Drones in Mining
The mining landscape, both in Canada and globally, is undergoing a seismic shift. A wave of innovation is sweeping across the industry from high above, orchestrated by the increasing integration of drone technology.
Drones have many uses in mining, from surveying and mapping to tailing dams monitoring, and mining companies have been quick to adopt the technology. A recent survey found that 65% of mining operations had invested in drone technology in 2022, up from 44% in 2018. One of the key applications is logistics—using drones to deliver essential supplies to and within mines in inaccessible and remote locations.
Integrating drones into your logistics system holds many advantages, from increasing efficiency to improving personnel safety. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the exciting potential of drone delivery in the mining industry, spotlight the innovations driving this shift, and explore the safety and security considerations.
Advantages of Drones for Mining
The mining sector faces unique challenges, with operators having to juggle hazardous environments and heavy machinery with a demand for greater productivity and adherence to safety regulations. Drone delivery is driving change when it comes to meeting those challenges. Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages:
Overcoming Geographical Challenges
The new generation of drones has clear advantages over traditional vehicles when navigating difficult terrain. Whether it’s a mountain range, a body of water, or even a mine in the ocean, unmanned aviation systems simply soar over obstacles to deliver cargo quickly. The case for drones is particularly compelling in urgent situations; for example, when a replacement part is needed for a critical piece of machinery.
Moreover, drones offer a groundbreaking solution to geographical challenges within the mine site itself. Mines can cover hundreds of hectares in area and reach depths of 2 km below the earth's surface. Small drones are equipped with sensors and navigation tools and can deliver tools or time-critical supplies to a specific processing plant or conveyor belt with remarkable accuracy.
Idle machinery is a constant challenge for mining operators due to equipment breakdowns, maintenance, or supply shortages. Drone delivery streamlines the logistics of delivering spare parts, tools, and other essential supplies, minimizing unplanned downtime and enhancing operational efficiency. Additionally, GPS technology facilitates real-time monitoring to help mining companies track their delivery status with pinpoint accuracy, enabling data-driven decision making.
Different drones hold the potential for specialized sensors and cameras to conduct aerial inspections of mining infrastructure. The capability to detect maintenance issues and potential hazards early on means mining companies can resolve issues and mitigate risks sooner, further reducing production downtime and the maintenance costs.
Reducing Transport Costs
The adoption of drone delivery in mining operations unlocks several financial benefits, including a reduction in the fuel and maintenance costs associated with fleet management. Traditional transport methods heavily rely on manual labor bundled with training, insurance, and payroll costs.
A flexible solution for small payloads, drone deliveries ensure a continuous supply chain. They eliminate the waste generated by empty space in a delivery truck and the operational delays incurred waiting for a full truckload to justify a road journey.
Improving Personnel Safety
Worker safety remains a top priority for mining companies globally, given the hazardous nature of mine and quarry environments. The potential for injuries and accidents is ever-present, from dust and explosions to unstable ground and airborne debris. Drone delivery is proving to be a powerful tool in enhancing safety standards and aligning with the legal requirements of mining operations.
Poor road infrastructure means transporting deliveries to or within mining locations can be risky for traditional vehicles. Using drones reduces road and foot traffic on the site, mitigating the risk of accidents and improving overall site safety. In addition, some site zones may be hazardous for workers to enter due to dust, pollution, or heavy machinery. Drones are capable of collecting water and core samples from dangerous areas and offer a transformative solution.
Moreover, drones equipped with sensor technologies can assist in site inspections from the air. They enable mine operators to identify potential hazards, monitor site conditions, and assess structural integrity from a distance, improving safety conditions and helping to ensure compliance with mining regulations.
The mining sector plays a crucial role in global economies, extracting critical minerals and metals that support several different industries, from agriculture to transport and technology. The mining and metals industry has a massive part to play in the switch to green energy with demand for minerals such as lithium, used in electric vehicles and batteries, set to soar.
At the same time, it’s well known that the mining sector can have a negative impact on the environment. The effects can include biodiversity loss, deforestation, soil erosion, and water contamination. According to McKinsey, mining contributes four to seven percent of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) globally. Concerns about safety and the impact of mining on local communities have also sparked questions from campaigners, investors, and consumers.
As a result, the mining industry has been cleaning up its act, according to Reuters. The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) was launched in 2001, followed by industry initiatives such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance and the World Bank’s Climate-Smart Mining Initiative. Meanwhile, new standards include the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, developed in 2020.
Drone delivery can help usher in a new era of more sustainable mining by reducing fuel emissions. Because mines are often located in remote, hard-to-reach areas, vehicles must travel long distances, guzzling large quantities of fuel as they go. They also create environmental and noise pollution that affects sensitive ecosystems and impacts the local communities of the areas they pass through. Powered fully or in part by electricity, unmanned aerial vehicles RPAs offer a promising solution to help companies slash fuel consumption and reduce their impact on the planet and the local landscape.
Innovation in technology stands as a formidable force, fueling the transformation and scalability of drone delivery services within mining logistics. Let’s examine some of the most important trends.
Mitigating Collision Risk
Beyond visual line- of- sight (BVLOS) is one of the hottest topics in drone technology, and a new wave of tools is making it possible. A combination of detect and avoid radar systems, sensors, cameras, and GPS is paving the way for drones to fly further while avoiding collisions in the sky.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is driving rapid change in this area, analyzing the vast amounts of data gathered by sensors and cameras and using it to recognize obstacles. It’s a game-changer for environments such as mines, where conditions can be unpredictable.
Advances in Hardware
Longer battery life is a potential game-changer for drone delivery, enabling drones to fly for longer and deliver over greater distances to remote mining sites. Most drones currently use lithium polymer batteries, but new technologies such as solar batteries and hybrid solutions are also being explored.
Heavier payload capacity is also becoming a reality. Drone Delivery Canada has developed large-capacity drones capable of carrying payloads up to 180kg, making them suitable for delivering heavy mining equipment, tools, and samples to remote locations. At the same time, technological innovations such as smaller microprocessing chips and miniaturized sensors are making it possible to build lightweight drones with smaller power requirements and at a lower cost.
Drones as a Service
One of the biggest developments in the evolution of drone deliveries is the emergence of drones as a service, enabling companies to experience the benefits without investing in the hardware. Drone Delivery Canada is a pioneer in this space, offering a complete turnkey logistics solution that encompasses drones, landing depots (DroneSpots®),, and the proprietary FLYTE software system.
Safe and Secure Delivery
By adopting drone deliveries, mining companies can ensure safer working conditions for onsite personnel—but only if these deliveries are made safely. It’s essential for all personnel involved in drone operations to be fully trained and certified, to understand flight protocols, and for officially designated air routes to be respected to mitigate against the risk of accidents in the air.
In addition to the laws already governing mining operations, there are specific regulations covering the use of drones. Transport Canada, the Canadian aviation authority, provides guidelines encompassing pilot certification, vehicle registration, no-fly zones, and more. Not adhering to the rules could result in fines or jail time, with fines of up to $15,000 for corporations that put aircraft and people at risk.
As with any software-based service, drone delivery operators need to be vigilant about data security in terms of protecting customer data and to mitigate against the risk of hackers interfering with a flight path. Implementing strong security measures such as multi-factor authentication, data encryption, and data security training is essential to ensure the safety of sensitive flight and customer data.
Drone deliveries are revolutionizing mining operations worldwide, and Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) is at the forefront of this transformative technology. A publicly traded, award-winning technology company, we create innovative logistics platforms for companies in the mining sector and other industries, as well as government agencies.
Our fully integrated solution encompasses both hardware and software, including industrial-grade drones, automated DroneSpot®™ depots, and our proprietary FLYTE management software. Automated battery management systems, real-time tracking and monitoring, and a Detect- and- Avoid radar system further enhance our industry-leading solution.
To find out more about our turnkey logistics solution and how it can transform your mining operation through fast, efficient, reliable drone delivery, contact our team today.