Fortescue Metals Group has deployed unmanned aerial systems to survey its Cloudbreak mine in the Pilbara region in an effort to reduce the health and safety risks to its survey staff.
The miner tested out a number of UAVs at Cloudbreak for stockpile volume and topographic surveys last year.
It later settled on Trimble's UX5 UAV running Pix4D software. The photogrammetry system uses a camera mounted onto the drone to gather spatial information.
Two Fortescue employees at Cloudbreak have now completed their Cival Aviation Safety Authority UAV controller training, and another four are currently undergoing training. Fortescue said it expected full CASA certification to be awarded in the coming months.
The implementation of the drones to undertake stockpile surveys had "significantly reduced exposure to health and safety risks encountered by the survey team", a Fortescue spokesperson said.
"Other benefits include increased productivity and efficiency in survey and mining team activities and increased accuracy in data reporting," they said in a statement.
Fortescue has used drones via third-party contractors and consultants for various applications throughout its business previously, but the success of the trial means the miner now sees a good reason to bring the technology in house.
It is currently deploying drones to other high-risk areas within the business in an effort to remove staff from high-risk tasks completely.
The miner's technology function has since January been handled by Steve Fewster in a newly-created role following an executive restructure that saw the departure of CIO Vito Forte.
Fewster was subsequently appointed the general manager for information services, business planning and analysis, running among other things Fortescue’s information systems and services.
Fortescue is among a number of utilities and resource companies to turn to drones to tackle surveying within their vast and risk-heavy collection of assets.
Mining rival Rio Tinto, Australia’s largest rail freight operator Aurizon, Tasmanian water corporation TasWater, industrial services company Transfield, Melbourne Water, NSW power operator TransGrid and even budget airline EasyJet are among many turning the technology to reduce the safety risks for employees.