How drone technology is influencing the mining industry
Drone technology has enhanced a diverse range of mining activities and, according to a new report from GlobalData, is set to continue shaping key trends across the industry.
The use of drones is supporting mining applications from exploration, surveying and mapping to maintaining safety and enhancing security. The popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) across the mining industry has grown immensely in recent years, with mine sites showing substantial penetration of drones across regions such as Australasia and Africa.
GlobalData’s report, ‘Drones in Mining – Thematic Research’, reveals how drone technology is affecting the global metals and mining industry.
The key trends influencing drone development in the mining industry, as identified by GlobalData, include:
Monitoring and inspection
Mining is among the most unsafe industries for workers, especially those performing deep underground activities. Workers can be subjected to hazards such as rock falls, extremely humid conditions, gas leaks, dust explosions and floods. Therefore, mining companies have used drones in underground mines to monitor and inspect deep shafts. In addition, drones are also being employed to inspect mining equipment, which is an expensive and time-consuming process, requiring a highly-skilled workforce. Moreover, the quality of data collected manually may be affected by the very short time allotted to inspection.
Automatic surveying and mapping
Normally, surveying and mapping of mineral landscapes is a time-consuming process. By employing drones and a drone pilot, instead of a piloted plane, a mine can save around 90% of the cost per hour, and collect unlimited aerial data - including fine measurements by simultaneously capturing high-end orthoimages.
One of the greatest challenges any mining company faces while managing stockpiles is their extreme height and area, which tends to change frequently. Drones can enable mining companies to generate aerial terrain models of the inventory. Further, deploying drones frequently could ensure companies consistently keep track of stockpile movement.
Haulage road optimisation
The haul road network has a significant impact on the efficiency of mining activities. To achieve safe and uniform transit, haul road conditions must be constantly monitored. Drones can facilitate this process by collecting a large amount of aerial data, covering wider areas more precisely, which can then be used by engineers for planning, designing, construction and maintenance activities.
Tailings dam management
Utilisation of drones to measure tailings dams could eliminate the risk of manual surveying. There is no need for manual interference within the proximity of the dump when drones are around. By analysing the captured data on a digital platform, mining companies can maintain the structural integrity of the tailings dam, design expansion and avoid failure.