How to Improve Mining Productivity from Above

A UAV monitors an open-pit mine from above

New workflows for aerial data stand to revolutionize the way you monitor and manage your remote mining operations. Autonomous technologies can handle the majority of the process on your behalf, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) for data analysis and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for data sourcing. With the resultant actionable data, your remote managers and on-site staff can better collaborate through a single, highly-visual software interface.

Digitize Your Open-Pit Mine

Take the case of an open-pit mine survey. To create the building blocks for analysis, a UAV performs a thorough grid inspection of the area equipped with a LiDAR sensor, which uses laser pulses to precisely measure the ground below. These survey readings are then quickly processed into a 3D models via software tools, that you can use to calculate and report the precise measurements you need to understand your mine layout:

  • Measure break lines to determine they’re even and whether any bank failures are imminent
  • Measure the vertical distance between mine benches and calculate the working area of the benches themselves
  • Analyze the slope and contours of walls to ensure wall integrity

There’s a big difference between having lots of data and having actionable data. To help you achieve the latter, AI-driven computer vision technology can analyze your imagery and data outputs to measure key performance metrics, enhance site safety, improve staff productivity, and track how your mine is changing over time.

Intelligent Insights for Mining Operations

With a unified source of visual intel that everyone can coordinate through, you increase the transparency of work efforts between all of your staff. This is the key to enhancing collaboration between remote managers and on-site personnel.

Critically, with a single repository where all analysis of new and historical datasets is occurring, an advanced aerial data platform can leverage this data to unlock powerful predictive analytics through comparison and change detection analysis. With predictive analytics in hand, you can now forecast changes and potential issues on your mining sites.

As each survey exhibits subtle changes over time, a predictive model shows how changes in wall slope could lead to the risk of collapse, the gradual erosion of roads and safety berms, and other developing issues that can go unnoticed.

Let’s examine the specific areas of your mining operation that aerial data can help you to improve.

Mitigate Tailing Dam Hazards

In 2019, the Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative found that 10% of tailings dams surveyed throughout the year have a history of structural instability.1 A dam collapse can have catastrophic effects on the environment, local population, and the lives of your staff – but inspecting them is no easy feat. With an aerial data workflow, a UAV can examine tailings areas with greater safety and efficiency.

With the resultant 3D model to work from, AI can identify subtle changes in the surface features of the dam. Your team will be quickly notified of anomalies such as earth loss, obvious leaks/breaks, and even significant loss in pond depth due to underground seepage.

UAVs can even take over water sampling efforts in the ponds themselves. Once you add up expenses associated with manual sample collection – including boats, safety equipment, training, staff, and hazard pay – you might be looking at approximately $20,000 per sample taken.2 Outfitted with the right sampling device, a UAV can cut this cost in half, requiring minimal staff and extra equipment, while also improving safety and speed of acquisition.

Routine Stockpile Reporting Via Advanced Volumetrics

From a 3D model, you can identify your material stockpiles and use various volume calculation methods for accurate estimations. The most basic form of volumetric analysis is the fixed plane method, which calculates the volume between the 3D model of the stockpile and the flat ground it’s situated on. However, there are more advanced calculation methods that can account for complex conditions such as stockpiles on uneven ground, in a bin, or against another pile.

With these measurements in-hand, you can assign the material type to each pile, and you have a visual representation of all stockpile volumes in your mine. With this data, you can easily generate a comprehensive report around material volumes to support the quarterly or month-end close process. Even a 1% increase in the accuracy of your stockpile calculations can potentially save you hundreds of thousands of dollars a year per mine.

Optimize Mining Site Working Conditions

The visual nature of aerial data can help you to create a safer working environment for staff, that lets them get the job done quicker:

Haul Road Networks
Your internal road networks are vital to the productivity of mining activities. With a digital terrain model (DTM), you can assess the conditions of the road including the slope of the surrounding banks, abnormalities in the road itself, and whether berms and safety barriers are up to par. Catch potential issues and fix them before they become a work-stopping accident.

Conveyor belts, overhead cranes, and goliath bucket-wheel excavators – open-pit mines are home to some truly awe-inspiring heavy equipment. Because of the sheer scale of these machines, routine inspections can be a labor-intensive, high-risk affair. An aerial data workflow limits the need to have maintenance teams working at a great height to only the most critical maintenance tasks. An autonomous UAV can perform a thorough multi-point inspection of a machine or structure with ease. Post-survey, AI algorithms scan the imagery for anomalous damage, missing components, or severe corrosion. With a clear picture and location of damage, maintenance teams will know where and what needs fixing.

Blast Sites
Blasting is a great example of the real-time role that a UAV can play in your operation. In preparation for the blast, the aerial system can provide a geo-referenced photo of blast hole drillings for comparison with those laid out in the plan, to ensure the blast meets expected results. Before detonation, a UAV can provide a real-time video feed to both on-site blasting specialists and remote managers, to ensure the area is all-clear before hitting the big red button. To determine the outcome of blasting, a UAV can perform a pre and post-blast survey, which can be quickly processed into Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) for comparison. This allows you to determine whether the operation was a success much faster than with a human surveyor.

Why Unmanned Aerial Vehicles?

UAVs can source imagery in a routine, consistent way that enables both real-time visualization of your site and AI-driven analysis for superior insight. In addition, UAVs are advantageous to traditional methods of visual inspection from an economic perspective. To perform a thorough inspection of a large-scale, open-pit mining operation from the ground can take days – whereas a UAV can accomplish this task in hours. Meanwhile, in comparison to manned aircraft, a UAV yields huge cost-savings for aerial surveys of mining sites. The Australian BHP mining company estimates that replacing planes with drones for survey work resulted in savings of A$5 million per year in their Queensland state mines alone.3

Data to Drive a New Era of Mining

The time to reimagine the old ways of doing things is now. As you evolve your mining operations for an age of maximized productivity and lower operating costs, having the right data to inform your efforts is essential. With autonomous technologies consistently visualizing the important areas of your mine, and a simple platform to manage your data from, your remote and on-site teams can work with a new level of digital intelligence.

Have questions about how high-quality aerial data can elevate your organization?
Contact our team to discuss your unique challenges and data requirements.


  1. Investor concerns over safety of tailings dams at global mining operations, Andrew Fawthrop, NS Energy, 2019
  2. Aerial Drones Used to Sample Pit Lake Water Reduce Monitoring Costs and Improve Safety, D. Castendyk, B. Straight, P. Filiatreault, S. Thibeault, L.Cameron, Hatch, 2017
  3. How drones are changing mining, Frans Know, BHP, 2017