October 19, 2021
Drones for Mining: A Tech Upgrade
India is home to nearly 95 different types of minerals, including metallic, non-metallic and minor minerals. Minerals act as raw materials to various industries. The rise in infrastructure development is one of the most significant growth drivers in the mining sector. It also holds paramount importance in India's economic growth. India is one of the top producers of essential minerals like bauxite and iron and the mining industry contributes nearly 2.5% to the GDP of India.
Geospatial data forms the foundation of the mining industry. Rapidly evolving and continuously innovating with unforeseen opportunities, the geomatics sector is giving a major boost to the mining sector.
Mines stretch over acres of land. Manually surveying mines to keep an eye on the work being done is
not always practically feasible. Mining surveys include much more than just the digging of mine shafts and galleries for the calculation of rock volume. The basic principles of mining surveys have remained largely unchanged for decades. But, science and technological advancements have altered the surveying tools & techniques. One such technological advancement is drone technology.
Drones have emerged as an unconventional method of mine surveying which ensures safety, saves cost and conducts quick aerial surveys for data collection. Mines are usually located in remote areas. In places where human access is difficult. Drones help surveyors and engineers to capture calculated and accurate data about mine development and excavations.
How the mining Industry is being revolutionized with drone intelligence
Over the last few years, there has been immense environmental, social and resource-based pressure on the mining industry to change the way it operates. The first step that this industry took in this direction is the effective planning and conduction of the initial survey. This survey carries out the following activities:
- Exploring the mines
- Physical terrain mapping for land use segregation
- Contour mapping
- 3D modelling
- Terrain modelling
The pre-planning and mapping from site surveys give near accurate results but consume a significant amount of time. Technical expertise and compatible equipment have emerged as the key players to create an impact with automation.
The steps involved in the mining automation process are:
- Understanding the current state of the process
Robot-induced automation allows smooth procedures carried out with improved process efficiency. Long process durations, blockages and high-variation processes are identified to ensure that the processes are Robotic Process Automation (RPA) ready. The auto-generated, real-time process flowcharts ease out the complex procedures of mining.
Coupled with the RPA, drone technology helps save a lot of time. These multi-purpose machines hover over vast areas of land and capture exact images with advanced cameras. Did you know that a drone can survey an area of 100 sq km in just about 8 days?
- Optimized and streamlined process
It is essential to know which process requires an RPA and which one doesn’t. If you automate every single process and it behaves differently than what you had been expecting, you’ll run into unpredictable problems. Even though almost 80% of the RPA processes perform as per your expectations, manually assigning work for automation purposes is essential. For reaping maximum benefits from automation, ensure the creation of high volumes per variation.
- Identification for RPA implementation
Programming the workflow execution, keeping the regular bottlenecks in mind, helps in correcting manual errors. This step ensures higher chances of RPA process success with the help of Process Mining Algorithms that ease out the detection of root causes.
Monitoring and inspection
Considered as one of the riskiest industries, mining operations involve dust explosions, gas leaks, rockfalls, floods and high humidity. Occurrences like these affect the worker’s safety. This is where the drone technology offers real-time assistance with the inspection and monitoring of deep mining shafts.
Key characteristics of this process include:
- To create accurate 3D models of stockpiles for calculating volume and detecting change
- To confirm roadways clearance for vehicle operations
- To ensure safety zones for planned explosions
- To program routine round-the-clock autonomous patrols of site perimeters
- To include inspection areas that are otherwise hard to access
- To acquire immediate conjectural awareness for an event including fire or explosion
- To consistently monitor site conditions
- To ensure and prove abidance with regulations
Drones don’t require engineers and surveyors to be always present on the site. With accurate road widths, drones meet the safety requirements efficiently. They click precise and reliable images that tailor monitoring and inspection methods.
Surveying and mapping
The mining industry constantly needs to implement aerial surveying and mapping. This process is quite cumbersome. High-quality drones, with a qualified pilot on-site, ensure detailed aerial photography. You can transform the GIS (Geospatial Information Systems) data captured by drones into 3D models and trustworthy ortho-images with substantial volumetric measurements with the help of:
- High resolution geospatial point-cloud data scans
- Spatially referenced photographic and video data
- Geological models
- Geo-metallurgical exploration data
- Geographic information systems
- Mine planning information
- Engineering/CAD models
- Spatially referenced documents
- Automated services
- Production systems data
Prior to operation, mining requires the design and development of necessary infrastructure. Once a mine site becomes operational, an emphasized process is directed towards achieving results. Typically regulated by numerous strict requirements, legacy survey data is maintained in a secure environment. Modern technologies like point-cloud creation have taken over traditional mine surveying workflows. Lightweight laser scanners such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) offer have emerged as a game-changer for the mining industry.
Drone mining survey
One of the most life-threatening operations involved in mining is mining exploration. The drone technology enables efficient exploration by transforming the survey information into high resolution ortho-mosaic, 3D point cloud, Digital Terrain Model (DTM) and Digital Elevation Model (DEM) maps.
The aerial data of mining sites are surveyed with the help of drones for better planning, productivity, implementation and inventory management. Survey drones are engineered to take pictures of the mines from various angles. This data can further be processed through comprehensive photogrammetry software for creating geo-tagged 3D maps, contour lines and digital surface models.
Benefits of using drone technology in mining:
- UAVs capture significant data points as compared to traditional surveying and inspection methods, hence aiding mining industries with higher accuracy.
- Drone surveys cut down on the time required for data collection.
- The aerial and drone photography clicks higher-resolution pictures.
- Mining operations tend to have increased worker efficiency with the help of drones.
- Mining companies save on several costs by investing in good quality drone services.
- Drones ensure enhanced worker security while mine mapping, surveying, inspection and monitoring.
Skylark Drones's Spectra specializes in drone application across many sectors, including mining. Technological advancements like drones are expected to unleash India’s vast and untapped mining reserves. The Indian Government is taking quick steps to leverage drone technology for a seamless juxtaposition of the mining and unscrewed aviation industries.