How mining giant Rio Tinto is using drones

Photo: Getty Images

Mining giant Rio Tinto has figured out some interesting ways to use drone technology in its operations.

Rio Tinto group executive of technology and innovation, Greg Lilleyman, told Business Insider drones were being used on a number of the company’s mine sites for some arduous or dangerous tasks which its staff previously had to complete.

But it’s not the drone itself he’s interested in, it’s what his employees are doing with the technology.

“Drones on their own aren’t really worth much at all, in fact we’re not really excited that much by the specifics of a drone. It’s what you get it to do, that’s the interesting stuff,” he said.

Covering vast tracts of land between mines, ports and railways, Rio has been using drones to inspect powerlines which, in some cases, can run for up to 400 kilometres across the desert.

“We’re using drones for doing inspections along our powerlines,” he said, adding, “we used to have to get helicopters or people driving out in the bush to do the physical inspections.”

The company is also using the tech to check stockpile inventories and monitor for geo-technical issues within mines, especially around pit walls where putting people in the situation is either physically impossible, expensive, or perhaps even dangerous.

There are now a bunch of contractors who specialise in the drone service which Lilleyman said the company often uses.

“In some cases we bring in a contractor who brings their drone and we get them to go and do some inspections,” he said.

The company is still brainstorming other ways of implementing the tech, Lilleyman said.

“We’re investigating getting drones to do maintenance inspections around plants that are very difficult to get to,” he said.

“It’s all about what you do with the drone, the drone itself doesn’t add any value other than put you in a place you couldn’t get to.

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