Drones are becoming an important asset in modern mining operations. Find out how the industry is using them to improve safety and efficiency.
Here's how drones are impacting the mining industry
Drone technology is making production safer and more efficient.
They are revolutionising the way we do things in all kinds of industries, from shooting films and delivering packages to conducting large equipment inspections and monitoring farms.
We tend to call them drones, but to those in the know they’re often referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs.
It’s no surprise that the mining industry, with its focus on innovation, has been among the first to jump into the brave new world of UAVs and put them through their paces right across operations. Here are some key areas where they have been making a difference.
Exploration and surveying
An important part of mining is the assessment of potential sites. Traditionally, land had to be explored by a team on foot or surveyed from the air using an airplane or helicopter. The first method is slow and labour-intensive while the second is expensive and often doesn’t yield the kind of fine-grained detail needed.
Drones are able to quickly cover a lot of ground and produce a wealth of high-resolution visual data. Since they collect detailed location information in addition to imagery, software can turn that data into accurate, detailed, 3D maps.
The result is much better information delivered more quickly and cheaply than was possible before.
Materials measurement and tracking
Accurate and timely information is crucial for efficient operations at a mine. Stockpiles of material, due to their size, are difficult to accurately measure. The aerial imagery provided by drones can be used to get precise information about the volume of material.
Since these measurements are fast and easy to produce, it is also now possible to measure materials much more often. The same technology also allows for accurate measurements of how much material has been removed from the ground.
All this data provides the information needed for better management of mining operations.
Safety is always a challenge and a priority in the mining industry. Hazards can arise from things like unstable materials, tailings dam failure and equipment malfunction. Drones are being used to monitor these areas, helping mining operators to spot potential hazards before they become a problem.
Drones also improve safety in another way. They are able to conduct inspections and gather data that would otherwise require workers on the ground in areas that are dangerous. Drone operators remain at a distance and out of harm’s way.
How will the use of drones affect jobs?
Companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto have been using drone technology for these purposes for some time, and there are a number of service companies in the industry using UAVs on behalf of miners.
A natural worry is that this will cost jobs as advanced technology takes the place of workers.
“There’s always going to be the need for a human being to be there, at least in a monitoring capacity,” he told miningtechnology.com.
Just like in previous periods of technological advancement in other industries, new jobs are created that take the place of old ones. For one thing, we’ll need drone operators. We’ll also continue to need surveyors and analysts to interpret and present the huge amount of data collected by UAVs.
It’s safe to say that, with the increasing uptake of automation and innovative technologies in the sector, the information age has taken deep root in the mining industry. Traditional roles as we know them are quickly changing to keep pace.
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