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Drones measure Boliden’s mining sites

Boliden is a leading metals company with a commitment to sustainable development. In line with the strategy of Boliden, traditional aerial photography is partially being replaced with the use of remote controlled drones, so called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The benefits of UAVs are numerous; lower costs, increased safety and less environmental impact.

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High accuracy pushes use of unmmaned aerial vehicles and lower the costs

 

Swedish mining company Boliden is aiming to focus on continuous improvement and stable processes to stay competitive. Survey Coordinator Shane Leighton had previously used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Australia on a mining site and crafted a business case for use of UAVs within Boliden.

“Before, we had to contact a company and wait until the specially equipped airplane was scheduled to be in our area for photographing. Now that we use drones, we are much more flexible. And the savings are huge, up to 30 % depending on the size of the area to be flown.”

Shane Leighton, Survey Coordinator at Boliden

Increased safety and flexibility
 

The list of benefits when using UAVs goes on and on. Ease of use is one main reason, as Boliden can now conduct more frequent measurements than before, although the drones cover a smaller area than the airplane would. Some traditional survey work can also be replaced with UAVs as the surveyors no longer has to walk the area to survey it. Safety is another important measure. Before, when surveyors had to be out on the sites, they were climbing stock piles and were exposed to the risk of falling rocks. For the same reason, the drone technology now enables Boliden to access areas they were not able to be inspect before because of safety concerns.

Business critical information with higher accuracy


The images have been used within Boliden to measure volumes for ore stockpiles which in turn is a key driver to ensure monthly reconciliation is more reliable. This information is useful for the mill to understand the tonnage (value) of the ore that is stockpiled. Boliden has previously used a more manual method, counting the truck loads to understand how many tons were stockpiled and using the conveyor weightometer for how much has been removed. But this method is subject to variations.

“With the images from the UAVs, the calculations are much more accurate than with manual calculation. The accuracy now for stockpiled ore is within 5%.” 

Shane Leighton, Survey Coordinator at Boliden

Operated by Etteplan's certified consultants


Since Boliden began using UAVs 10months ago, they have performed 12 flights in three mining sites, and this summer the UAV will likely be used in more of the Swedish Boliden mines. “We currently have a single RTK UAV located centrally in Boliden, and the sites contact us when they want to use it. The only limitations we have seen so far are related to the weather conditions. The wind speed can be challenging for the light drones, and also impairs the battery time. However, the drones can operate in cloudy weather, whereas the airplanes could not as they fly at a much higher altitude” says Shane Leighton. The quality of the images depends on the resolution, which in turn is linked to the flying height. “At Boliden we have been flying quite low, at about 100 meters. That provides us with the high quality of resolution we need to analyse the images. The height also depends on the license agreement that is required for the drones to be able to fly at all,” explains Shane Leighton.

Increased demand for UAVs


Boliden does not operate the drones themselves. Instead Boliden is supported by Etteplan’s trained consultants. The demand for drone technology in businesses is increasing all over the world. The software has evolved greatly during the past few years. Now it is possible to take images from different angles and to create a 3D-picture that can be used for calculations, presentations and visualizations. Also, the accuracy of the GPS-coordinates have improved greatly, with very precise time and location.

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Agneta Stillnérus
Agneta Stillnérus
Department manager