Drone mining surveys

VTOL drone surveys improve operations at established Australian coal mine [case study]

After 30 years of terrestrial and airplane surveys, this coal mine integrated drone technology to get accurate and more frequent site details at only around 10 percent of the time and money they spent before.

Jellinbah Group oversees operations at an 84 km2 (32 mi2) mine, located in one of the largest coal basins in Australia and the world. They produce about 5 million tons of coking coal—a basis for coke, which plays a key role in steel production—a year. Until recently, the company depended solely on terrestrial and airplane surveys to get semi-regular surveys of their sites. Terrestrial surveys required an entire day’s time for large areas, while airplane surveys cost thousands of dollars. So the company decided to try drone surveying to get more details and insights about their mines more accurately, more often and cheaper.

Terrestrial methods are time consuming, airplane surveys are expensive and quadcopter drones are not efficient for large areas to be surveyed

“We started off with a quadcopter setup for surveying small areas. It was only then that we realized the quality of data and the opportunities it presented for the business. This prompted us to look into fixed-wing drones to capture larger areas and realize greater benefits.”

Chris Kelly
Technical Services Superintendent, Jellinbah Mining

Jellinbah coal mine DSM
This WingtraOne DSM covers 135 ha (334 ac) and was captured in a single flight. Kelly said ground survey on this area would take more than a week, and contracted aerial survey would charge 10,000 AUD.

Striking detail 13x faster*

Mr. Kelly outlined two main limitations with quadcopters: first, the coverage per flight was too small for their site; second, the data captured required ground control points. Adding ground control during processing, he said, reduced benefits even more.

Jellinbah soon took the next step in their drone program, investing in a WingtraOne with an RX1R II payload with PPK. Mr. Kelly said they take it out for site surveys twice a month, flying as high as they legally can—120 m (394 ft)—to get a GSD of 1.5 cm (0.6 cm). Their average survey time is 30 minutes. Their largest flight so far covered 101 ha (250 ac) in 50 minutes.

What used to take eight hours driving around an active worksite with ground-based survey equipment now takes the company less than an hour without interrupting operations. Beyond saved time, WingtraOne has set a new standard for clarity around all of their operations.

It's possible to capture the entire pit and dumps in one detailed flight with the WingtraOne. This gives our engineers greater understanding of the work area to generate accurate dig and dump designs.

Chris Kelly
Technical Services Superintendent, Jellinbah Mining

Man hours and money saved

Monthly WingtraOne vs. airplane surveys

airplane illustration
saved per month
saved a year

Monthly WingtraOne vs. terrestrial surveys

tripod illustration
saved per month
saved a year

WingtraOne surveys including set-up conservatively estimated at one hour. Figures based on average wage estimates. Airplane surveys estimated at 5000 AUD each and calculated at only a monthly frequency (if they were conducted 2x per month, double this figure). Frequency is assumed key ROI for managing operations (see article for context and source comments).

Flexibility: broad-coverage, detailed surveys, on demand

Jellinbah hires an airplane every quarter to conduct an aerial survey, but cost and logistical constraints prohibit using this option on a regular basis. Mr. Kelly said this contrasts sharply the way WingtraOne delivers ROI in terms of flexibility. In fact, Jellinbah now profits from the chance to survey large areas covered in high detail, on demand.

Jellinbah coal mine
A lot can happen on a busy mine site in the three months between airplane surveys, Mr. Kelly said. WingtraOne gives site views every 2 weeks.

A lot can happen between quarterly airplane surveys. Having the WingtraOne available is an important part of our workflow if we need to survey a large pit or coal stockpiles to reconcile volumes. It gives us greater flexibility.

Chris Kelly
Technical Services Superintendent, Jellinbah Mining

Getting the edge on volume measurement accuracy

Anyone working in mines knows the importance of calculating volumes. It’s the only way to understand how much a surface was impacted by a blast, how much earth needs to be moved and how much product has been extracted.

“Being able to have a detailed survey of an area that has been blasted makes a material difference on how the mine is designed and scheduled,” Mr. Kelly said. “This helps us with our reconciliation and helps us tell how much overburden and coal our equipment is actually moving, and the volume that remains in the pit to be moved later.”

Volume estimate accuracy proves especially valuable when Jellinbah needs to assess how much digging their contractors have done on some surfaces they’ve given them to manage, Mr. Kelly said. Knowing and monitoring the surface helps the company assess how much material their contractors moved since their work began and adjust contracts accordingly. This is important, as contractors are paid on the volume of earth that they move.

“The high level of detail that can be achieved with the WingtraOne, combined with the significant time savings, are the main benefits for our organization over traditional terrestrial surveying processes. Using the WingtraOne, we can capture all pit and dump surfaces in one flight,” Mr. Kelly said.

DSM cloud of Jellinbah mine Point cloud of Jellinbah mine

The WingtraOne data based point DSM on the left features contour lines that provide insight into how water will flow across the site’s surface and how to approach shelf blasting, the point cloud from the same data on the right helps calculate volumes and assess road quality while providing other key insights.

Drone mining surveys: The future is now

While it’s still early in Jellinbah’s drone program, the company has experienced significant savings in time and money as well as workflow streamlining. This is all not to mention contract adjustments for outsourced work based on estimates that the company can assess clearly for themselves. The start of Jellinbah’s new drone program coincided with the company’s 30-year anniversary and is transforming its workflow and preparing it for a future of more efficient, profitable and well-managed mining operations.

Fixed wing drone mapping a mine
Around the world, drone site managers are beginning to see the ROI potential of a high-end VTOL solution that provide broad coverage and high accuracy insights whenever and wherever they need them.

Our operations cover a significant area that we have mined and that we are going to mine in the future. Terrestrial methods take a lot of time and airplane surveys are too expensive for ad hoc survey requirements, so the WingtraOne drone offers the best alternative.

Chris Kelly
Technical Services Superintendent, Jellinbah Mining

*Source of 13x faster figure based on Mr. Kelly’s assessment of averaged half hour survey 2x month vs. 8 hours in field at same frequency.

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