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Rio Tinto enlists drone technology in Western Australia to drive efficiency and safety

Mining behemoth Rio Tinto continues to drive innovation in the mining industry, enlisting the help of autonomous trucks, trains, drills and now drones. ...

Admin
|Sep 3|magazine8 min read

Mining behemoth Rio Tinto continues to drive innovation in the mining industry, enlisting the help of autonomous trucks, trains, drills and now drones.

The company is turning its focus on expanding its unmanned aerial technology in order to safely and easily survey and inspects its vast infrastructure of assets.  Rio Tinto's aviation manager Kevan Reeve said that's one reason why the technology is so attractive.

"The biggest thing for us is driving efficiency. Gaining information is the core of what we need to do," said Reeve. "We need to know what our operations are doing."

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For Rio, the benefit of utilizing drones is the ability to replace monitoring and inspection tasks that are either safety risks for staff or take a significant amount of time to cover. So far, the company has been testing the technology in its Western Australian, Queensland and NSW aluminium, coal and diamond operations.

"At our Argyle diamond mine they are taking footage of the open pit where they're mining directly underneath," Reeve said. "We can't put people into the pit to actually measure the pit now, so we're using the rotary wing drone."

"We are also using small fixed wing drones to survey our stockpiles and to look at rehab work,” Reeve added.

As part of the testing, Rio Tinto is utilizing an array of drones that vary in size for operations.

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"I think the one that Argyle use is a six-bladed rotary wing so it is like a small helicopter," Reeve said. "The ones we use in our operations for iron ore are a small aircraft essentially, one-and-a-half kilogram; very, very small and made with polystyrene.”

While Rio Tinto has been one of the industrial sector’s biggest advocates for automation technology, the company confirms the technology isn’t going to replace people.

"We'll give people other roles, so people are able to use the drone technology to do work that they would do otherwise,” said Reeve.

The use of drones continues to garner massive appeal in the mining industry as their usage appears to be limitless. 

WATCH: Rio Tinto's Mine of the Future

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