Covia Holdings Corporation is an industry leader in providing minerals and material solutions. With over 3,000 employees operating more than 50 plants and 94 terminals, it’s one of the largest solution providers in the industry. We had the opportunity to speak with the Covia team in Tunnel City, Wisconsin. Covia’s Tunnel City mine has used Kespry since January 2018 for consistent and effective mine planning that has helped with better decision making for their operations.
This interview with the Covia team, including Mark Massicotte, Plant Manager; Craig Johnson, Operations Manager; Nick DeHaan, Continuous Improvement Manager; and Tebogo Letshwiti, Resident Mining Engineer, features detailed insights into how Covia’s Kespry deployment is benefiting the company across its mining operations.
Describe the problems you were trying to solve by using Kespry.
Nick: Prior to using Kespry, we had a GPS survey system. It was basically a backpack and a rod. With the GPS, the surveyor had to go out and walk everything manually. Because of that, we would typically measure the sites maybe once a year to get a topo and ortho photos. We got Kespry because we wanted to improve safety and efficiency. We wanted better planning and numbers. We wanted better numbers all around, so we didn’t have to do any re-work. Also, before, we’d get the GPS raw data in and then we’d have to figure out the contours ourselves. With Kespry, the contours are identified for us, which also makes things more accurate.
Craig: Before that, we’d also do airplane-based ortho photogrammetry. We’d hire flights and then get that data processed. We’d usually only do a site-wide aerial survey on an annual basis because it was so expensive.
Mark: Our business had increased. We took over our own stripping as part of that. The surveys became much more important with the increased amount of material and the rate we were moving it. We needed to keep tabs on that. We needed better image resolution and survey frequency to get answers to our questions in a timely manner.
How much time is Kespry saving you?
Nick: I used to have to take a week off from my regular work duties to walk the site and then we’d have to deal with the data on our own. Using Kespry, that whole thing can get done in one day, including the data processing which Kespry delivers. We’ve been able to do weekly flights which means we’re able to achieve a much greater level of accuracy without seriously impacting productivity like the old GPS system. Also, with Kespry, a picture’s worth a thousand words. We’re able to take those pictures of our sites and explain things to our staff and customers so much more easily now. It makes everything run smoother.
Tebogo: We’d also have to spend a lot of time dealing with software to make sure we have a somewhat decent topo before starting to do any of the volume calculations. Now, I just fly the Kespry drone at the start of the day, and by the afternoon I have the data I need. The next morning, I can give out the numbers to everyone that needs them.
What are the advantages of flying weekly?
Mark: Having that data on a weekly basis allows us to make better planning decisions. Now, we have a lot of insight into what we’re mining and where we’re setting our backfill. We’re able to create more efficient haul roads, too.
Nick: It’s really preventing re-work because we’re not having to feel concerned about the possibility that our designs are off or that there’s inaccurate data out there. We’re catching problems sooner, so if the dump is progressing too quickly in one area or starting to encroach on something, we can fix it quickly. Using Kespry also means we’re never caught behind the eight ball, having to rush contractors to keep things moving or adjusting our cuts in a way that’s not predictable.
Mark: Using Kespry to make sure our dumps are built properly is a big deal. We don’t have to do any re-work on reclamation any longer because of improperly-created dump slopes.
Tebogo: From an accuracy standpoint, we can make more precise plans because we’re sure of what we’re getting from the topo maps. Our planning for stripping is now much more accurate.
Tebogo Letshwiti, Covia’s Resident Mining Engineer, launches a Kespry drone survey
What made you choose Kespry and how did it compare to competing systems?
Mark: It was the ease of use. Kespry is the complete package. It’s a serious tool we can use out in the field, and it just works well for operations. Kespry also has great support for training. We were able to quickly get Kespry set up and go fly our sites. It also automatically downloads the data. I don’t have to mess with anything. I can just pull the data off the cloud and work with the information. And if I want to place that information into any of the mining software we use, I can.
Nick: Also, with the other systems, we’d have to buy them outright. The technology wasn’t getting better over time like it does with Kespry. The other systems also just dumped raw data on us, instead of analytical data. The Kespry system does all of that analysis and doesn’t take any extra work time away from us. We can go work on something else while it’s processing.
Craig: From a cost standpoint, Kespry really made sense. The other companies want you to buy your own drone. They also sell you a license you can only use on one computer. It’s not shareable. So those other systems don’t let you collaborate as a team on any of this information like Kespry does. The Kespry Cloud lets you do all that stuff. The subscription system also means we don’t have to worry about drone maintenance perpetually. The competing offerings are full of all kinds of costs and headaches.
How did inventory management work before Kespry?
Nick: We’d do manual load counts using belt scales and the occasional survey. The surveys were really spread out. We rarely did them more than once a month because it was a manual process.
Tell us about the safety impacts.
Nick: In order to get accurate surveys, we used to have to identify an offset by standing far away from an edge or a well, or putting ourselves in a precariously dangerous situation by standing at the edge. Neither approach was a good one. With Kespry, we don’t have to deal with any of that. We don’t have to risk breaking our ankles dealing with obstacles, climbing in the snow, or walking frozen ground.
How easy was it to start using and integrating Kespry into operations?
Nick: It was seamless. We had to get our Part 107 drone flying licenses, but once that was done we were able to just work with Kespry to get flying consistently within a week-and-a-half of getting the system. We had a little bit of office and field training, and we were ready to fly on our own.
How have new Kespry tools like Cross Section helped you?
Tebogo: The new additions and upgrades have been immensely helpful. Cross Section lets us check the grades on the roads easily. I can get the Kespry stats quickly and determine if we need to adjust the grade on a haul road without having to use a third party. Before Cross Section, I had to go out there with a survey rod and take points in three different areas to check grades out in the heat or cold. Now, I can just use Kespry to save a lot of time and hassle.
What about Design Plan?
Tebogo: It’s helpful as well. Now, we can see the progression that’s occurred between flights over time. It also lets us map to our plans, and we can make corrections before anything gets too out of hand.
You’ve seen a preview of our Model Volume tool. What benefit do you think it’ll have for you?
Tebogo: Currently, we have to make assumptions on slope grades. But with Model Volume, we can test out different slope angles and sizes. It will help us make more accurate models and planning decisions for excavating and blasting.
Describe your Kespry customer support experience.
Mark: Customer service has been great. I wish all my vendors had this level of customer service. The Kespry team did follow up calls to make sure we weren’t having any issues. It’s in the upper echelon of vendors we work with. You came through when you needed to, and that’s what’s important.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about your Kespry deployment?
Nick: The system is intuitive, including how you fly it and how you work with the software. Any other system would have taken much longer to make work. Nobody here has the time to train at the level those systems need. They’re not practical. We needed a full system. We needed it to get up and running fast. And it just needed to work. All of those things are true with Kespry.