The Sky’s the Limit With Drones for Mineral Exploration

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The following is a guest post by mining services expert Ben Howard.

Iron oil has been mined for over 100 years in Australia, with 2230 tons of usable iron produced globally in 2016 and there is still a robust supply ready to be mined that you could potentially get your hands on with the use of the ubiquitous drone.

Unmanned aerial systems, more commonly known as drones are being used by research and mining organizations as a less invasive method to achieve high-resolution images of land for the exploration of mineral resources.  The collected data is then analyzed by scientists to determine the geological composition of the land mass which is then further developed through 3-D modelling to understand the structural control of the minerals and the areas capability.

There is no doubt that drones have transformed modern mining, improving safety for workers, reducing exploratory time, increasing the quantity of high-level data that is collected regarding the area, speeding-up the process of measuring stockpiles and all in real time aerial footage.

The monetary savings of using drones in place of planes for surveying is considerable with BHP reporting a AUD$5million savings in 2017 at their Queensland sites alone. Further surveying developments in their junior stage is the drones capability to deliver soil samples from site through methods such as reverse circulation drilling (RC drilling); resulting in less surveying labor on the field during collection and more time spent on interpreting the collected data.

The benefits of this type of drilling includes a greater depth reached in comparison to open drilling methods, a speedy collection process with routine speeds faster than 10 m/h, and operating costs reduced up to 40% when compared to diamond drilling.

One of the industry leaders in the field is Rio Tinto, with 20 per cent of the haul truck fleet within Western Australia being autonomous making it the largest owner and operator of autonomous haulage systems in the world. Chris Salisbury, chief executive of iron ore said, “We’re creating a workplace where machines do the repetitive tasks, and people make the important decisions.”

Previously it was expected that a team of 3 or more surveyors on foot would take a week to complete a job, a UAV drone if able to complete the same quantity of land in a matter of hours. The changing environment of the mining sector means that inevitable change in labor skills will be required, particularly with the influencing capability of operational data.

The use of drones is revolutionary and has changed how we do business in numerous industries, improving efficiency, reducing costs and expanding innovation. It is not surprising that the large investment the mining industry has committed to facilitating innovation and reducing cost has resulted in the industry been a business leader in the area of drone capability within the sphere corporate usage.

For more see Dave Cox of Ground Truth Exploration as he explains how the company employs drones to map and prospect for minerals in Canada.

Ben Howard is a manager of Mining Products at Australasian Mining Services, and a former advisor at Rio Tinto.  Ben is a frequent contributor of articles for and about the mining industry.



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