A drone’s-eye view of mining safety at Rio Tinto’s Kennecott – by Amy Joi O’Donoghue (KSL.com – June 14, 2017)


BINGHAM CANYON — At about $2,000 apiece, drones have become an invaluable set of eyes for the mining operations at Rio Tinto Kennecott, providing real-time 3-D mapping, equipment inspections and surveillance of slopes, crests and walls.

The five drones at the Bingham Canyon mining operation are the result of a four-year effort by the company to boost employee safety and provide enhanced capabilities of surveying one of the world’s largest open-pit mines. “The potential we can unlock with these is only limited by the imagination,” said David van Hees, drone programs lead for Rio Tinto Kennecott.

Drone pilots go through rigorous certification offered by an aviation company, and each pilot conducts preflight safety checks. Multiple flights lasting about 18 minutes happen daily, and each pilot works with two spotters who measure wind speed and look for potential aerial hazards.

The drones provide a visual record of the mining operations that minimizes risks to workers — checking out potential problems in place of having a worker perform the task.

“Having a drone in that spot instead of a worker eliminates any risks or hazards for employees,” said Matt Key, chief drone pilot who also trains other employees who want to become pilots. Steve Richards is a surveyor who never dreamed he’d be one day using drones to enhance what he does in the field.

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