, all automatically, no human pilots necessary. By housing itself in its Airbase – a robust shelter that protects against the harsh elements of mining sites equipped with a robotic arm for maintenance – this drone is always ready to fly scheduled, on-demand or emergency missions.
Without this level of automation, drones can be expensive due to the need for a pilot and/or payload operator, are vulnerable to human error in their flights, data collection and data processing, and struggle to fly on-demand or in an emergency situation without a costly and potentially dangerous delay.
Listing the benefits of an automated drone is one thing, but what decision-makers in industries more pointedly need to know is how does a solution like Airobotics translate to cost savings?
Automated drones provide mining companies with both direct and indirect cost savings. In terms of direct cost savings, some of the most significant savings come in a reduction in the time it takes to complete various missions such as inspections and surveying. It has traditionally been human employees tasked with inspecting pits and blast areas, tailings dams, mud lines and pipelines, as well as completing onerous surveying and stockpile evaluations. An automated drone completes in hours tasks that would take human employees days, and can do so with a higher degree of precision – as found in the stockpile measurement evaluation case study completed by Israel Chemicals Ltd in cooperation with Airobotics using automated drones.
Another significant direct cost savings comes in the reduction or elimination of expenses associated with surveillance equipment such as CCTV cameras and sensors, including purchase costs, installation and upkeep.
An automated drone also eliminates the need for any other piloted drone that may have been in use, which eliminates the cost of training in-house pilots as well as the fees associated with maintaining piloting licenses, or the cost of having a contract drone pilot scheduled or on-call. An automated drone with its own robust shelter also eliminates many maintenance and repair costs that could otherwise occur in the hazard-ridden mining environment.
The indirect cost savings provided by automated drones begin with the benefits of more frequent and detailed inspections of critical infrastructure like haul roads, pits and tailings dams. These improved inspections not only help prevent infrastructural failure, they also help reduce and prevent damage to equipment by quickly identifying road issues like potholes that could affect hauling and digging equipment while in transit. Additionally, precise and regular inspections help an organization perform predictive maintenance by identifying emerging issues like cracks or overheating, keeping costs low by preventing acute issues. Inspections performed by automated drones instead of human employees using ground-based vehicles also reduce fuel costs.
Furthermore, automated drones make drilling and blasting more efficient, enabling more accurate drill-hole alignment, and therefore eliminating excessive blast material usage. Accurate drill-hole alignment, in turn, produces the sought-after fragment size which helps reduce wear and tear on hauling and crushing equipment. From there, automated drones help prevent ore misclassification through easy checks. Other data analysis processes are also made more efficient as experts can spend more time on analysis with data collection handled by the drone.
The importance of the quick incident detection made possible by automated drones can’t be overstated, and on the topic of indirect cost savings they help to minimize damage and resultant clean up as well as prevent environmental damage and the fines and reputation damage that can accompany it.
Lastly, automated drones make administration and management more efficient by making it faster and easier to track progress, locate equipment, manage contractors, and update asset quantities thanks to precise stockpile evaluations.
While dollars and cents will nearly always reign supreme when it comes to business decisions, there is one other thing for which there can be no assigned price: the safety of human lives.
Airobotics’ automated drone system is designed to protect humans by taking on the jobs that present risks to human employees, such as inspecting blast sites and haul roads and surveying stockpiles. It also eliminates much of the need for manned security, which can present a tremendous risk to human security personnel. With the aid of a live video feed on an automated drone, security personnel can be fully informed, and keep their finger on the pulse regarding emerging and potentially dangerous situations.
In the event of an emergency, an automated drone can also begin transmitting essential information as quickly as possible, working to detect leaks and other hazards or transmitting live video to the people coordinating incident response. Optimus is particularly equipped for incident response as its payloads can be automatically changed by the robotic arm in the Airbase depending on the type of incident to which it is responding. These capabilities save time when it is most precious, and in turn save lives.
Evolution in an industry doesn’t have to involve major shifts in product or even significant overhauls in processes. Now more than ever the improvements made possible by advanced technological solutions represent game-changing optimizations that translate to essential cost-saving measures.
For the decades and centuries into the future in which mining will remain an essential industry, there will always be an emphasis on reducing risk to human lives and increasing cost savings in order to make the mining industry more lucrative. This will require a continued commitment to technological innovation, very much including Airobotics’ automated system designed to revolutionize industrial business processes the world over.
To learn more about automated drone applications in mining, download the white paper.