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Kennecott Enlists Drones To Assess Mine Safety, Stability

More drones are being used as tools, rather than toys these days. In the case of Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Copper Mine, drones are making work safer for employees and more efficient.

Employees here at the mine have been developing the drone program for the past four years. But, they only began piloting the drones themselves last summer.  The company has 20 certified drone pilots, who took on the training in addition to their work in geology, hydrology and other sectors. 

Andrew Carey is a mining engineer and director of drone operations. He makes sure daily operations are done safely and comply with FAA regulations.

“So, we’re able to pull employees out of hazardous areas and let them access it remotely with the drone to capture photos, survey data, video for inspections,” Carey says.

But it’s not just cool photos and video. The data collected is used to create 3-D models that help with planning and analysis. For one of the largest open pit mines in the world, he says safety is paramount.”

“He doesn’t have to go up next to the wall where there might be some rock fall coming down,” Carey says. “He can be at a safe distance and collect more data than we would with traditional methods.”

Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett says the drone program has opened up a new world for mining which becomes more dangerous and more expensive, the deeper pits go.

“It’s 10 times more cost effective as well for us to use these drones,” Bennett says. “So it’s really been a game-changer for our business I would say.”

In 2013, the mine, which is officially called the Bingham Canyon experienced the largest non-volcanic landslide in history. The 108-year-old mine is three-quarters of a mile deep. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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