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Once considered a tool of the distant future, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – also known as drones – are now a mainstream and vital asset in a range of industries.
Mining firms in Australia have been taking advantage of the many benefits of drones for some time now, in fact, and use of the technology is set to increase in coming years.
The main application of UAVs in a mining context is for the all-important task of site scoping and mapping. Obtaining a comprehensive and accurate bird’s-eye view of a mining site has always presented a challenge, but drones have recently risen to prominence as a viable, long-term solution.
Using drones to carry out mapping work is in many ways the most logical option, when you consider the numerous benefits this technology brings.
Safety is paramount in any mining site, and traditional scoping efforts have often put human lives at risk.
With their ability to generate an accurate, 360-degree view of an area from all angles, UAVs effectively take this risk out of the equation. Mining operations around the world have already demonstrated how drones can be deployed to quickly assess a mine and identify any existing or potential hazards, such as areas that could cave in.
The use of UAVs will be especially pertinent to certain branches of the mining and resources sector, for example in floating LNG, where the constant monitoring of offshore plants continues to be a challenge.
As UAVs, by definition, are unmanned by a human pilot, it also eliminates the need for personnel to be operating aircraft and putting their safety at risk.
In addition to saving lives, UAVs can also save substantial time for mining firms and boost their operational efficiency.
UAVs have the ability to scan an area and produce a 3D map much more quickly than traditional mapping methods, at a fraction of the cost. With a limited number of staff required to operate and oversee these vehicles, human resources can be directed to more pressing needs.
Dealing with downtime when surveying and assessing mining sites has also been a costly problem, but drones’ ability to efficiently scope a site’s infrastructure – without having to shut down the plant – means vital hours can be saved.
Mining UAVs use the latest in 3D mapping technology to generate accurate overviews of any conceivable terrain.
High-resolution images can be instantly generated, allowing operators to get to work instantly. Many machines come equipped with state-of-the-art software to allow miners to carry out extensive assessment and planning on the maps produced.
One of the strongest cases for using UAVs in mining is that it is simply a more cost-effective method than traditional approaches.
Drones are cheaper to operate than manned aircraft, which entail a number of running and maintenance costs. Although there are associated ongoing costs, the bulk of the expenses involved with owning and operating a drone lies in the initial procurement.
As these machines become more mainstream, the cost of acquisition will likely lower, and parts and servicing will become more affordable.
With current developments focusing on expanding the applications of mining UAVs, for example in exploration and thermal monitoring, there is no doubt that drones will continue to grow to become a mainstay of mining engineering efforts.