Home News Drones a game-changer at mine

Drones a game-changer at mine

403
SHARE

“Using drones also eliminates employees’ exposure to potential dangers, especially when compared with the old conventional survey methods.”

IMAGERY: Anglo Americans Kumba Iron Ore has earned an operating licence to fly its own Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS; also known as drones), and already the technology is proving a game-changer at its Sishen mine. Picture: Supplied

AFTER two years of complex, legal, governance and logistical challenges, Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore has earned an operating licence to fly its own Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS; also known as drones), and already the technology is proving a game-changer at its Sishen mine.

Bongi Ntsoelengoe, technology manager at Kumba Iron Ore, said yesterday that the drones had optimised surveying processes in terms of time and coverage, including being able to gain access to constricted areas.

“Routine tasks historically carried out by surveyors, such as measuring the volume of waste dumps and stockpiles, are now being done by our drones. The drones collect digital imagery that is pieced together to perform volume calculations, giving us reliable data without having put anyone at risk.”

Kumba has recently demonstrated the use of drones to conduct engineering inspections for equipment that cannot be easily accessed, which dramatically eliminates safety risk.

Glen Mc Gavigan, executive head of technical and projects at Kumba Iron Ore, pointed out that the drone technology had facilitated the collection, and subsequent processing, of more data than in the past, and this was pushing innovation mine-wide as data management processes were enhanced to ensure that other functional areas also benefited from the technology.

“Our drones have improved survey turnaround time on large dataset deliveries tremendously, and large datasets can now be acquired with much less time being spent in the field. We can now inspect, monitor and survey large mining areas without impacting on operations.

“Using drones also eliminates employees’ exposure to potential dangers, especially when compared with the old conventional survey methods.”

Drones can also be used to survey accident scenes and areas that could be unsafe for workers to enter.

Various subsidiaries of the Anglo American group have been using drones at their operations since late-2015, but have leased the units and been reliant on outside service providers.

This licence to operate its own drones – with its own pilots, and at heights of up to 1 000 feet above ground – is the result of diligent groundwork and millions of rand worth of investment. So far, five staff have been trained to pilot the drones, and they’re licensed by the SA Civil Aviation Authority to use the technology.

Anglo American has also established new working practices, such as scheduling flights, flight navigation and craft maintenance.

As skills sets go, these are new to the Anglo American group, and the company is looking forward to developing further new skills as drone technology evolves.