From to iron ore mines, drones are on the rise


First it was driverless trucks and trains, now Australia’s biggest mining companies are turning to drones for a competitive advantage.

With mines, railways and ports sprawling over hundreds of kilometres, unmanned drones are increasingly being used by miners to check equipment, measure ore stockpiles and look after companies’ environmental obligations.

The growing use of drones in industrial settings will go under the microscope at a conference in Perth today, where mining companies and aviation regulators meet.

Rio Tinto’s technology and innovation executive Greg Lilleyman said his company had already started using drones to monitor and measure various aspects of its iron ore and coal businesses in Western Australia and Queensland respectively.

“Information will be the single biggest differentiating factor between the mining operations of the past and those in the future, and drones can produce a wealth of information to allow us to make better decisions,” he said.

When fitted with video or thermal imaging cameras, the drones can help companies to inspect machinery and other pieces of equipment much faster and cheaper than by using humans and helicopters.

“We’re already using drones to monitor our sites and inspect equipment, tasks that have traditionally presented safety risks for our people, taken up time and disrupted our operations,” said Mr Lilleyman

“Other innovative uses we are finding include tasks like monitoring remote turtle nesting sites and spraying weeds as part of our environmental programs.

“We see immense potential for drones to help extend the advantage Rio Tinto holds through the innovative use of technology, to improve the safety and productivity of our operations.”

Fortescue Metals Group looks set to adopt drones after a successful trial at the Cloudbreak iron ore mine last year, while BHP Billiton has also adopted them for stockpile measurement and other topographical surveys.
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