Air support in open-cast mining:
New perspectives in raw material production thanks to drones

Drones have become essential in many major industries. One of the most promising applications of UAVs is to assist in the extraction of raw materials, especially in the mining industry. Logistical tool-bringing, supervision of conveyors or inspection of pipelines: Mentioning only a fraction of the functions that microdrones take in the extractive industries. A wide range of UAV-applications: From science and remote sensing to historic preservation. The reasons for such varied usage are obvious. The costs for using microdrones are significantly less than for using airplanes or helicopters.

Drone use in open-cast mining

The applications using microdrones expand more and more in the extraction of raw materials in open-cast mining. Vertical take-off quadcopters are ideal for supplying spare-parts or taking soil samples for deposit analysis. The question is: Where does the need for new technology in the mining industry come from?

Infrared shot of smoldering in a coal-mining area.
Infrared shot of smoldering in a coal-mining area.

The answer: Many of the Earth’s resources are scarce – to prevent bottlenecks in the extraction of raw materials, new deposits have to be developed. However, these are often less productive or difficult to access. This fact enforces the use of new, more profitable technologies to lucratively exploit deposits with less demanded output.

UAVs in oil production

The continuing high price and dramatic scarcity of fossil resources demand for numerous new technologies. Here UAVs have been playing a crucial role. Applications range from exploration and production preparation to monitoring and maintenance of pipelines in remote areas.

The data of this multispectral camera attached to a md4-1000 allows to draw conclusions about the soil conditions of mining areas

Remote sensing with microdrones is also used in surface mining. Topographical mapping from the air in different wavelength ranges provides a highly precise digital surface model. This provides information about vegetation or data about a future drilling hole and its environment. Key benefits of UAVs: a cost-effective use and quick processing of the measurement flights.

Aerial inspection of a gas pipeline.
Aerial inspection of a gas pipeline.

Air-launched pipeline inspection
After completion of the drilling, drones are applied to monitor conveyor systems very economically and effectively. For the visual inspection of a pipeline-section the drone only needs a few hours – for the same work technicians would need about a week. The sensitive sensors on the flying robots give insightful impressions of the state of the pipeline. Possible leaks are immediately verified and can be swiftly under repair. The microdrone moves autonomously along a programmed route during an inspection. In case of anomalies or at checkpoints they can be easily placed into manual mode and/or stopped.

UAV-based surveillance

As with many other industries, infrastructure monitoring is a priority of a mining company. The great expansion of an open-cast mine particularly justifies a survey from the air – and thus the use of UAVs as a cost-effective option. In the area of the mine, microdrones can flex all their muscles. Plant safety, plant protection or localisation of the equipment and machines – UAVs save costs and labour.

Logistical help
from the air

The mining areas usually extend over several square kilometres. This implies long journeys and time-consuming routes for land vehicles. UAVs are considerably faster. The flying robots are, in addition to monitoring and inspection, also ideal for fast delivery of spare parts, tools and lubricants required for maintenance or repair work. Drones can help not only as a first responder but also with the right tool or urgent medicine for any emergency scenarios that may arise. They can even monitor the health status of machines and automatically react to different events.

Measurement in open-cast mining

The use of photogrammetric methods in measurement has been revolutionised by UAVs. Due to the combination of microdrones and powerful, automated image analysis, new application areas are developed, such as surveying support of an open-cast mine.

UAVs and the corresponding software tools are continuously improved and their usability enhanced. Owing to these improvements the flying robots are already employed by a wide range of users.

High-resolution, distortion-free recording of a quarry.
High-resolution, distortion-free recording of a quarry.

For the mining industry, the advantages are obvious. UAV mapping provides a quick and affordable option for measurement. Any POI can be captured with high accuracy due to the use of GPS and highly precise IMU-data. This allows accurate volume calculations. These data are the basis for a comprehensive evaluation that provides a number of parameters, depending on the supplier of sensors and analysis software:

  • 3D-measurement (through UAV, laser scanner, GPS, tachymeter)
  • Creation of 3D-models
  • Plant inventory
  • Statistical calculations
  • Stockpile measurements
  • Mass determination
  • Volume calculations
  • Stock measurements
  • Geological deposit models
  • »Up to date« ortho-photos with high ground resolution
  • Regular supplement measurements
  • Generation and digitalisation of mine plants
  • Generation of ground plans, sections and perspectives
  • Planning guides for new exploration sites

There are countless other possible applications of UAVs in surface mining – e.g. sample taking. Once a drone is equipped with a sampler, overburden (= outer layer without usable minerals in deposits) can be collected selectively, brought to a laboratory and analysed there. The drone automatically registers the measurement location and therefore pinpoints this POI for further explorations.

microdrones in open-cast mining: Enriching diversity from the air

The future applications of microdrones in open-cast mining are diverse. The advanced sensor technologies provide data which can be worth a lot within a fraction of the time of conventional methods still used today. This technology is already there today!

Are you curious, especially about microdrones in open-cast mining? Do not hesitate to request further information from us. We look forward to your call!