How You Can Use Drones for Aggregates

 Interested in using a drone for aggregates? Drones are becoming commonplace at aggregates sites around the world and for good reason—they enable faster, more affordable, and more accurate surveying. A drone survey program provides up-to-date views of your site’s progress and productivity, allowing your team to work more efficiently so you can minimize operational risks and streamline costs.


The two key components to a successful drone surveying program for aggregates are collecting the data, and processing it. After taking to the skies and gathering data of conditions on the ground, web-based platforms like Propeller Aero transform the drone data into fully navigable, measurable 3D surveys of your site. The result is highly accurate, real-world measurements like cut-fill, distance, elevation, and more. Read on to learn what you need to know to get started, as well as some of the benefits you’ll enjoy when you adopt a drone survey program for your aggregates operation.


What it takes to get started


While drones may seem like complicated pieces of equipment requiring an abundance of technical knowledge to operate, they’re more user-friendly than you think. All it takes to start a drone survey program at your aggregates site is the right hardware, the right software, and the right licenses:


  • Hardware. There are plenty of drones to choose from, so you need to pick the best option for the size of your survey area, your allotted budget, and the camera that’s optimal for your surveying purposes. The best option for most sites is an RTK/PPK-enabled craft that matches GPS data to photo timestamps, providing precise geotags for each image. With Propeller’s PPK (post processing kinematic) solution, you can achieve 1/10ft accuracy site-wide.


  • Software. While picking the right drone is important, picking the right software for your workflow is even more crucial. After capturing raw data in flight, you need a robust software platform to process it and create accurate 3D reconstructions of your worksite. Propeller’s software solution takes care of all the heavy lifting for you, using the process of photogrammetry in a cloud-based platform. Not only is it more cost-effective to keep your data in the cloud, but it also makes your data device-independent to enable easier collaboration and sharing across your organization.


  • Licenses. Depending on where you plan on flying, you need to have the right licenses to operate a drone for commercial purposes. In the U.S., drones are regulated by the FAA, and you must pass the FAA Part 107 exam before taking flight. In Australia, anyone can fly a drone under 2 kilograms, but you do need to register for an aviation reference number (ARN) before flying for commercial purposes. In the EU, pilots need to register their drone and pass an aeronautical test before flight.



What can you do with a drone at your quarry?


Drones are developing efficiencies on a variety of worksites, since they significantly reduce surveying times to hours, rather than days or months. Some of the ways drone data can help you manage your quarry include:


  • Stockpile management. Managing stockpiles is the most-used worksite application for drones, eliminating the need to physically “walk a stockpile.” Drones can capture data on an entire stock yard in less than 30 minutes, providing accurate volume calculations and comparisons. Communicating the inventory you have on hand and how much has moved since the previous survey has never been easier. You can use this information for financial forecasting, supply chain management, and resource planning.


  • Site planning and building. Accurate visualizations of your site—based on data collected by drone—allows for better pit and waste dump design and management. In the Propeller Platform, you can overlay design files to create a visual record of changes to the site over time, allowing you to check conformance and determine how much material should be extracted or moved to meet the design.


  • Drilling and blasting. Thinking of blasting an area? You can easily and inexpensively survey the area to capture rock-type variation in a bench, rock condition, face angles, and volumes. After Propeller processes your data into 3D surveys, you can use the platform’s measurement tools to calculate drill depths and analyze your blast area. The result is a more precise estimate on what a blast will yield, before you ever drill a single hole.


  • Road monitoring. The Propeller Platform allows you to monitor roads at your quarry. Use 3D renderings to visually measure road lengths, slopes, and grades. With just a few clicks, you can verify roads meet design and safety guidelines, all while ensuring road grades meet sustainable requirements to reduce fuel burn.


  • Remote inspections. Traditional surveys at quarries can be dangerous, and many areas at a site are inaccessible for survey crews. Drones can venture into hard-to-reach places, making them the ideal solution for safety and material inspections. Taking regular surveys allows you to create a timeline of the life of your quarry, and helps you monitor site boundaries for environmental protection purposes.


  • Safety checks. Aggregates professionals take a people-first approach to their work, meaning safety is paramount at every quarry. Drones improve safety at quarries by reducing job hazards for boots on the ground. They eliminate the need to physically traverse a site, so workers don’t have to inspect the bottom of the pit, block caves, heavy traffic areas, and other hazardous locations at a quarry. Drones also help you spot and monitor worksite hazards. Now, you can check windrow heights, berms, and tailings dams to ensure better safety and risk detection.


Develop efficiency at your aggregates operation with drone survey data


Working in the aggregates industry is challenging, and accountability, progress tracking, and accurate data are the key to success. Drones are helping aggregates professionals make day-to-day quarry management easier, ensuring their teams accomplish tasks on time and on budget. By taking to the skies with drones and using Propeller’s cloud-based processing platform to verify your data, you and your team can enjoy seamless collaboration that allows everyone to make informed data-driven aggregate business decisions with confidence.


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