Drones in mining are not just essential but also the new platform to direct better and safer operations. They are the perfect safety enforcers for the mining industry.
There have around 377 critical safety concerns resulting in injury or death within the mining industry just within 2015 and 2017. Minimizing workplace hazards should be one of the top priorities for the industry. And it is, however, manual inspections and surveying are constricting the extent of this endeavour.
Consider a mining block stretching hundreds of acres. A handful of supervisors would take weeks, even months, to properly evaluate safety risks and action areas across the site. This delay results in an escalation of already critical problems further increasing the damage they would trigger. Also, many times the areas and equipment to inspect have their own challenges.
Inspecting kilometres of coal stockpiles or storage tankers have the inherent respiratory risks for the supervisors. Dangerous fumes make it in an inhospitable environment for long inspections. There are scenarios where rope access or similar tools are used for close inspections of equipment in hard-to-reach areas. This adds-on to the risk for the supervisor.
Even diligent surveys and inspections would leave many unaccounted problems or errors. These errors may lead to large scale disasters not just for the employed workforce but also the environment. If you consider the tailing dams, large man-made (earth-fill) structures made to hold the waste produced during mining. These waste materials often include dangerous chemicals which have to be disposed of properly without affecting nearby watersheds or the health of the resident workforce. Careful inspections of these dams, although necessary, is tricky and often risky.
Drones – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to the rescue
Drones are much more than simple aerial surveillance enablers. They can be an important and indispensable part of the modern mining industry.
Here are five ways drones can improve the safety standards across the mining sites.
1. Saving time and resources
Manual surveying and inspections take weeks or months, which would be naturally expected. With drones, the same inspections can be done in less than 1/4th. One supervisor or engineer can efficiently inspect multiple types of equipment remotely using the automated flight paths of the drones.
ideaForge drones are equipped with high-resolution visual and thermal cameras with multi-zoom capabilities. All the supervisor must do is set a flight plan covering the points of interest across the mining site. This flight plan would have waypoints, the points the drone will fly to or hover over.
The entire flight can then be automated right from the vertical take-off (less ground-area restrictions) to fast yet stable flight to the targeted locations. The supervisor can also dynamically control the camera for a complete 360-degree view of each zone around the drone.
Drones, hence, act as resource-multipliers to increase the effectiveness and quality of the inspections.
2. Spotting errors quickly for immediate action
ideaForge drones have the highest endurance in their class (of drones). This means that they can fly longer, faster with a stable flight against wind, dust or heat. They can scout and survey more area per flight. These consistent and accountable flight paths ensure that inspections aren’t unnecessarily interrupted.
These drones can easily spot errors or anomalies during their flights. The engineers or supervisors can dynamically add waypoints if they find some critical action areas along a flight. ideaForge drones are equipped with detailed thermal and infrared imagery (easily swappable payloads). They can identify anomalies like hot spots across many kilometres of stockpiles or fine faults across storage tanks.
These anomalies, when spotted in-time can reduce their potential impact to almost zero. Also, having detailed video surveillance around the anomaly can help direct resources to the exact spot quickly.
Complete and thorough inspection can then be completed swiftly and can be repeated regularly. Higher frequency of inspections further run-down the risk of disasters and safety hazards.
3. Accessing hard-to-reach areas for asset inspection
Drones can easily access hard-to-reach areas across rough terrain. This negates the need for putting humans to take an undue risk for these asset inspections. This also means that all areas of the site can be surveyed in detail regardless of their surroundings.
ideaForge drones are military-grade and have high durability and agility. They can be easily manoeuvred to these hard-to-reach areas within a single flight and collect precious live surveillance data for immediately actionable insights.
4. Surveying at-risk areas carefully and thoroughly
There are many areas within the mining site that can be categorized as at-risk. For example, the tailing dams can be hazardous to the people inspecting them. Even large stockpiles of minerals can exhume harmful gasses are dangerous for direct manual surveying.
Drones are the perfect alternatives. They give a birds-eye of each section and each square metre of the at-risk area without engaging in undue danger. The drones are equipped with multiple deep analytic imagery equipment (thermal, infrared, LiDAR, etc.) for multi-layered insights. The engineers can easily and remotely spot problems along these areas and avoid potential disasters.
5. Minimizing human and environmental impact
There have been some instances of adverse and irreversible environmental impact due to aggressive and unregulated mining operations. This has resulted in water contamination, air pollution, deforestation and loss of human life.
Drones can help in streamlining the mining operations so as to ensure that these occurrences are minimized or even eliminated. Detailed surveying and mapping of potential mining claim blocks or active deposit sites can give the exact vegetation cover and watershed proximity reports. Such detailed analytics, along with 3D terrain and elevation models, help in managing these resources much better.
Even along active mining operations, proper blast planning and drilling, using drone surveillance, can avoid potential human casualties. Drone-enabled change detection along soil slumps or unaccounted for watershed or vegetation withdrawal can be corrected in-time. Even regular and close inspections of equipment and processes can sustain the quality of operations and ensure that minimal greenhouse gas emissions.
The global run of mine (ROM) production is set to touch 20.5 billion tonnes by 2022, increasing 3.7% every year from 2017. This would be led by Asia, specifically China and India. Drone-intervention is necessary for sustaining this high growth projection. Beyond this, the same drone-intervention is critical to ensure total safe operations and next-to-zero disasters along the way to these projections.
To wrap it in a single line, drones are necessary for safe and sustainable mining.