Tag Archives: UAVs

Sandvik, Exyn combine capabilities in new autonomous mine inspection concept

Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions and Exyn Technologies have furthered their strategic partnership looking at new horizons of mine autonomy with the introduction of the Sandvik Exyn inspection concept.

An autonomous mapping solution that can co-operate with autonomous machines without stopping production, according to Jussi Puura, Research and Technology Development, Digitalization Lead at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, the pair launched the concept at MINExpo 2021, in Las Vegas, today.

Back in March, the companies expanded the strategic partnership they initially signed in 2020, looking to integrate drone-based data processed using Exyn’s on-board 3D mapping technology with Sandvik’s OptiMine® Mine Visualizer solution for analysis and optimisation of underground mining production and processes.

The integration, the pair said, allows mining customers to benefit from comprehensive underground aerial 3D mapping with visualisation that increases overall transparency of mining operations – including for GPS-denied, hard-to-reach, or hazardous areas, or locations that would be time-consuming to survey and inspect using conventional methods.

Exyn and Sandvik deployed this integrated solution at gold exploration and development company Rupert Resources’ Pahtavaara project in Finland, using the ExynAero drone to autonomously create a 3D point cloud of an underground stope. This 3D data was then uploaded to Sandvik’s OptiMine Mine Visualizer and georeferenced to the CAD mine model for further analysis and visualisation.

The companies said back then that it planned to further develop the partnership to integrate more hardware and software systems, and they have now done just that, premiering the new concept at this week’s MINExpo.

The concept works by an operator indicating the area they want surveyed on the OptiMine 3D visual screens, and then ordering that survey. The ground-based machine then starts the assigned mission at a time that is convenient and does not cause any production interruptions.

After deployment and when the wheeled inspection vehicle cannot drive any further, the on-board autonomous UAV is deployed to complete the survey of the area of interest.

When the survey mission is complete, the UAV lands on the ground-based robot and both return to the charging station to await the next mission. The data from both vehicles is then automatically uploaded to the Sandvik Data Management Server, part of the OptiMine suite.

The server processes all data automatically and georeferences it to existing data in the server, using the survey team’s data as ‘anchors’ and ‘ground rules’ for the new data. The data is automatically merged into an updated model of the mine.

In addition to merging and ‘cleaning’ the data, the system can be set up to run automated analysis on the data. For example, automatic reports on change detection, shrinkage detection, road condition, etc can be run after every survey.

The solution results in better planning, increased safety and less production stops, according to the companies.

Skycatch maps out autonomous mining future with DJI M300 mapping, analytics solution

San Francisco-based Skycatch has been making waves in the drone space with a range of mapping solutions tailored for mining applications but, according to Chief Technology Officer, David Chen, it thinks of itself as a “software-first company”.

He explained to IM: “We are really a computer vision company, and we focus on building not only the drone solution, but the software that enables it.”

This sees the company provide data capture automation, processing, visualisation and analysis tools to the industry for efficient decision making.

Chen added: “We work with a number of the top mining companies across the globe, providing them with unique solutions that they are using every day to complement their existing survey processes.”

The company, which has become a leader in highwall mapping through these solutions, is expanding beyond surveys into other areas.

This will be facilitated through software like its Flight1X, a cloud-based solution designed specifically for the recently launched DJI M300 drone that, Skycatch says, delivers unprecedented drone mapping accuracy and inspection automation for operations like mines. The proprietary software offers the most complete end-to-end high precision industrial drone capabilities available today, according to the company.

Flight1X, launched at MINExpo 2021 today, comes with proven data and network security via Skycatch servers in the USA, with the Android-based flight planning application running on the M300 Smart Controller. When combined with Datahub, Skycatch’s cloud-based solution, the pair offer mission planning and data visualisation.

Chen expanded on some of these capabilities.

“The majority of drone software out there has been focused on 2D mapping, whereas we have seen that mining, which comes with dynamic and undulating terrain, requires something different.

“What we are building is an automated mission planner where the primary view is of 3D terrain. This planner allows you to bring in existing terrain data from elsewhere or capture and process data from our own platform. The user can then rotate around this map and see the exact mission profile in 3D for improved visualisation and decision making.”

This data integration piece, which hinges on the cloud-based Flight1X platform, could provide Skycatch with an ‘in’ to the tailings dam monitoring market.

“While we’re already providing some survey solutions for tailings dams, the combination of high precision survey (with cm-level precision) for dam movements, fully automated section missions based on RGB and thermal imaging, and machine learning could provide data on dam seepage, for instance,” Chen said.

“We also want to integrate IoT sensors around dam movement and other areas into this cloud-based platform to provide an overall view of the tailings management facility.”

Skycatch is currently working on integrating the DJI M300 and L1 & P1 sensors – purpose built for mapping and surveying – into its offering, with Chen seeing the process as just the next stage in facilitating the autonomous mine of the future.

“The one thing that fully autonomous mines need is a map of the mine for these autonomous machines to operate off,” he said. “We have a focus on making data more accurate, accessible and faster; making it faster is the key for fully autonomous mining.

“Right now, with the current photogrammetry process, it’s still: capture, process and wait a few hours for a map. To be fully autonomous, you need that dynamic map in near real time, which is what we can offer the industry.”

Delta Drone to fly UAV-based LiDAR units at Newmont’s Ahafo gold mine

Global drones-as-a-service provider Delta Drone International says it has been re-appointed by Newmont Ghana Gold Ltd, a subsidiary Newmont in Ghana, for a light detection and ranging (LiDAR) project on its Ahafo mine.

Delta Drone International will provide a drone-based LiDAR solution to create an accurate 3D model of the earth and its surface characteristics to map new areas for the mine and mitigate potential risks prior to mine expansion construction commencing, the company says.

Delta Drone International CEO, Christopher Clark, said: “To continue working with Newmont Corporation, one of the world’s leading enterprise gold mining companies, who is using advanced drone techniques for several types of project applications, is a testament to our specialist expertise and drones-as-a-service model.”

He added: “Using the latest in drone LiDAR technology, we can fly with this sensor in a fixed-wing drone, allowing us to map new areas and essentially compete with manned LiDAR, but at a lower price point.

“We are seeing increased demand to use our LiDAR capability to create ‘digital elevation models’ that allows companies to see below thick forest and other surface vegetation and more accurately determine site suitability for certain types of infrastructure and how a site can be used.”

Bentley’s cloud-based tech aids AAEngineering in Altynalmas gold plant design

AAEngineering Group, utilising Bentley Systems’ cloud-based technology, has helped Altynalmas come up with a new vision for a gold processing plant in Kazakhstan.

When drilling and geological studies revealed the presence of gold ores in the surrounding Akmola region, gold producer Altynalmas invested in expanding resource extraction operations, announcing a tender to increase annual ore processing production up to 5 Mt.

The $230 million project included construction of a new gold processing plant, a dam, accommodation camp for 600 people, water pipelines, and a 220 kV electrical substation.

AAEngineering Group was tasked with overall design, procurement, and construction works that required upgrading existing energy and mining infrastructure, ensuring environmental protection and occupational safety, and determining an optimal construction site that mandated a 1,000 m sanitary protection zone from adjacent pits and uranium dams. The new plant also needed to be interoperable with the existing processing facilities in terms of equipment and materials, as well as seamlessly integrate with the operating systems.

Additionally, AAEngineering faced challenges meeting the technology demands to comply with the client’s “Digital Mine initiative” on a tight timeline, compounded by coordinating a remote team during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company wanted to offer several conceptual models to the client for Altynalmas to visualise the infrastructure design options and make the best decision for implementing the project.

“We needed to issue several versions of the project according to their technical inquiry,” Andrey Aksyonov, Director of the Information Modelling department at AAEngineering. This situation required updating the existing plant information model, creating a digital terrain model, and incorporating components from the database of equipment and materials to provide accurate visual options for the client.

Once the client decided on the optimal design concept and selected the location for the new plant, AAEngineering moved to the detailed design stage and proposed simultaneously executing design and construction works to reduce construction time and meet the short, 22-month deadline. It also sought provide seamless integration with existing facility assets and operations using digital twins.

To develop its conceptual solutions, concurrently perform design and construction, and achieve digital deliverables aligned with the client’s smart mining initiatives, AAEngineering required integrated BIM and digital twin technology. Furthermore, given the COVID-19 global pandemic quarantine, it needed to establish a connected data environment to remotely coordinate design and construction.

Beginning early in the conceptual modelling stage, AAEngineering established a collaborative design platform using Bentley Systems’ ProjectWise to provide a connected data exchange system for all contractors and the client. It used laser scanning and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to survey the existing facilities and the new construction site, processing the captured images with ContextCapture.

“From the survey data, they assessed earthworks and generated a digital terrain model in OpenRoads,” Bentley said. “Then, using OpenPlant, they digitised existing and new pipeline layouts and equipment connections to develop several conceptual 3D models for the client.”

Aksyonov explained: “Using the survey data in ContextCapture, we built a digital terrain model, and all this was transferred to the site layout plant to generate preliminary specifications with an assessment of earthworks.”

The client used the models to determine the optimal design concept and approve the plant location, equipment and piping scheme.

Based on the client’s specifications, AAEngineering used various software applications to assemble the pipeline and structural models, along with the accommodation camp. It then integrated these models with the general plant model in OpenBuildings Designer.

“Aligned with their proposal to perform design and construction simultaneously, AAEngineering used ContextCapture to process weekly UAV-captured images into reality meshes and synchronised the models with SYNCHRO 4D for construction simulation and scheduling,” Bentley said. “Incorporating LumenRT and iTwin Services facilitated visual clash detection and provided the cloud-based platform to establish a digital twin.”

Using Bentley’s digital twin technology, the company synced the model with iTwin for the best understanding, for visualisation of changes, and for making the right decisions on the project, Aksyonov said. These open applications helped maintain project control and stay on schedule throughout quarantine, the company said.

“Using Bentley technology during the conceptual phase resulted in a well-developed visual bid for the project, providing the client with a full understanding of the design right from the start and winning AAEngineering the contract,” Bentley said. “Throughout project execution, the integrated modelling applications and digital twin solution streamlined workflows and facilitated concurrent design and construction that reduced construction costs and allowed plant commissioning to be ahead of schedule.”

Working in a collaborative digital environment and updating the development model with UAV surveys saved 30% in design time and cut travel expenses by 75%, according to Bentley. This also optimised remote coordination and construction management during the COVID-19 quarantine. Accurate modelling and visualisation reduced material quantities by 15% and eliminated clashes during construction, it added.

“Lastly, using the digital twin, the client was able to train operations staff prior to plant commissioning,” Bentley said. “In addition, the digital twin enabled seamless integration with the client’s operating system in accordance with their digital mine initiative to support intelligent mining processes and management, promoting automation and digitalisation that are transforming the mining industry.”

For AAEngineering, implementing the use of digital twin technology on this project provided economic efficiencies and has instilled new corporate processes, making advanced digital practices a company standard, according to Bentley.

Aksyonov concluded: “To sum it all up, Bentley Systems enabled us to improve our own design, construction, and operations solutions.”

Blast Movement Technologies bolsters post-blast data acquisition with FED 2.0

Blast Movement Technologies, part of Hexagon, has released a new flight enabled detector to safely and expediently retrieve post-blast location data.

FED 2.0 is a specially fitted UAV that comes with improved detection depths of up to 12 m. By adhering to strict ‘stand-off’ guidelines, it enables the swift retrieval of BMM (Blast Movement Monitor) location data, post blast, without the need to walk the muckpile, according to BMT.

BMT released its first UAV detector in November 2019, establishing an alternate, semi-automated solution to retrieve BMM sensor data.

Like its predecessor, FED 2.0 is based on the DJI Matrice M600Pro flying platform, but now features an automated Winch mechanism to lower the detector closer to the surface and away from the main UAV body. This not only ensures greater detection depths but also lessens the interference from the motor and blades, according to BMT.

The Winch was developed in partnership with Australia-based, unmanned systems specialist, Insitu Pacific, a subsidiary of The Boeing Company. Insitu ensured the new winch technology worked seamlessly with the existing FED ground control software, as well as introducing several other user experience improvements, BMT said.

FED 2.0 features an automated flight control and customisable flight plan. It has a built-in GNSS receiver to enhance positioning information and a vertical and horizontal collision detection system. It can also resume the mission after low battery replacement from the point where it was suspended. The on-board computer allows for immediate processing of incoming data, ensuring access to the movement data while resolving safety and environmental considerations.

BMT CEO, Jacques Janse, said: “With many mines focused on recovering more ore quickly and safely, our FED 2.0 continues our journey towards an autonomous future. This safety aspect, along with the increased detection depths, opens up the ability to use our BMM system in more mines.”

RIEGL expands laser measurement services with new UK office

RIEGL now has direct representation throughout the UK and Ireland with its new office in York, England, offering support to its existing RIEGL customers and access to the full range of RIEGL products.

RIEGL UK Ltd will have a primary focus on the terrestrial and UAV sectors, while providing initial point of contact for airborne and mobile products into various industries in the market, the laser measurement system company said.

The new RIEGL UK office is helmed by David Foster, who serves as the Managing Director of the organisation, alongside Bernhard Kurzbauer, who is Commercial Director.

Foster said: “The laser scanning market in this region has grown from strength to strength in recent years. With a highly respected and extremely professional forensic investigations sector, including a large number of Forensic Collision Investigations Units across the country, it made perfect sense to be able to support this sector directly.

“Additionally, there has been a large increase in research of earth sciences, carbon capture and other green applications drawing on RIEGL’s unique waveform capabilities across all products, with a great many educational establishments utilising RIEGL products. And, of course, not forgetting the growth in infrastructure development and construction, spatial data consumption has never been greater.”

Johannes Riegl Jr, President of RIEGL International, the RIEGL division responsible for worldwide expansion of the RIEGL group, said: “We are very excited to further increase our dedicated RIEGL presence by opening our new office in the UK. I offer congratulations and all the best to Dave Foster for his new responsibility and for growing RIEGL in the UK and Ireland to new levels.”

The new subsidiary is joining the existing network of RIEGL offices in Austria (headquarters), the US, Japan, China, Australia, and Canada as well as numerous worldwide distributors.

Exyn Technologies gains Australia mining market exposure with C.R. Kennedy pact

Exyn Technologies, a pioneer in autonomous aerial robot systems for complex, GPS-denied industrial environments, has announced Australia company C.R. Kennedy as its first international distributor.

C.R Kennedy is one of the largest providers of survey equipment for mining and government needs in Australia, Exyn says.

The ExynAero (formerly the Exyn A3R), an autonomous and self-piloting aerial drone, was the product that helped open the door to the relationship, according to Exyn.

Clinton Harn, Head of Marketing at C.R. Kennedy, said: “When discussing with our surveying customers, the real need was a product that would map and navigate their underground caverns, much like what they saw in the blockbuster movie ‘Prometheus’.

“The ability to make science fiction a reality is very appealing, inspiring, and, most importantly, possible – that much was clear after Exyn first demoed their product to us.”

Nader Elm, CEO of Exyn Technologies, said: “We’re excited to be expanding into the Australian market with this relationship with C.R. Kennedy to help a whole new set of customers. The opportunity to continue to advance the technology in the mining sector with this new market is important for the continued evolution of mining and our business.”

In one of its earliest use cases, Exyn flew to Bulgaria to assist Dundee Precious Metals (DPM) in mapping its underground gold mine.

Current CMS would have required hours of setup to map a single stope, according to Exyn. “Equipped with Exyn’s then-A3R, however, DPM surveyors were able to map six stopes over the course of circa-three days, logging 123 flights in total, capturing accurate, high-fidelity data sets ready to be loaded into DPM’s mining software,” the company said.

Exyn Technologies expands mapping reach with two new products

Exyn Technologies has announced two new products to expand its ability to collect data from challenging and previously-unmappable environments, and enable customers to have better solutions.

The ExynAero (pictured) is the latest aerial robot and an upgrade from the previous generation’s A3R™. Fully autonomous, the ExynAero allows for mapping of any environment (including GPS-denied, human-inaccessible, industrial environments without a pilot), keeping employees safe and maximising beyond-line-of-sight-and-communications data collection, the company says.

This new technology builds on Exyn’s previous iterations based on its ExynAI software, which can mesh multiple data streams in real time. The ExynAero is also able to leverage various sensors and platforms that can be merged together via automated software to build a robust and complete map of an environment in real time, even with multiple units running simultaneously, the company says.

Its features include robust 270° view, providing detailed in-depth visuals of stopes in full HD colour, super-bright lighting and LiDAR to provide top acuity, shooting over 300,000 beams per second for highly accurate visualisations. The agile navigation and flight stack improve the ExynAero’s stability and robustness in tight spaces, and the ExynAero can easily transfer data to teams who can analyse it, Exyn says.

Nader Elm, CEO Exyn Technologies, said: “The ExynAero represents the future of data collection across a number of applications and industrial environments. The product is the first of its kind to offer true aerial autonomy.”

The ExynAero can fly itself in the most challenging and unknown environments, collect the data, and merge the streams with ExynAI on board, according to Elm. This allows for maximum data collection and a “radical improvement” in safety for workers around the world who are placed in difficult and sometimes potentially dangerous conditions, he said.

“We’re hoping with the launch of this product, and the additional modalities offered by the ExynPak, that our customers will be able to collect the data they need easily, regardless of limitations,” he said. “The benefits of this will lea

d to not only significantly greater worker safety, but also considerably improved productivity and efficiency.”

The ExynPak (left), meanwhile, provides a new portable format that enables users to unstrap the autonomy features of the ExynAero and capture data with the built-in tools via other modalities – such as hand carry or vehicle mount – for situations where complete autonomy is not needed or practical.

Exyn’s autonomous aerial robot systems are most commonly used for industrial applications such as mining, construction, nuclear power, and military surveillance/reconnaissance. The ExynPak will allow for an expansion of the potential uses of Exyn’s core technology applications and environments to existing infrastructure or transportation modes that don’t require an aerial or autonomous component, the company said.

The Exyn team plans to continue to develop new products that help support mapping and data collection regardless of format, with more products coming out in 2021, it said.

Emesent builds mining connections as Hovermap autonomy takes off

Having recently helped DJI’s M300 drone fly autonomously underground (through its Hovermap Autonomy Level 2 (AL2) solution) and signed an agreement with Deswik to provide surveyors and planners with more accurate data from inaccessible areas, Emesent has been on a roll of late. IM put some questions to CEO, Dr Stefan Hrabar, to find out more.

IM: First off, if no communications infrastructure is in place at an underground mine, how do Emesent’s drones stream a 3D map of the environment back to the operator’s tablet?

SH: Hovermap is smartly designed to operate beyond the communication range of the operator. The operator does not always need to see a live map since Hovermap is navigating by itself. The user can place a waypoint beyond the current limits of the map, and beyond line of sight and communication range. Hovermap self-navigates towards the waypoint, avoiding obstacles and building the map as it goes. Once it reaches the waypoint (or if the waypoint is impossible to reach), it automatically returns back to the operator. The map data is stored onboard Hovermap and when it returns back to within Wi-Fi range the new map data is uploaded to the tablet. The operator can then see the new areas that were mapped and place a new waypoint in or beyond that map, sending the drone back out again to explore further.

IM: What results have you so far received from using AL2 for Hovermap at mine sites? Were the results PYBAR got from trials at Dargues and Woodlawn in line with your expectations?

SH: Last year’s trials at Dargues and Woodlawn showcased some great outcomes for the PYBAR team, including the ability for Hovermap to capture valuable data using Autonomy Level 1 (AL1). The team saw great potential in the technology, leading to the purchase of two systems for their use. Earlier this year, AL2 flights were conducted at Dargues during the final pre-release testing phase. Even the first stope at Dargues that was mapped using AL2 highlighted the benefit of the system over traditional CMS (cavity monitoring systems). A large area of overbreak was identified in the Hovermap scan. The same stope had been mapped with a CMS, but this area was not visible from the CMS scan location so the overbreak was not identified.

A number of mines have been using AL2 to map their stopes and other areas beyond line-of-sight. With AL2, they can send Hovermap into places that previously would have been inaccessible, enabling them to obtain critical data in real time without risking the machine or personnel.

The AL2-based stope scans have been more detailed and complete (lack of shadowing) than ever before. A beyond line-of-sight flight down an ore pass was also conducted recently, with Hovermap guiding the drone down 120 m and returning safely to produce a very detailed scan.

The high level of autonomy provided by AL2 also allows remote operation of the drone. We recently completed a trans-continental demo, with a customer in South Africa operating a drone in Australia using our AL2 technology and standard remote collaboration tools. The remote operator in South Africa was able to use their laptop to experiment with the technology from the other side of the world, sending Hovermap exploring down a tunnel.

This is a taste of what’s to come, with drones underground being operated from the surface or from remote operation centres thousands of kilometers away. This will remove the need for skilled personnel on site, and reduce the time spent underground.

IM: What had been holding you back from achieving AL2 with drones/payloads? Is it the on-board computing power needed to that has been the issue?

SH: Flying underground where there is no GPS, the space is tight and there are hazards such as mesh, wires, dripping water and dust is very challenging. We overcame many of these with AL1, which makes it safe and easy for a pilot to operate the drone within line-of-sight (Hovermap provides collision avoidance, position hold and velocity control). AL1 has been deployed for 18 months with many customers around the world, clocking up thousands of hours of use. This helped to improve the robustness and reliability of the core flight capabilities.

Emesent CEO, Dr Stefan Hrabar

AL2 builds on this mission-proved base capability to provide additional features. AL2 allows the system to fly beyond line-of-sight and beyond commination range. This means it’s on its own with no help from the operator and needs to deal with any situation it comes across. There are many edge cases that need to be considered, addressed and thoroughly tested. A significant amount of effort was put into these areas to ensure Hovermap with AL2 is extremely robust in these challenging environments. For example, the drone downwash can kick up dust, blinding the LiDAR sensor. We’ve implemented a way to deal with this, to bring the drone home safely. Other considerations are returning in a safe and efficient way when the battery is running low, or what to do if waypoints cannot be reached.

IM: How do you anticipate your partnership with Deswik impacting the mine planning and survey process? Do you see this reducing the amount of time needed to carry out this work, as well as potentially cutting the costs associated with it? Have you already carried out work at mine sites that has proven these benefits?

SH: Our commitment is to help mining companies increase safety and production while reducing costs and downtime. We do this by providing surveyors and planners with more accurate data from inaccessible areas, allowing them to derive new insights. Our partnership with Deswik means we’re able to provide a more comprehensive end-to-end solution to the industry.

We see this as a very natural partnership that will improve the overall customer experience. Hovermap excels at capturing rich 3D data in all parts of the mine (whether drone based, hand-held, lowered down a shaft on a cable or vehicle mounted). Once the data is captured and converted to 3D, customers need to visualise and interrogate the data to derive insights. This is where Deswik and other mining software vendors come into play. They have powerful software tools for planning, survey, drill and blast, geotechnical mapping and a host of other applications. We’re partnering with these vendors to ensure seamless integration between Hovermap data and their tools. We’re working with them to build automated workflows to import, geo-reference, clean and trim the data, and convert it into formats that are suitable for various tasks.

Surveyors at Evolution Mining’s Mungari operation have been using this new process in Deswik. Previously they needed a third software tool to perform part of the workflow manually before importing to Dewik.CAD. The intermediate steps have been eliminated and others have been automated, reducing the time from more than 30 minutes per scan to five minutes per scan.

IM: Since really starting to catch on in the mining sector in the last five years, drones have gone from carrying out simple open-pit surveys and surveillance to drill and blasting reconciliation platforms to reconnaissance solutions carrying out some of the riskiest tasks in underground mining. In the next decade, how do you see them further evolving? What new tasks could drones carry out to improve safety, cut costs or increase productivity?

SH: Emesent’s vision is to drive forward the development of ‘Sentient Digital Twins’ of industrial sites to future-proof the world’s major industries, from mining to energy and construction. These industries will be able to move to more automated decision-making using high-quality, autonomously collected data across their sites and tapping into thousands of data points to make split-second decisions about potential dangers, opportunities and efficiencies using a centralised decision-making platform.

We see our Hovermap technology being a key enabler for this future. Drones and other autonomous systems will become an integral part of the mine of the future. Drones will be permanently stationed underground and operated remotely, ready for routine data collection flights or to be deployed as needed after an incident.

Hovermap is already addressing some of the biggest challenges in mining — including safety and operational downtime. It improves critical safety to mines, keeping workers away from hazardous environments while providing better data to inform safety related decisions such as the level of ground support needed. This then feeds into better efficiency by helping mines to more accurately calculate risks and opportunities, aid decision making and predict situations.

Hovermap can significantly reduce downtime after an incident. For example, it was used to assess the level of damage in LKAB’s Kiruna mine after a seismic event. More than 30 scans were captured covering 1.2 km of underground drives that were not safe to access due to fall of ground. In another case, one of our customers saved around A$20 million ($14.6 million) after an incident, as they could use Hovermap to quickly capture the data necessary to make a critical decision.

IM: In terms of R&D, what future payload developments are you investing in currently that may have applications in mining?

SH: We’ll keep adapting our Hovermap design to suit new LiDAR improvements as they are released. More importantly, we’ll improve the autonomy capabilities so that even more challenging areas can be mapped with ease. We’re also adding additional sensors such as cameras, as these provide additional insights not visible in the LiDAR data. Our colourisation solution is an add-on module for Hovermap, which uses GoPro video to add colour to the LiDAR scans. This allows the identification of geological and other features.

Komatsu iMC dozers, drone tech help RHT Contracting revolutionise tailings dam build

When long-time friends Joe Riccardo, Mike Heddon and Mark Tyler set up RHT Contracting in mid-2018, they knew they needed a winning edge when bidding for contracts – so they went for the most innovative and technically advanced construction equipment available, a Komatsu Australia case study reports.

That saw them choose Komatsu’s intelligent Machine Control (iMC) dozer and excavator technology when bidding for a large contract to construct tailings storage facilities (TSFs) for a major mining operation in Western Australia.

Currently RHT runs four Komatsu iMC machines: two D65PXi-18 swamp dozers, a D155AXi-8 dozer, and a PC360LCi-11, as well as Komatsu wheel loaders, dump trucks, graders, and other excavators on the one site.

Not only does using iMC technology give RHT significant safety, productivity, efficiency and accuracy advantages in TSF construction, it also provides the company’s mining clients the security and peace of mind that their critical facilities have been built to the highest and most exacting standards.

Today that is essential for any mining operation, following catastrophic failures of tailings dams in South America in the past five years, which have killed many people and caused widespread environmental devastation.

To ensure their integrity and long-term performance, it’s essential that TSFs be constructed following an established process, which involves placing the dam material in 300 mm thick layers; these are then compacted, and the top 100 mm scarified to ensure a strong lock with the subsequent 300 mm layer.

Using Komatsu iMC machines in this application, each 300 mm layer can be placed, quickly and efficiently, within tight tolerances, ready for compaction.

And unlike conventional ‘bolt-on’ machine control systems, the iMC system prevents dozer blades or excavator buckets from ‘over-digging’ into the already compacted and scarified layers, ensuring they are not compromised during placing of the next layer.

When RHT was formed, Riccardo, Heddon and Tyler (the company’s name comes from their surname initials) saw the opportunity to use Komatsu’s iMC technology as a real competitive advantage.

“These days, you’ve really got to innovate,” Heddon says. “Clients want to see that you are innovative and you’re not a dinosaur.

“I’ve been going to shows like CONEXPO and BAUMA for years, and I see all the latest stuff, and I was wondering how good it actually was. Then we spent some time with Dean Jones and Colin Brindle (from Komatsu Perth), to find out what their iMC technology could do.

“We were convinced enough to buy a D65PXi-18 swampy and a PC360LCi-11 excavator, plus a Topcon base station, which were delivered in February 2019, and took them to the site.

“We also put on Fraser Mead, a young surveyor, who’s passionate about technology, plus he’s really into drones and how they can really help with the whole mine infrastructure construction process.”

As of mid-June, Mead and RHT are trialling Komatsu’s EDD (EveryDay Drone) technology, a high precision UAV (drone) survey system providing industry-leading super-fast on-site processing using Komatsu SMARTCONSTRUCTION’s Edge technology.

“Initially the operators weren’t convinced about the iMC machines; they said ‘stuff this, I’m an operator, I don’t need that’, but then after a few days of seeing what the technology could do, they were going ‘wow!’,” Heddon says.

“On the first dam we built, we never put a grader on it, did the whole batter with just our first D65EXi dozer and the PC360LCi excavator. I have never, ever done that before; they are exceptionally good. The dams look great, the batters look great, we’re never having to do rework, we get it right – from the start to the end. It’s always spot on.”

Expanded fleet

Following the success of its first D65PXi-18, RHT bought a second D65PXi-18 in September last year, and the D155AXi-8 in February this year.

“At the moment, we’ve got all these machines working on site, building up to three dams at one time,” Heddon says.

“With the dozers, we are using them for winning material from borrow pits, while the excavator is pulling up batters.”

Building tailings dams for larger mines requires large amounts of earthworks – with dam walls up to 4-6 km around, along with haul roads, so there is a lot of earth to be moved.

RHT’s two smaller iMC machines, with their swamp tracks, are proving ideal for the precision final trim work to millimetre level accuracy, while the larger D155AXi-8 (pictured) is being used for the bulk earthworks on the dams and haul roads, according to Komatsu.

“On the newer dams we are building, we are using clay oxide materials, which are heavier to work with, which is why we brought in the D155AXi,” Heddon says. “Plus, we can also use it for building haul roads. We can just map in a haul road route and design, and the machine can go out and build it, even in rock and clay.”

One thing RHT has found is that the D155AXi-8 has not so far been giving quite the final trim accuracy of the D65PXi-18s.

“Certainly, it is extremely accurate compared with any conventional dozer next to it, but because we have seen how precise the D65s are to a few millimetres, we were expecting that with the D155. However, because it is bigger, it corrects slightly differently,” Heddon says.

“It’s still good, still within coo-ee of what we need, but we know at the moment it’s giving a slightly rougher surface, so you’ve got to take things a bit slower, use a lower gear to get there.

“On the bulk side, Komatsu’s intelligent Machine Control works really well, absolutely on this bigger dozer. You can just set it, and it does exactly what we need. It’s on the fine control, where I think we can get it going even better.

“Because this is all so new, it’s something we are working with Komatsu to perfect.”

Heddon also says iMC ensures that rework and over-excavation never occurs – eliminating overruns and field survey work.

“With Komatsu’s intelligent Machine Control acting as a rover, we know we are always building to the exact specs; we are never over-building, and everything is always exactly level and ready for rolling.

“We don’t require anyone to go out there with a dumpy level checking levels and all that stuff,” he says.

No micro managemenent

The other big advantage is having all the works designs already in the machines, ready for the operators as soon as they need them.

“That’s a big saving because the operators have everything at hand in the machines to do the work,” Heddon says.

“In the old days, we’d have two teams out there pegging the site, one for the day shift, and another for the night shift.

“Now we just put in a couple of reference pegs, then once the operator has the levels, it’s all good to go.”

And, as each part of the job is completed, it can be immediately checked and audited – and the records remain readily available at any time in the future for clients or geotechnical engineers.

“This technology means that the as-built track mapping is all there from the start. When you’re building a tailings dam, it’s essential that layers go down in 300 mm lifts, before the next one goes on top,” he says.

“We can see all this on the computer and know that it was done precisely. So, in future, if there is ever a question with a dam, we can go back in there and show that it was done exactly right. There’s no need for anyone to go in and micromanage. It is a great system.

“The other great thing about these iMC machines is that essentially they act as a mobile rover because everything is done within the machine.

“So, the surveyor can be away on another mine site, and if the operator finishes a job, the surveyor can jump in remotely, and work together with the operator to set things up for the next job. So, people are not sitting around waiting for someone to get back after lunch to start up again.”

Greatly increased site safety is another huge advantage with iMC, according to Komatsu.

“Safety is paramount for us,” Heddon says. “And not having people working on the ground around dump trucks, excavators, wheel loaders, dozers and other machines, is a major safety component. It’s just unreal.”

Heddon has also observed interesting reactions from operators using the iMC systems, and RHT’s clients.

“When these machines first came to site, people said it was just more stuff to go wrong. But then after a few days, they all agree the benefits are countless.

“And our clients have been really impressed with the quality, efficiency and technology the iMC machines offer.

“With this technology, we have the trucks deliver to the site, the dozers push it out – and it’s so level that the trucks can keep working, whereas before we’d have to call in a grader to give the trucks access.

“Everyone is stoked with it, the whole concept. We’ve since bought a second base station, and we’re putting that in our second site.”

The future

Heddon sees tremendous potential for Komatsu’s iMC technology in future projects.

“This is really moving into the future, that’s the only direction we want to go now.

“And particularly after those catastrophic dam failures in Brazil, the more you can prove the quality of your work and show that to the geotechs and the clients, the more successful we can be.

“They really need the confidence that these dams are getting built correctly at all times, not just some of the time.

“It’s giving the mining companies that security and peace of mind that their dams are built right, so they know they have their dams constructed to worlds best practice.

“We’re very committed to this technology. We want to see it on all our earthmoving machines, and we are very keen to see it on the larger excavators, at least up to PC490 size,” Heddon says.