Silo inspections at collieries can now be undertaken with a higher degree of safety and in a quicker timeframe, thanks to drone technology

The benefits associated with the use of drone technology in industry have been increasingly realised over the last five years,and the mining industry is no different. For miners, drones are already being used throughout the world for maintenance and exploration activities.

More and more miners are turning to drones for a number of reasons – for example, improved safety, increased efficiency and cost savings. This has become particularly attractive in recent years, as depressed commodity prices have forced companies to identify unique ways to increase productivity at a fraction of the cost.

Skyriders, established in 1998, has become a market leader in the African rope access industry, providing cost- and time-saving solutions to clients in the power generation and petrochemical industries who require rope-access-aided inspection, NDT and maintenance work to be done in difficult to reach, high-up locations.

Recently, the company acquired the Elios collision-tolerant drone technology from Flyability of Switzerland. “It opens up huge possibilities for us,” comments Mike Zinn, marketing manager. By enabling remote visual inspection in any indoor environment, technicians no longer have to enter hazardous areas themselves, or be exposed to potentially dangerous situations. Another major benefit is the speed with which a visual inspection can be carried out, slashing the time required from days to mere hours.

The Elios drone includes a full HD camera, a thermal camera, and an onboard LED lighting system with remotely adjustable intensity. This means that an array of onboard tools is available for any lighting conditions. A cutting-edge wireless communications system with live video feedback means that the drone can be brought into usually inaccessible places up to many hundred metres beyond the line of sight.

The Elios ground station comprises a remote controller, a tablet, and a purpose-designed ground-control application, providing the pilot with live data, an SD live video stream captured by the drone, and all the information and controls on hand for efficient and safe remote operation. In addition, the drone is dust- and splash-resistant, and can operate in environments from 0°C to 50°C.

The drone technology means Skyriders is now able to carry out difficult or high-risk inspections such as at coal silos. Zinn points to a recent project undertaken at a prominent colliery near Delmas, Mpumalanga. Here, a combination of rope access and the Elios drone allowed for the routine silo inspection to be undertaken in record time, minimising downtime and ensuring the health and safety of all involved.

“This project was a particular challenge, as it combined working in a confined-space with working at height. Each of these disciplines has specific health and safety protocols that have to be adhered to at all times. Our deployment of a drone, combined with rope access, was the ideal solution to meet the client’s requirements as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible,” Zinn concludes.

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