How Drone Technology is changing the Mining Industry
Updated: Sep 12, 2022
Drones can perform a wide range of mining applications: from exploration, mapping, and surveying, to maintaining safety and enhancing security, and they have shown exceptional results by facilitating greater data collection, improving safety, and enhancing productivity.
Recent years have seen drones becoming more popular in the mining industry, with many mining sites investing in drone technology. Professionals in the mining sector quickly realize that drones add significant value to their operations.
Drones in mining provide accurate and comprehensive information on quarry and mine conditions in a short time, thus enhancing the efficiency of large mine sites and quarries. As well as improving coordination between teams onsite and internationally, they also provide a dynamic overview of all operations.
Advantages of Using Drones in Mining Sites
The use of drones for mine surveys allows for more rapid data collection across the site, nearly over 20x faster than using traditional methods carried out by personnel on the ground. Drones in mining sites can increase worker productivity. Drone data has made mining operations more productive and efficient. Drones provide accurate information that workers need to make well-informed decisions sooner. Mine sites are now inspected in other significant mining operations by workers who previously inspected mine sites in traditional processes.
Aerial photography and drone imagery offer higher-resolution images and videos when compared to ground-based traditional inspections and mine mapping. Comparing UAVs with traditional surveying and inspection techniques, UAVs provide higher accuracy. Mining companies use drone technology to acquire more accurate and systematic data for mining operations, such as volume estimations.
The use of drones across mine sites is widespread, making on-site operations a lot safer and more productive. In this article, we will look at some examples of how drones are being used in mining operations.
The use of drones in mineral exploration
In areas where it is difficult to navigate on foot, drones can produce high-resolution orthophotos and DSM maps to support mining exploration efforts. A drone survey is a fraction of the cost of traditional manned aviation surveys. In comparison to ground survey equipment, it takes a team of land surveyors weeks to obtain the same amount of data that a drone can gather in a few hours.
There are pros and cons to every exploration method. In traditional ground-based surveying, teams map and collect soil and rock samples, but their activities are more intrusive, their maps are low-density and they move relatively slowly (10-30 km per day on average). A fixed-wing plane or satellite can produce photogrammetric data much faster, but its accuracy drops to 10-30 metres (for satellites) and the output is of limited use to exploration engineers. With drones, you can maintain a high level of accuracy, scan density, and multispectral imaging while also avoiding much intrusion into the environment or society. In more challenging, inhospitable, or inaccessible environments, productivity rises dramatically.
Geophysical and magnetic surveys have always been difficult. It usually involves heavy, expensive equipment and inaccessible terrain. In the past, the only options were walking with a ground-based magnetometer (slow) or flying a demagnetised helicopter (expensive).
In the last 5 years, drones and airborne magnetometers have changed the game completely. With a magnetometer-mounted drone, a traditional magnetic survey can be conducted five times faster and ten times cheaper than before. A drone (UAV) can fly closer to the surface than a helicopter, resulting in higher-resolution data collection. As a result, the survey is faster and more affordable. You learn more about Magnetic Surveying using Drones (UAVs) here.
Monitoring and Inspection
Workers in the mining industry are among the most unsafe, especially those who perform deep underground work. Other hazards include rock falls, extremely humid conditions, gas leaks, dust explosions, or floods. Mining companies have used drones at underground mines to monitor and inspect deep underground shafts.
A relatively inexpensive and time-efficient method is now available to inspect mining equipment, which previously required highly trained workers. Aerial drone images are more accurate and reliable than any other traditional monitoring and inspection method because they are derived from Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and high-quality RGB sensors.
The extreme heights and areas of stockpiles pose a challenge to any mining company when managing them since they tend to change frequently. Aerial terrain models generated through drones can help mining companies better manage their inventory.
Such operations are typically carried out by traditional methods, which can prevent regular surveying and even create a danger for the surveyor. Drones can provide valuable information to mining companies efficiently and regularly.
Data for better management
A drone's ability to conduct inventory surveys regularly; whether it be weekly, monthly, or quarterly, is proving to be a cost-effective practice. Thus, it is possible to determine when minerals will be available for sale more accurately. You can conduct aerial surveys whenever you want, without having to wait for a semi-annual audit. Regular data collection can improve inventory management and operational management while reducing risks associated with field surveyors.
Tailings dam management
There are many man-made structures in the world, but tailings dams are some of the biggest. The problem is that data is scarce and their failure rates are too high. They are difficult to survey and monitor due to their size and potential environmental hazards.
When drones are used for surveying and inspecting tailing dams, workers do not experience the risks associated with traditional methods.
Using aerial imagery, operators and planners can observe mine-site components like tailings dam slopes. Drones can be used to monitor and preserve dams without the need for manual labor close to the dam. Mining companies can maintain the structural integrity of tailings dams, design expansion, and avoid failure by analyzing the collected data on a platform like Hammer Missions.
This post has hopefully helped you gain a better understanding of how drones are changing the mining industry.
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