How drones are helping Rio Tinto improve decision-making

Rio Tinto is continuing to reach for the skies in its use of automated technology, and has begun setting drones on a variety of monitoring and inspection tasks across its operations. The company’s work with drones (or remotely piloted aircraft systems) was recently profiled in The Sydney Morning Herald, coinciding with the SGS Hart Aviation conference in Perth where the mining industry and aviation regulators met to discuss the growing use of the technology in industrial settings.

Rio Tinto has pioneered the use of automated trucks and trains to improve safety, reliability, efficiency and costs at its operations – and sees drones as another form of technology that can help it achieve its objectives.

“Information will be the single biggest differentiating factor between the mining operations of the past and those in the future, and drones can produce a wealth of information to allow us to make better decisions,” Greg Lilleyman, Group executive, Technology & Innovation told The Sydney Morning Herald. “We’re already using drones to monitor our sites and inspect equipment, tasks that have traditionally presented safety risks for our people, taken up time and disrupted our operations.

“We see immense potential for drones to help extend the advantage Rio Tinto holds through the innovative use of technology, to improve the safety and productivity of our operations.”

He also sees drones creating new and varied employment opportunities for Rio Tinto’s people: “Anyone can buy a drone and they’re easy to operate, but the trick is having the best minds working out what you do with them.”

In Australia, drone operators must be certified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. “We’re constantly thinking outside the box to imagine how they can be integrated into our mining operations to make complex tasks safer, quicker and cheaper, as well as working with regulators to meet their requirements,” he said.

Rio Tinto is also finding ways to use drones in its environmental programs, such as for spraying weeds and monitoring remote turtle nesting sites. In the future, it is looking to trial drones to inspect vast stretches of rail and power infrastructure connecting its Western Australian operations, among other potential uses.