How Drone LiDAR is Shaping the Blasting & Mining Industries.

Propelling: How Drone LiDAR is Shaping the Blasting & Mining Industries.

Featuring Jeremy Stafford, vice president of Ideal Blasting Supply and Matt Rosenbalm, sales manager for the Southern United States for Microdrones

Listen to the latest Propelling podcast in the player below, where Jeremy and Matt discuss how drone surveying equipment is changing the blasting and mining industries with advances in technology, helping to keep workers safe and making business more efficient. A summary is also provided below.

Mining the technology of Microdrones

Technology is flourishing in the blasting and mining industries as more companies recognize the value of digital and automated advances in helping to keep their workers safe and businesses more efficient.

Interconnected machines and 3D images have become valuable tools. To make the best use of these components, professionals need robust data capture and analysis to guide projects from start to finish.

Microdrones is helping to lead the way with its advanced drone surveying equipment.

“You want to make sure that people and vehicles on site are safe,” said Matt Rosenbalm, sales manager for the Southern United States for Microdrones “With drones specifically, you're able to keep people safe because you're keeping people out of harm's way in most cases.”

“You can utilize LiDAR sensors or photogrammetric payloads to get updated imagery and information without having to actually put somebody on site or on a particular pile,” Rosenbalm added.

It also can make a difference to a company’s bottom line, said Jeremy Stafford, vice president of Ideal Blasting Supply, which recently joined the network of distributors for Microdrones surveying equipment.

“They can take a piece of technology like the mdLiDAR1000 and put it into application. And the next thing you know, they're saving so much time and money, but potentially negating some of the risks involved,” Stafford said.

A technology transition

It took a little while for the mining and blasting industries to fully embrace the technology.

Stafford has worked with explosives and blasting companies for more than two decades, with experience in mining demolition, quarry work and major road construction. As recently as five years ago, professionals expressed doubt when he would show up at conventions to talk about the benefits of using UAVs.

“Everybody would ask questions like, ‘Why do you have this drone? Why do you have that little whirlybird toy sitting there on your display?’ Nobody was really considering the fact that this is actually a tool, not a toy,” Stafford said.

Opinions have shifted dramatically. It’s not uncommon for convention attendees to bring drones to the exhibit hall to compare UAVs and talk shop. “It's a huge paradigm shift,” Stafford said.

It’s partially a generational shift in thinking. Younger workers are more used to relying on computers and smartphones for the most basic of tasks. More industry professionals also are paying more attention to the science behind their work.

Automation can help improve precision, which is especially beneficial when drilling because the angle or the straightness of the hole can affect how much material will need to be removed.

“Basically, instead of drill operators having to do it just all by hand and feel, they’re still involved, but they can punch in the coordinates and know exactly where they should be drilling,” Stafford said. “They can then monitor the exact drill angle as they're going along.”

It’s all interconnected

Making sure that the drill is positioned at just the right angle or that the mine road is safe enough for passage by a haul truck requires accurate data. Sending a drone with LiDAR sensors or photogrammetric payloads into the work area ahead of time can create 3D imagery that can be used to help make sure that the drill is at the right spot or the passage is safe.

“It's all interconnected,” Rosenbalm said. “Eventually I can foresee those 3D models being used to help guide driverless vehicles, bucket trucks and everything else that goes with all the equipment on site.”

Larger companies with more resources are adapting at a quicker pace, with many creating divisions just for UAV operations and flying drone operators around the country to work sites, Stafford said. Smaller firms might need a little more time and education to use drones or may outsource drone operations as a starting point.

“Probably in the early days, maybe 20% of companies were using drones. Now it’s probably less than 20% that aren't using drones now in some capacity within the mine,” Rosenbalm added.

Mapping the dangers

Mine sites can be complex. Most operations using drones incorporate photogrammetry payloads for surveying and mapping, with larger companies starting to use the faster LIDAR method to get data.

“And now, Microdrones just released two new products, the mdMapper3000DµoG 3D aaS and mdMapper1000DG 3D aaS, that are well designed for mapping with high walls and mapping the quarries,” Rosenbalm said. “You have these large faces sometimes hundreds of feet tall that you can't put anybody on because of how complex they are and how high and how dangerous it is.”

A 3D payload or oblique camera on the drone might offer a close-up view of rocks in danger of falling or help operators map a safe route for a pump. Other uses include assisting in figuring out how much material is in stockpile or determining where to next move equipment.

UAVs also can be used to help figure out blast drill hole pattern layouts, which is important to determine the amount of material needed for removal. What used to be a more complex process takes no more than 30 minutes from start to finish by flying a drone to obtain data.

“They can then really plan that blast out and use less explosives,” he added. “They're saving money and being safer as well.”

Finding flexibility

A range of business models in the mining industry means different strategies on how to proceed with UAV solutions. Some companies may not want a large capital expense and instead prefer to lease or rent drone surveying equipment. Microdrones has the answer with Microdrones as a Service (mdaaS.) Customers can choose whether they prefer to buy or rent integrated systems from Microdrones and process data with mdInfinity, a powerful online hub with convenient pay per project or unlimited payment options that allows firms to quickly and efficiently process geospatial data including trajectory processing, georeferencing and boresight calibration.

“You can visualize all the different payloads from all the different sites within that one hub,” Rosenbalm said. “You can have one person process all that data internally for each of the mines versus having to have a person located at each site process that data.”

Microdrones can be a one-stop-shop for firms in the UAV space with its end-to-end solutions. The company manufactures its own drones and software and offers training and service along with its cloud-based system for processing.

“It’s just a lot easier process to keep it all in one family,” Stafford said. “Microdrones as a service is a great way to make this kind of tool affordable.”

The mdLiDAR1000 from Microdrones offers a cost-effective solution with powerful options that can make LiDAR accessible to more companies, Rosenbalm said. A firm can then have the flexibility to add different sensors and technology as needs arise.

“The barrier of entry is much lower with Microdrones as a service,” Stafford said.

Focus on quality and value

It’s just as important to place an emphasis on quality as well as value, Stafford added. He likens it to the difference between buying a $5 hammer that might break next week or the $50 version that you can use for the next 10 years.

“When you invest in a quality integrated system from Microdrones, such as the mdLiDAR1000, mdLiDAR3000, or any of the payloads with them, you've got something that you will be able to use for a long time,” Stafford said. “As new technologies and different payloads come out, you'll still be able to use that platform and continue to swap those out and stay ahead of the game, and probably be ahead of your competition.”

Rosenbalm said that he reminds his customers to think about workflow when considering the use of drone surveying equipment, especially with a LiDAR solution.

“You don't have to reinvent the wheel with this technology. How can you integrate this type of system into your current workflows and become more efficient?” Rosenbalm said. “Instead of taking a week to do a survey by hand, integrate a LIDAR solution and you can do that survey with 30 minutes of airtime.

With a Microdrones product, a dealer like Ideal Blasting can assist with training and support. Microdrones has the know-how as the drone manufacturer and expertise with software and processing.

“When you become safer and you integrate this into your day-to-day type business,” he added. “you're able to become more efficient and get a return on investment much quicker.”

To learn how to add drone surveying equipment from Microdrones to your mining workflow, CLICK HERE to speak with one of our representatives.