The process of mining is about executing a few, seemingly easy, routine activities with consistency and precision over an extended period of time. The research that has been conducted during the course of this study has attempted to determine whether RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) technology (also known as drone technology) can assist operational mining staff in making better, more informed decisions regarding activities related to the physical mining process. In this study the mining process is referred to as the block lifecycle, which consists of four primary activities, namely cleaning (block preparation), drilling, charging & blasting and loading & hauling.
The study was conducted at an iron ore mine located in the Northern Cape province. To understand the benefits that RPAS technology could provide to the mine it was important to understand the baseline - the current data and information that was available to managers for the purposes of decision making. Once the research was complete, a comparison could be done between the baseline and the information that RPAS technology can provide.
During the baseline analysis it was found that activities without formal systems, such as cleaning and charging, provide a challenge for managers, as there is a lack of information from which they can make decisions. Activities performed by contractors such as drilling, loading and hauling also present an incomplete understanding of performance, as most information is available in a summarised format and is quantitative, rather than qualitative, in nature. For example, the question is posed: “did the contractor drill the planned number of metres for the day?”. A more informative alternative to that question would be: “did the contractor drill the required number of holes to the correct depth in the correct position?”. Activities where fleet management systems are used, such as the mine’s drilling equipment (Flanders ARDVARC®) and the loading and hauling equipment
(Modular Dispatch®), provide vast amounts of information on which managers can base their decisions.
In order to collect data a DJI Phantom 4 Pro RPAS unit, fitted with a 20 megapixel camera, was used to conduct flights. Each flight focused on acquiring data, in the form of photographs and/or video footage, related to a particular mining block. Flights were undertaken by qualified and authorised RPAS pilots representing a service provider called UDS (UAV and Drone Solutions (PTY) Ltd).
Once the in-field data collection process was complete, processing of the data commenced. The primary output of the data processing step was an orthophoto. The orthophoto was then processed to obtain a point cloud. Then finally, the point cloud was processed to create a digital terrain model. Additional insights were obtained through analysis in specialised software packages such as Global Mapper and WipFrag.
The study found that RPAS-generated data can provide information that will allow managers to monitor and validate progress of cleaning activities. Data related to drilling will allow managers to monitor and validate progress of drilling activities and drilling quality. Charging and blasting activities can also be assessed, as aerial imagery and high-resolution video footage can be captured before, during and after the blast. RPAS data can also be used for fragmentation analysis. Information related to loading and hauling activities can be enhanced with RPAS data, as it allows one to visually track progress and perform volume calculations that determine the amount of material which has been mined. This can only be done, provided there is sufficient data integrity that is largely controlled by ground control. RPAS technology can certainly assist managers in understanding conditions in the field and can aid better decision making for block lifecycle activities.
The application of RPAS technology in the field of mining has shown some very promising results. The extent to which it becomes entrenched, however, will depend on the appetite of the industry to adopt the technology.
Dissertation (MEng)--University of Pretoria, 2018.