Drones, Data Visualization Bring Industry 4.0 to Mining

Australia’s mining industry continues to embrace Industry 4.0 technology with Adelaide-based Santos turning to drones as part of its asset management operations at oil and gas fields in the outback.

Mining giant Rio Tinto is already using robotics, and BHP is employing robot help in their facilities in Western Australia. Now, other miners are seeing benefits in using drone technology.

Santos has supplied oil and gas from the Moomba fields in the South Australia Cooper Basin for more than 40 years. It operates 150 gas fields and 700 producing gas wells, in addition to 90 oil fields and 60 oil wells in the Cooper Basin alone.

Critical to maintaining this infrastructure is inspecting for leakages, or flare tips, from the wells. It is a job that has traditionally been done with binoculars when the wells are online, and with cranes and scaffolding when they are offline.

To improve this process, Santos has implemented the Intel Falcon 8 + drones, hiring Perth based inspections and asset management solutions provider Airscope to deliver not only large-scale virtual models but also inspection services of critical assets as part of its risk management programs.

The company's predictive analytics modeling factors in this information. The data alerts Santos on equipment issues before they happen. Virtual world asset management, where assets from the field are brought into the office the virtual form and matched with other data, improves situational awareness.

Airscope is a company that would not exist without Industry 4.0. Started by two commercial airline pilots, it saw the potential opportunities drone technology could offer the resources industry.

The company began by developing computer-generated 3D models of hydrocarbon processing facilities off the North West Shelf of Australia and has now moved to South Australia with Santos.

“When people think of drones operating in industrial applications, they think of inspections collecting data from hard to reach places,” Chris Leslie, one of Airscope’s directors said.

“Our business has evolved beyond this where the real efficiencies and return on investment for the client come from providing a digital 3D representation of their physical assets.”

UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Inspection delivering images, he said, only gives clients part of the story.

"Without context, the full potential of images captured cannot be realized," Leslie said.

"So now we create a virtual canvas of the site using airborne photogrammetry, ground photogrammetry, and laser scanning. Once the virtual canvas is created, you can paint any operational data on it, to serve as a human medium to access and interact with big data,” he added.

Airscope claimed that clients implementing this asset digitization model into their operations achieve day-to-day cost reductions of between 3.6-10% depending on the industry and reduce capital works projects by more than 20%.

"We are entering a period where decisions are being determined by data at hand and companies that haven't started their transformation towards digitization will be left behind," Leslie said.