Mining Drones Play An Increasingly Important Role In Mining Operations

Why Use Mining Drones?

When it comes to optimizing the management of your pit, aggregate operation or quarry, accurate geospatial data is essential. Now, no methods come as close to presenting this information as safely or as efficiently as mining drones (or UAVs/UAS).


In a single automated flight, a mining drone can get timely; georeferenced imagery quickly transformed into a precise 3D copy of your site. After that, you can use this version to compute volumes, optimize traffic management, perform site surveys, road design layouts, and much more.

1. Stockpile Management

Since stockpiles are generally irregular in shape and displaying craters, it is hard to estimate their volume with precision using conventional methods such as GNSS surveying. These expensive and slow methods also prohibit regular surveys. They can even endanger the surveyor’s safety since they must climb up and down stockpiles and work in the amidst moving machinery.

2. Better Inventory and Financial Data

Drone images are used to create point clouds, digital surface models, a 3D reconstruction of a mining site, including its stockpiles, and digital terrain models. As the point cloud includes several thousand data points, precise volume calculations can now be done easily performed.

This 3D imagery facilitates a high accuracy count of stockpile value for monthly settlements or year-end audits, which increases the consistency of stock reports in the company’s balance sheet. As drone outcomes and post-processing software are impartial, you may also validate the quantity of material moved by subcontractors.

3. More And Better Information For Weekly Or Monthly Management

Given the speed at which stock surveys can now be performed with drones, routine data collection is proving to be affordable, whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly. It allows better forecasting of the mineral inventory available for sale.

Without needing to await a semi-annual survey audit, your website can fly as often as you like. As you can run regular data collections, you enhance inventory and operational management while reducing the risks that surveyors are working physically on the site face.

4. Mine Or Quarry Monitoring And Operation Planning

Having an accurate site model produced by aerial drone images, mine managers can now more easily design and manage site operations while collaborating with teams. They can more accurately assess the quantity of material that must be moved or extracted according to legal standards or plans.

5. Haul Road

Aerial images of this site enable regular visual assessment of the state of haul roads. This provides data like slope, length, and turning angles.

Using this information, you can optimize streets for your haul fleet by accounting for specifications that reduce fuel costs while ensuring that your mine is within the planning and regulatory requirements. Generally speaking, drone data helps ensure that roads are constructed to design and that they meet with current standards.

6. Water and Flow

Drones in mining may help stop operations disruption because of uncontrolled or unwanted sediment or water flow. Tailings and flow pond operations can be modeled from the digital elevation maps made by images.

As it’s possible to fly regularly with a drone, you can produce a visual record of the site over time and track progress on a weekly or monthly basis and store this for future operations or regulatory audits.

7. Assessment Before And After Blasting Or Drilling

Using drones in mining, you build accessible and cost-effective 3D reconstructions and surface models for drilled or blasted fields.  These models help assess the area to be drilled and determine the volume to be extracted post blasting.

This data enables you to manage resources, such as the number of trucks required. A comparison against polls taken before and after the blasting allows volumes to be calculated more accurately. This enhances planning for future blasts, cutting the cost of explosives, time on site, and drilling.

8. Hazard Mitigation and Identification

Due to the busy nature of quarries and mine sites, employees’ safety is a priority. With the high-resolution pictures from drones, you can inspect difficult-to-access or high-traffic regions of the site, without endangering yourself or any employees.

9. Tailings Dams

Aerial images provided by help planners monitor mine features like slopes on dams. They also help assure that the regular maintenance of dams is completed in a timely and secure manner. This can go far to prevent disasters such as the one seen in Brazil in the Brumadinho site. Drone data gives a record of the condition of the tailing dam with time.

10. Mining Exploration

Drone data can generate high-resolution DSM maps and orthophotos that support mining exploration projects in regions where it is hard to navigate on foot. Using drones costs only a fraction of the purchase price of conventional manned aviation surveys. Compared to ground survey gear, it might take a group of property surveyors weeks to accumulate the same amount of information that a drone can collect in a couple of hours.

Advantages Of Drones In the Mining Industry

Highly Accurate Measurements

By giving huge data points for one stockpile, drone surveys are a lot more precise than merely tinkering with all stations. All surface unevenness and undulation are identified. The surveys make it feasible to decrease the variation in stockpile volume calculations, to create enhanced base documents for stockpiling, and to generate more accurate financial statements and regulatory checks.

Quicker And Easily-Repeatable Mining Surveys At Low Price

Capturing data using a drone is up to 30 times faster than with traditional land-based approaches. It doesn’t require the existence of a surveyor on site. It is simple to collect the information yourself and at a frequency best suited to your website for quick data turn-around. Changes between the two surveys can be highlighted and monitored. Over the long run, the costs of surveying and tracking are substantially reduced.

Improving Employee And Site-Safety Management

Drones enable you to survey parts of the mine or quarry, which are hard to access with conventional surveying equipment. This eliminates the risks employees typically face while walking through dangerous zones, navigating active websites, or climbing onto stockpiles. All this without disrupting the flow of movement and operations of machines.

Five Trends Impacting Drone Growth In The Mining Sector

Statistics show 70 percent of the mining fields have trialed drones since 2016; however, only 37 percent of the mid-sized and small companies have used the technology.  From mining, surveying, and mapping to maintaining safety, and enhancing security, mining companies are creating lots of new ways for using drones.

A data and analytics company said the popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the mining industry had increased rapidly in late years, with mine sites throughout Australia and Africa showing substantial penetration by drones.  The unlimited aerial data that can be obtained with drone technologies is very advantageous, so engineers can record and monitor more information in less time, allowing them to focus on analysis and interpretation.

It’s believed 70% of the mining majors have at least trialed drones since 2016, with companies such as BHP, Rio Tinto, and Anglo Americans using the technology.  However, mid-sized and small companies have been slow to embrace, with A 37% share.

Along with drones, other technologies have also seen a growth in popularity within mining.  Developments in autonomous technologies can make it safer, cheaper, and more valuable. It would be welcome for a business that’s frequently criticized over safety and health issues.

Furthermore, global mining industry leaders have consented to co-operate on a blockchain scheme led by the World Economic Forum (WEF), to stimulate responsible sourcing and sustainability practices.

Supply chain auditor RCS Global has been producing and deploying a tool that harnesses blockchain to make a network that allows companies to source the goods that they purchase.

The Five Usage Trends

1. Monitoring and Inspection

Mining is one of the riskiest industries for workers, mainly those working deep underground.

Workers can be exposed to hazards such as rock falls, humid conditions, floods, dust explosions, and gas leaks.

Addressing this, mining firms have used drones in such mines to track and inspect deep shafts.

Drones are being utilized to inspect the mining machine, which is a costly and time-consuming process needing a highly-skilled team.

2. Automatic Surveying and Mapping

Surveying and mapping of mineral aspects is a time-consuming procedure.

By employing a drone and a drone pilot, mine can save 90 percent of the cost-per-hour around and gather unlimited data instead of a piloted plane.

This involves fine measurements by together capturing high-end ortho-images.

3. Stockpile Management

Among the most significant challenges any mining firm faces while handling Stockpiles is the height and area which tend to change often.

Drones can help mining companies create aerial terrain models of their inventory and ensure firms can efficiently keep track of stockpile movement.

4. Haulage Road Optimization

The haul road network has a major impact on the efficacy of mining activities. Road conditions have to be monitored to attain uniform and safe transit.

Drones can ease this process by collecting a large amount of aerial information, covering large areas more precisely, which could be used by engineers for designing planning, construction, and maintenance tasks.

5. Tailings Dam Management

The application of drones to survey tailings dams could eliminate the risk of manual surveying. There’s absolutely not any requirement for manual interference within the proximity of this dump when drones can be found.

By examining the obtained data on a digital platform, mining firms can manage the tailings dam’s structural integrity to help avoid failure.

The Drones Are Coming

Outside of site maintenance and development, industry specialists also expect drones to play a significant role in its community work. This includes a project in Australia in which drones are being used to map regions of cultural heritage close to the mine sites.

The bigger picture is what this technology enables us to do that could never have been done before. For us, that suggests being able to share and preserve. We are now able to share all of our recordings with local Aboriginal groups, and they are excited about that possibility.

There are many reasons for moving to the use of drones in mining, but many are worried about the effect they’ll have on employment. The mining sector has been applying fewer and fewer people for decades.

In the US, mining jobs are declined by 60 percent between 1980 and 2015. Automation is one of the biggest reasons for this decline, as machines are increasingly capable of taking on tasks that were previously labor-intensive.

This is a trend that seems possible to last, as automation and IoT continue to make jobs obsolete. Automated trucks are becoming a frequent sight on mine sites, reducing the number of drivers required by mining companies.

Even though drones may reduce the demand for conventional surveyors, if BHP’s trial proves successful, they are making a range of well-paid positions. A drone pilot in a mine site can expect to make up to A$200,000 a year. It is one of several specialized roles being created by technology that need greater training opportunities to enable the mining industry to continue to develop apace.

The nature of work will change with drone technology. For instance, with drones being able to produce samples from sites, surveyors will spend less time collecting data in the field and more time executing it. In the coming years, more drones could be managed by ‘pilots’ operating from a range of different vantage points.

Drones seem set to play an essential role in mining operations globally, increasing productivity and safety. Using them in Mineral monitoring could save money and time. However, a new generation of drone-capable surveyors must grow before it becomes familiar.

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