Fixed-Wing Drones Elevate Mine Safety and Survey Standards

Open-pit mine wall with an overlay showing the image capture area flown by the senseFly eBee X fixed-wing drone.
Ames Construction used a senseFly eBee X fixed-wing drone carrying a S.O.D.A. 3D mapping camera to capture 14,400 images of the pit walls surrounding this copper mine.

Safety is always the number one priority among contract engineers in open-pit mining. And when it comes to surveying and data accuracy, you simply can’t afford to cut corners or disrupt operations to gain accessibility. 

Traditional topographic methods, used in the monitoring of pit wall surfaces, requires time and comes with a high risk to manned surveyors. For Arizona-based Ames Construction, fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), proved to be just the tool needed to generate detailed 3D imagery of wall surfaces while keeping mine productivity up—and its surveyors out of harm’s way. 

A recent project at a copper mine required the Ames Construction team to map an expansive site to monitor the largest pit wall face for movement and any potential sloughing or deterioration, critical indicators of surface instability and potential hazards.

The site, with its wide area and highwalls reaching over 2,000 feet tall, is an expansive terrain and highly active with heavy machinery and construction. Manual topographic surveys would simply be too hazardous and costly in downtime. The Ames operations team took a hard look at their processes, one which ultimately led to the purchase of senseFly’s eBee X fixed-wing drone and eMotion flight planning software. 

Sharp Detail, Safe Capture 

The combination of senseFly hardware and software allowed the team to safely and efficiently navigate several extremes, from sheer vertical elevation changes to high winds and loss of radio signals that are commonplace at the site.

In addition, each flight was completed in 2-3 hours, which meant that mapping could be captured in a relatively short amount of time and on a more regular, monthly basis.  

Screenshot of eMotion flight planning software showing its full 3D environment and pit wall map, overlaid with the path of the eBee X drone.
The eMotion flight planning software seen here includes a full 3D environment that enables the team to safely and efficiently map terrain with highwalls reaching 2,000 feet tall.

The eBee X’s purpose-built drone sensors, which included the Aeria X Photogrammetry Camera and senseFly’s S.O.D.A. 3D Mapping Camera, provided over 14,400 geotagged images – about 2,400 per flight.

Once processed in Pix4D’s photogrammetry software, the team had access to detailed contour patterns and imagery. This data helped their mining partners better evaluate and implement new safety measures to mitigate concerns about the stability of highwalls, as well as protect site traffic and roadways from potential falling debris. 

“Implementing a UAV program has been invaluable in helping shape the safety strategy at the mine, by both mapping the pit wall and tracking mining progress across the wider site,” said Tanner Richards, Project Engineer at Ames Construction.  

The detailed insights Ames captures with the eBee X allows the team to protect current construction efforts and inform alternate mining techniques to improve pit wall stability and other safety concerns.  

Streamlined Workflows and Materials Tracking 

With the bank of detailed images and 3D surfaces now at their fingertips, Richards and his team can better manage and track ongoing work with regular, updated project timelines, as well as overcome complex administrative hurdles that are typical of a large construction site.  

Ames Construction surveyor catching senseFly's eBee X after a successful data capture.
Back on the ground, Ames uses the detailed insights provided by the eBee X to streamline their business processes and save resources through improved planning.

“Improved planning has allowed us to streamline the billing process, more accurately track quantities of work completed, justify change orders and pay requests, reduce labor cost and increase project capacity and planning, said Richards. “Just making a small change in the amount of material we use can make a huge difference to the overall cost of the project – potentially saving millions of dollars to our clients and/or ourselves.” 

For Ames Construction and its mining partners, the eBee X is key to efficient site monitoring, more regular surveys and responsible for elevating their safety standards to new heights. 

Read the full article on sUAS News

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