Covia Uses Kespry Drones for Better Data Analysis
Before deploying drones to measure stockpile volumes, collecting the data required for inventory management and mine planning was a time consuming and expensive affair for Covia Holdings Corporation’s mine in Tunnel City, Wisconsin. Continuous Improvement Manager Nick Dehaan would spend one week each year walking the entire site with a GPS survey system to gather raw data from which he could manually calculate the volume of each stockpile.
“I used to have to take a week off from my regular work duties to walk the site and deal with the raw data,” Dehaan said. “Because of that, we would typically measure the sites once a year.”
Then, January 2018, Covia deployed a drone-based aerial intelligence platform for aggregates and mining from Kespry, Menlo Park, California. Now, the process can be done within one day, which has enabled Covia to measure stockpile volumes on a weekly basis, rather than only once per year.
Ultimately, the decision has enabled Covia to improve efficiency in its mine planning and make better operational and safety decisions.
“The big driver [to get the system] was that our business had increased,” said Plant Manager Mark Massicote. “As part of that, we’d taken over our own stripping at the mining site and we needed a quick way to see how our face advance and backfill was progressing.”
“The volume we were pushing out created a need for it,” said Covia Operations Manager Craig Johnson. “With the growth of our business, people were taking on more workload, so the time saved using the aerial platform versus ground-based surveying was big.”
Covia Implements New Plan
Before Covia could implement Kespry, it got three employees Part 107-certified by the FAA to fly drones commercially. Kespry provided study materials to prepare for the certification test. Within three weeks, Covia staff were certified and had completed four training sessions with Kespry and were able to run the system independently.
Once a week, the operator flies the Kespry drone over the mine as it captures pictures and data.
The flight process is autonomous. On the drone’s accompanying iPad, the operator will see an ortho image of the mine, upon which they can select the drone’s height and the boundary of where they want to fly and what they want to take photos of. The tablet will also notify them if they are flying in a restricted area, such as near an airport.
“Basically, you set up the drone, hit go, and you don’t have to do anything after that,” Dehaan said. The Kespry box communicates and controls the drone’s flight pattern.
The iPad can also be used to track the drone, monitor battery life, and see what percent of the mission is complete. It can also be used to do an emergency landing or prompt the drone to fly back to the operator.
Covia typically performs its flights over 50 acres, which can be done on one battery (which has a runtime of 30 minutes). However, the exact time depends on the resolution to be captured. Flying lower altitudes leads to higher resolution photos, but longer flight times. If a battery runs low, the drone automatically flies back to the operator—located a safe distance from all operations—for battery replacement, and then continues its mission where it left off.
“Separating people from moving equipment is a pillar of our corporate safety culture,” Massicote said. “Now, we don’t have to have a guy out there trying to survey while operating and we don’t have to stop production to survey either.”
Kespry also enables Covia to get the survey points it needs without anyone standing at the edge of a 120-foot wall to identify an offset.
Dehaan said the results from Kespry are also more accurate than those they’d gotten from ground-based surveying. “You’re not having to make any assumptions about your offsets if you’re working around a high wall or a berm,” he said. “It encompasses that whole berm. The data points are so much higher than what you can do from the ground.”
If the operator is walking on ground with elevation changes, Kespry also tracks that. According to Kespry, the system offers positional accuracy within 2 to 10 centimeters.
Data Collection vs. Data Analysis
The data is automatically transferred to the Kespry cloud for processing and is ready within a couple hours of the flight. Although the data analysis is done automatically, the user still has access to the raw data, should he need it.
“The Kespry system doesn’t take any extra work time away from us,” Dehaan said. “We can go work on something else while it’s processing.”
The Tunnel City mine team mostly uses Kespry to track its volume of material still on the ground in its quarry and to reconcile the volume calculated by its belt scales.
“Kespry’s volume tool is the most useful tool for us,” Massicote said. “Say the belt scales say we mined 100,000 tons in one week. We can do a flight and compare that volume against the survey data. It makes doing those reconciliations very fast.”
“Or, if used to project a face avance, you can look ahead to the next 20 acres to see how many tons you expect to mine,” Dehaan said, “and use that information to time crusher moves, conveyor moves, and better schedule it out.”
The cross section tool has also come in handy, particularly for determining slope angles of haul roads and planning efficient dozer pushes.
“Using Kespry to make sure our dumps are built properly is a big deal,” Massicote said. “We don’t have to do any re-work on reclamation any longer because of improperly-created dump slopes.”
Another reason Covia decided Kespry was the right choice for them was that it is cloud-based.
“The other options sell you a license you can only use on one computer,” Johnson said. “It’s not shareable, so those other systems don’t let you collaborate as a team on any of this information.”
In addition to collaborating on the data, Covia also uses the photos from Kespry to communicate with staff. For example, they can use aerial photos to show drivers where the haul roads are.
“The site is constantly changing,” Dehaan said. “The pictures help our operators understand and visualize the plan and keeps them on track.”
“The drones open us up to information we just didn’t have before,” Massicote said. “Instead of having staff spending a lot of time collecting data, they can spend that time analyzing the data so we can make better decisions.”