Five key trends influencing drone development in mining

Image: Alcoa

Drone technology is affecting the global metals and mining industry, with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) increasing in popularity in recent years.

GlobalData’s survey shows that more than 200 mine sites have shown substantial uptake of drones across regions such as Australasia and Africa.

Mining companies including Rio Tinto, BHP, Anglo American, South32 and Alcoa have also led the trend by adopting the technology.

Drones are being employed to inspect mining equipment, which is an expensive and time-consuming process, requiring a highly-skilled workforce, according to GlobalData in its report ‘Drones in Mining – Thematic Research’.

Aside from the UAV’s popular use in monitoring and inspection, a mine also employs drones and a drone pilot, instead of a piloted plane, to collect unlimited aerial data while saving around 90 per cent of the cost per hour.

Additionally, GlobalData reported that one of the greatest challenges any mining companies faced while managing stockpiles was their extreme height and area.

“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,” GlobalData said.

The use of drone technology has also penetrated the haul road network, which GlobalData said needed to be constantly monitored.

Drones can facilitate this process by collecting a large amount of aerial data, covering wide areas more precisely for assistance in planning, designing, construction and maintenance activities.

GlobalData’s survey also shows that the use of drones extends to the measurement of tailings dams, which helps eliminate the risk of manual surveying.

“There is no need for manual interference within the proximity of the dump when drones are around,” GlobalData stated.

“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.”