North East employer Banks Mining is helping its surface mines in the region run more safely and efficiently by deploying drone technology.
Mining engineer Peter Faraday has obtained the qualifications required to fly drones in commercial environments, such as Banks Mining's Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines near Cramlington, after undertaking training with the Civil Aviation Authority-accredited Drone Pilot Academy.
A DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone is now being used to gather data from right across the two sites, including locations that are difficult for people to reach on foot.
A digital camera mounted on the drone captures information in far more detail than was previously possible, and also enables engineers to stay away from areas in which mining machinery could be operating.
Specialist software is then used to turn the information gathered into detailed visualisations of the site that can be used to inform the way in which operations are planned and carried out.
The Shotton and Brenkley Lane sites are just a couple of miles from Newcastle International Airport, and Banks Mining liaises with the Airport control tower in advance of any drone flights taking off and after they land.
The drone can reach a height of up to 400 feet, which is well below the floor to which civilian aircraft can fly in the area, and it follows a pre-programmed automated flight path, although the operator can take manual control of the machine at any time as required.
Peter Faraday says: "Air safety is the key issue for any commercial drone operations, especially in locations like Shotton and Brenkley Lane that are close to airports and flight paths, and all the drone flights we carry out are carefully planned with this as our primary consideration.
"The terrain in which we work is naturally very varied and challenging, and there are areas which are very difficult or impossible to reach by foot, which means we can't get wholly accurate information about them.
"The drone allows us to capture much more information much more quickly than would otherwise be possible, with the visualisations we can then produce providing a huge amount of data from which future site operations can be planned and adapted."
Gavin Styles, executive director at Banks Mining, adds: "We're continually looking for new ways in which we can operate our sites more safely, efficiently and responsibly, and we've quickly seen the benefits of being able to use this technology at Shotton and Brenkley Lane."
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