Drones in Mining: A Special Kind of Drone for Inaccessible Spaces

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Mining is a growing vertical for the drone industry.  Drones have a lot to offer mining: monitoring of remote operations, measuring stockpiles, and other geospatial applications have been adopted at scale in open mines.

But there’s an entirely different area of the mine that may get even more benefit from drone technology: inside.  Inspections around dangerous equipment, inside of tanks and other inaccessible spaces provide dramatic ROI for mining companies.  It can be done – but it requires a special type of drone.

Swiss-based company Flyability makes the Elios – a collision-tolerant drone for just that purpose. It’s a unique solution to the problem of flying in tight spaces: the drone in it’s cage can roll off of the sides of an obstacle while maintaining good video and data.  It makes an impossible task – inspecting the inside of a tank, a steel girder, or just a tight space with a drone – possible.

Elios is one of the only solutions that can perform these tasks, which may be part of the reason that the use drones in closed spaces is not as well known as using drones in open areas.  But that’s changing fast.

A recent case study performed with mining inspection experts WS Data 3D in Chile demonstrates just what mining companies have to gain with drone technology.  Mining companies save huge amounts immediately by using drones for inspections.  The equipment in mines – in this example, copper mines – is dangerous.  Ball mills, SAG mills, crushers, stockpile fillers and flotation cells – these environments are so hazardous for workers that operations need to be shut down in order for inspections to be performed, at a high cost to the mine.  Eric Romersa, CEO of WS Data 3D, says that a one hour inspection could cost a mine $100,000 to $150,000 in lost production costs – a cost eliminated by using a drone .

It’s not only a question of cost.  Drones can provide better quality inspections, and significant safety benefits for workers.   “Drones can collect a large amount of data fast, without putting people into these areas,” says Romersa.    Before drones, after the security protocol is performed, inspectors would dress in protective clothing and perform the inspection.  Subject to falling debris, personnel would have to complete the inspection as quickly as possible, using a camera on a tripod to take images of the area. In the case of the floating cells, workers used to have to erect scaffolding inside, and then it required 3 to 4 specially certified personnel to perform the inspection.  The environment is so hazardous that even the process of suiting up appropriately takes significant time.  “Security procedures are long and tedious,” says Romersa.

With this kind of dramatic benefit, this area of mining is a new and rapidly growing vertical.  While mining managers may need convincing to take on new technology, says Romersa, “When we show them what can be done with professional drones they understand,” says Romersa.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Email Miriam
TWITTER:@spaldingbarker

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