Ames Construction, one of the largest family-owned general contractors in the United States, recently utilized drone technology to significantly improve the safety and accuracy of surveying a copper mining site in Arizona.
The project required Ames to accurately map the expansive construction site — in particular, to monitor the largest pit wall face for movement and any potential sloughing or deterioration. The challenge for the team was figuring out how to collect detailed 3D imagery of the pit wall surfaces without temporarily shutting down operations to allow surveyors access to the site.
Using the fixed-wing eBee X drone by senseFly, Ames was able to generate a detailed 3D imagery of the pit wall surfaces, saving time when compared to traditional topographic methods.
In addition to the large expanse of land that needed to be covered, the team also had to consider the heightened safety risks that come with an active mining site, such as heavy machinery and ongoing construction. Moreover, the nature of the pit highwall, reaching over 2,000 ft tall, made it unsafe and impossible to survey on the site’s benches.
The size and lack of safe access to all parts of the highwall made it nearly impossible to utilize traditional scanning-based surveying technology. Any manual topographic surveys would simply pose too many hazards and result in costly downtime. Following the purchase of senseFly’s eBee X fixed-wing drone, alongside its eMotion flight planning software, the operations team was able to efficiently navigate the extreme vertical elevation changes and high-risk nature of the site, while still maintaining and improving survey accuracy.
During the project, each flight was completed within 2-3 hours, with the eBee X delivering an average of 45 minutes per battery. This meant that, despite the extreme vertical elevation change, high winds and loss of radio signal that are commonplace at the site, mapping could be completed in a relatively short amount of time and on a more regular, monthly basis.
Using the flight planning software, the team was able to check the feasibility and safety of each flight at a resolution of up to 0.8 in/pixels, as well as ensure the drone battery lasted for the duration required — critically, with no data lost.
The high-resolution data capturing capability of the eBee X’s purpose-built drone sensors, which included the Aeria X Photogrammetry Camera and senseFly S.O.D.A. 3D Mapping Camera, provided over 14,400 geotagged images — about 2,400 per flight — on the project, which were then processed using Pix4D photogrammetry software.
With access to detailed contour patterns and imagery, the Ames Construction team was able to successfully help their mining partners better evaluate and implement new safety measures to mitigate concerns about the stability of highwalls, as well as protect site traffic and roadways from potential falling debris.
Despite the complicated and high-risk nature of the mining pit, consistent monitoring using the eBee X fixed-wing mapping drone allowed mining plans to be revised and site footprint to be expanded, while keeping safety the primary consideration across all operations.
“Implementing a UAV program has been invaluable in helping shape the safety strategy at the mine, by both mapping the pit wall and tracking mining progress across the wider site," says Tanner Richards, project engineer at Ames Construction. "Not only have we been able to consistently monitor a site that has historically been difficult to map, but these detailed insights have allowed us to protect current construction efforts and inform alternate mining techniques to improve the stability of the pit walls and address other important safety issues.”
Ames Construction continues to work with its client’s mine site to carry out regular UAV flights planned, providing consistent monitoring of the highwalls and upholding stringent safety standards throughout the site.
“In addition to special request flights such as this pit wall mapping, we’ve found huge success internally using the eBee X and senseFly products to provide all our teams with a regularly updated project timeline, helping us better manage and track ongoing work, as well as overcome complex administrative hurdles that are typical of a large construction site," says Richards. "For example, improved planning has allowed us to streamline the billing process, more accurately track quantities of work completed, justify change orders and pay requests, reduce labor costs and increase project capacity and planning, all thanks to the bank of detailed images and 3D surfaces that we now have at our fingertips. Just making a small change in the amount of material we use can make a huge difference to the overall cost of the project – potentially saving millions of dollars to our clients and/or ourselves. Plus, we have managed to significantly improve timescales of the project, by cutting down on mapping times with short flights and the long battery life offered by the eBee X.”