Drones in Steel Industry – Mapping, Surveillance & Inspection Done Right

Drones in steel industry can act as the ideal transformer and enabler. India has some key pivot industries, steel industry being one of them. Metals and mining industries, including minerals and steel, support and advance other industries like infrastructure and automobile.

India has a strategic advantage when it comes to minerals like iron ore. It is the 4th largest iron ore producer with around 8% of the world’s iron deposits (located in India). It was also the 2nd largest global crude steel producer in 2019. Between 2008-2019, the steel consumption in India grew at a CAGR of 7.5%.

However, multiple mining leases were set to expire (300+) in March 2020. Indian authorities and companies are looking to make the planning and operational transference of these auctioned mines totally seamless.

This is where drones have created a lasting and progressive impact. Let’s look at how drones within the steel and minerals industry.

Surveying and mapping – Drone-backed mine exploration and planning

Multiple steel and iron ore players are actively acquiring mining leases, either directly or through their strategic business units/divisions/captive sources. Before drones, these companies would manually survey and map these leaseholds. This was time-consuming and inefficient.
1. The mining sites were often located in areas that were not that easy to reach
a. The company had to move all its resources and equipment to the location for effective exploration and site evaluation
b. This was time and cost-heavy
2. It was difficult to have the most-trained or right supervisors/engineers at the right location
3. Manual installation of Ground Control Points (GCP) was strenuous and took a long time
a. It would take weeks for complete surveying and mapping of even a few acres of land
4. Collation and co-ordination of all disparate surveying data led to multiple errors and delays

Drones turned all this right-side-up

1. Surveyors or operators could individually reach the location before dragging up heaps of equipment and material
a. They could easily set-up the easy-to-use and deploy drones
b. This way, the companies could access live and detailed information about the site
c. This helped them pre-plan all of the site’s resource requirements
d. We’ll come back to this point 4

2. Highly-trained surveyors, evaluators, regulators and engineers could remotely access the drone-surveying feed
a. They weren’t necessarily needed at the site
b. This way the same surveyors could evaluate multiple sites in quick time
c. This, again, builds up to point 4

3. ideaForge drones are known for faster, longer and more stable flights
a. This means that they can cover much more area (surveillance) per flight
b. These drones are Post-Processing Kinematic (PPK) enabled. This meant that they significantly cut down the total GCPs required and the installation time.
c. The drones provided enhanced 3D Digital Elevation Models (DEM) and Contour Mapping
d. Their high-resolution orthomosaic imagery created Centimetre-perfect mapping. They worked with extremely fine Ground Sampling Distances (GSD) of 5 cm

4. ideaForge’s BlueFire Live! For thorough surveillance

ideaForge drones had already set industry benchmarks in terms of availability, system reliability, process replicability, and maintainability. ideaForge’s BlueFire Live! pushes these elements even further in terms of transparency, accountability and automation.

a. The solution allows any stakeholder to securely access the live drone feed from anywhere. This is a strong leap in terms of live site insights and intelligence to process permissions, evaluations, planning and operational execution.
b. It gives critical and total visibility for the command and control centres. It can integrate the drone and CCTV footage to create a unified, complete and dynamic view of the entire area.

Mining planning, permissions and logistics

Surveying and mapping with drones give the companies the insights and analysis edge to fast-track regulatory permissions. Along with 3D DEMs and contour profiling (for open cast or underground mining), the deploying drones in steel industry provides multiple critical intel.
a. Vegetation and forest cover mapping
b. Surrounding area mapping (for watersheds, national parks, national and state highways, residential zones, sanctuaries, etc.)
c. Quarry and dump profiling (overburden)
d. Reclaimed land rehabilitation planning
e. Environment impact tracking (dynamic change detection)
f. Plant construction and mining (project) planning
g. Logistics planning for freight movement

Security and surveillance – Drone-led leasehold vigilance and overwatch

Government and mining/steel companies have always prioritized security and surveillance. There were (before drones) multiple accounts of encroachment or illegal mining. Even though the companies installed CCTV cameras and motion detection sensors, their visual reach and capabilities were limited.

Using drones in steel industry brought in total surveillance (in quick time) with detailed aerial visual and thermal imagery. The surveyors or operators could easily set automated scouting routes (around the site, plant or along the leasehold fencing) for the drone. The drone would follow these waypoints and cover the entire area in about an hour.

The drone could instantly spot unusual activity and change. The surveyors could then initiate a timely and situationally-appropriate on-ground response. Furthermore, the entire security and surveillance system (drones, CCTVs, detectors, etc.) was synced through ideaForge’s BlueFire Live!

Asset inspections – Drone-enabled close, safe and timely inspections

Minerals mining have high-need for superior safety protocols. Companies are deploying drones with aerial surveillance to secure blast and safety zones. Regular drone surveillance sets a safety-driven culture which streamlines (even optimizes) operations without creating bottlenecks.

Drone-enabled asset and operational inspections have boosted the production efficiencies across the steel industry. Manual inspections, before drones, weren’t just unsafe but also inadequate. Drones could reach hard-to-access areas easily. They helped put the surveyors at a sufficiently safe distance from the heavy machinery and mills. It elongated the longevity of the assets and ensured optimal production capacities.

Operational (asset) inspections included drone-led and photogrammetrically-driven volumetric estimations of raw materials and overburden (dump fills). This gave the accurate load in minutes and ensured that production moves seamlessly and continuously with respect to business and environmental protocols.

ideaForge drones are a top-growth enabler for the steel industry. As mentioned above, the steel industry is the ideal pivoting and feeder for multiple industries. These drones are actively boosting steel industry operations. In-turn these drone-led operations are setting-up India’s continuing growth story.

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