Mining management may quietly harbor serious disagreements about the scope of use for drones. This is why one should conduct a drone audit on site. Miners grow hungry for the relatively inexpensive data that aerial drones provide. Drones can make daily – hourly – surveys of operations, providing real-time information about inventory and conditions. Three-dimensional topographic surveys can be conducted at a fraction of the cost of conventional techniques, allowing for breakthroughs.
The technology is improving rapidly; the adoption rate appears to be moving even more rapidly. Spending on drone analytics, already a billion-dollar business, is projected to triple over the next five years. The moment approaches when the use of drones won’t be a competitive advantage in the minerals industry, but a competitive necessity.
Still, drone technology remains complex. An operator cannot expect to save a mine from declining returns or magically discover new deposits of recoverable minerals simply by buying a set of drones. An enterprise has to prepare itself to integrate the technology into its operations, or else the rich data collected by drones will simply be wasted.
skymineUAV professional audits catches mistakes before they happen. An audit usually takes about a business week to complete, including 24 hours on site, answering some essential questions.
· Will the drones conform to an enterprise’s corporate standards?
· How will the enterprise manage airspace access and other regulatory compliance issues?
· Does the company’s insurance cover drones? How do the drones fit into the enterprise’s crisis management and safety plans?
· How does the company plan to procure drone hardware and software, and is that software compatible with other technology in use by the enterprise?
· Does the enterprise have trained drone pilots? What standards are necessary for the enterprise’s drone operators to meet?
· How will the enterprise track drone maintenance?
Together, these questions help build a drone Operations Manual (Ops Manual) for a mining operator. Call it a care and feeding guide for drones. A good manual lays out meaningful expectations and mission requirements. It should be an instruction handbook to establishing a predictable, safe program, with standards for roles and responsibilities, safety protocols, proposed policies for pilot training, equipment maintenance and sourcing standards, a glossary of all terms and checklists used by operational teams, flight crews and equipment managers.
An auditor’s questions can start arguments among management. That’s probably a good thing. Beyond the general consensus that “drones are good,” a mining management team may quietly harbor serious disagreements about the scope of use for drones. An audit will form the basis for a robust discussion that leads to actual buy-in across the enterprise, instead of assumed consensus before a major technology investment.
An audit will also reveal the business case for using drones. Every mine is different. Operators should know what can be accomplished realistically with a drone program, and a pre-implementation audit will help, particularly by helping identify the right aircraft, the right training and the right software for the mission – expensive mistakes that can render a drone program ineffective.
An audit will also help prepare firms for the softer changes that come with the technology. Drone operations require a cultural shift, because drone operations are a culture.
Some elements of drone ops culture mesh well with mining industry culture. Team members have to have pre-planned responses to drone accidents, and each team member is expected to report when things go wrong. Safety consciousness and risk mitigation lay at the heart of this culture.
But regular infusions of high-quality data can change operational rhythms, and require instruction on quality control procedures for collecting that data. Continuous flight operations mean that operations crews must monitor and respond to changing field conditions as a second nature.
Crucially, an Ops Manual puts policy and compliance information in one place in clear language. Some mining companies have struggled to adopt drone technology because their operations managers fear running afoul of aviation regulations. A proper audit identifies all of those pitfalls and clearly describes the technology and policies that mitigate those safety and regulatory risks. One irony: a good audit will also reveal how drones may improve mining safety by helping identify dangers.
The Ops Manual – a digital document – should contain an interactive airspace map, sourced from official regulatory bodies and validated by aviation experts, so drone operators know where it’s safe to fly and where they need special permission. It should also show how to obtain quick flight permission from the FAA (or other regulatory agency in other countries) in controlled airspace. And it should show how to manage the documentation for aircraft maintenance, pilots certification, flight logs and other legally-required administration of a drone aircraft program.
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