To the lay person, a picture is worth a thousand words. To mining industry leaders, UAV footage could be worth thousands of dollars in operational cost savings. Photographs — specifically aerial photographs obtained by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — provide critical information and documentation of mining sites that can guide efficient decision-making and enhance safety and environmental compliance throughout the life cycle of a site.

When paired with a project management data visualization program, UAV footage provides organization leaders with richer detail on site-specific work, enabling faster and more informed decisions. With such a program, photographic assets obtained from one UAV flight could support safety and health administration and reporting, environmental permit compliance, and even survey activities to verify area, coverage and material movements.

The ability to use UAVs to assess the condition of existing structures provides profound safety benefits through reduced risk; it also reduces costs. For example, we used a UAV equipped with laser scanning equipment to generate highly accurate as-built drawings for a more than 100-year-old mine head frame at a site our client was decommissioning and turning over to a local community.

The location (on a steep, rocky grade), age and height (more than 120 feet tall) of the head frame created numerous safety concerns with regard to accessing the site with the appropriate crew and equipment needed, such as a crane, to obtain necessary measurements and analysis of the structure. With the UAV and laser scanning equipment, we were able to obtain a complete scan of the structure in just a few hours and then upload the data into the cloud for download into computer models for structural analysis.

Traditional methods for obtaining this structural data would have likely required two to three days of on-site activity, a crew of at least four professionals and a crane, plus the inherent safety risks. For this activity, the cost for the UAV pilot was at least 10 times less than traditional methods, and the work was accomplished with far less safety and health risk — and with improved accuracy.

It is important to note that using UAVs is not as simple as buying an asset and having a crew member pilot it. Companies interested in using UAVs to support mining operations should hire service providers who have Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licenses and other key training. UAV pilots with FAA licenses have training on safety and procedures for alerting regulatory authorities regarding the flight path, among other areas. In addition, many also are trained on how to position UAVs during flight to prevent shadows in the areas they are photographing or scanning.

The potential uses of UAVs within the mining industry are broad, with each opportunity providing sustained return on investment. UAVs can reduce the need to deploy survey teams and other staff for specific business functions, such as material movement, pipe routing and mineral surveillance. Assets obtained via UAVs, over time, can be used to provide a photographic, date-stamped history of the site and create an audit trail to streamline compliance and reporting requirements. Perhaps most importantly, UAVs eliminate much of the health and safety risks of accessing specific types of sites.


Learn more about the enterprisewide value that can be generated by integrating program management with data visualization.

Read the White Paper

Jonathan Grantham, PE, SE, is a business development manager at Burns & McDonnell. His experience in fostering new markets in the industrial, commercial and power industries allows him to help clients identify and develop effective solutions.