Eye in the sky: Kumba invests R6m in drones

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Kumba Iron Ore has invested R6 million in drones, which survey stockpiles.
Kumba Iron Ore has invested R6 million in drones, which survey stockpiles.

Kumba Iron Ore has invested R6 million in 10 drones, which are operational in two of its key mines.

Four drones are being used at its Kolomela mine, while the remaining six fly above its Sishen mine. Both mines are in the Northern Cape.

According to Glen McGavigan, Kumba's executive head of technical and projects, the drones are used to conduct aerial surveys and collect a new set of information and data.

The company has both fixed-wing and quadcopter drones, with the former featuring cameras and the latter on-board cameras and a laser scanner that are used to create three-dimensional images.

The Anglo American subsidiary disclosed it has, over the past three years, invested R500 million in technology, including the drones for aerial surveys and remote-controlled drills.

Speaking on the drone investments, CEO Themba Mkhwanazi said it was part of the company's strategy to improve productivity.

"The realisation of appropriate pricing for the company's high quality products is a very compelling lever to generate attractive returns with low risk for shareholders. The core focus for 2017 will therefore be to step up these initiatives from current levels, supported by the operating model and technology improvements, in order to realise the full potential of the assets, provide confidence in delivery and enhance profitability," said Mkhwanazi.

He explained that using drones allows the mine to have more coverage in terms of surveying, while eliminating the previous option of having to expose an individual to walking on stockpiles.

In December 2015, the company launched its first leased drone flight at the Kolomela mine and in November 2016, decided to acquire its first fixed-wing and quadcopter drones.

The company has trained five of its staff to be pilots of these drones and they received licences from the SA Civil Aviation Authority to use the technology.

McGavigan said drones may also be utilised in accident survey reports and as an accident prevention tool to survey areas that could be unsafe for workers to enter.

Gregory Donaldson, chief flight instructor and chief pilot at drone pilot training centre UAV Industries, last year observed the increasing usage of drones by SA's mining companies. He said then that drones were being used for everything ranging from mapping to mineral exploration to tracking stockpiles.

"The fastest growth we're observing at the moment is from the mining sector.

"They use the drones to fly over an area of heaped coal, sand and other resources used in the mines, and the cameras are used to view the stockpile for stock measurement. In the past, the stockpiles in the mining industry were measured by engineers either manually or by using GPS coordinates," Donaldson said.

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