Drones offer quarrying X-Factor

This article by Guy Woodford, originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of Aggregates Business Europe.

As part of a trial of the potential use of drones to support its operations, Hanson UK has been using a Kespry Automated Drone System to routinely measure limestone aggregate stockpiles at its Chipping Sodbury Quarry in Gloucestershire, England. The 1 million tonnes/year quarry supplies construction material to projects ranging from motorway and other highway repairs to local building works.

“Currently, we have an independent stock survey carried out on a monthly basis,” explains James Veakins, manager of the Chipping Sodbury site. “Using this information for the stock on the ground relative to the sales for the month over the weighbridge gives me an idea of how much material we need to process in the coming period."

“The problem with this is that we only get our exact on-the-floor stock measurement on a month-by-month basis. Some of our products are fast moving. For example, I could be selling 2,000 tonnes a day of our Type 1 aggregate when we’re extremely busy. It’s very difficult for our sales team to be confident when speaking to customers that there’s enough stock available at this site to satisfy the orders they’re taking.”

“My foreman and supervisor are assessing stockpile levels every day, but it’s a visual best guess, albeit an educated one. This Kespry technology allows me on a weekly or even daily basis to get very accurate stockpile measurements of all the different sized aggregate products I have available. I can then use that information to determine how I set up my crushing and screening plant to optimise the production of different materials. For example, if I’m selling an awful lot of 10mm premium product, I can adjust the settings on the processing plant to make more of it. I can also communicate the stockpile volume data to the sales team, so they’ve got a quick and accurate reference when communicating with customers.”

This is a tool that as a global aggregates business, we definitely see as scalable and applicable in many countries and regions. It allows us to harmonize and standardize on practices and processes worldwide.

Neil Wells
Head of Land and Minerals,

Veakins says that using information from Kespry’s drone and data analysis software also enables his quarry sales team to balance product orders, ensuring sound planning and delivery schedules.

The Kespry drone is, at heart, a quarry manager’s tool, with flights planned and launched using an iPad interface and avoiding the need for manual piloting. Flight areas are restricted to a pre-planned mission area and automatic pre-flight checks ensure that safety is maintained for both users and others near the mission area.

Kespry says its new Drone 2.0 can fly for over 30 minutes at a time on a single battery, and with field-swappable batteries, can cover vast areas in a single mission, with its integrated computers and hi-resolution camera enabling it to gather terabytes of data and images. The drone’s on-board LiDAR system allows the drone to automatically avoid obstacles like birds, buildings, trees and cliffs. Post-flight data is automatically uploaded to the Kespry Cloud via the system’s on-board WiFi.

The Kespry Cloud is the aerial intelligence platform for the Kespry drone system, securely storing flight data and allowing access for stock measurements via a web-portal. Following data uploads, processing is completed within one to six hours, and 3D models are available to the user to create inventory reports using a comprehensive set of reporting tools available in the Kespry Cloud.

Kespry technology allows me on a weekly or even daily basis to get very accurate stockpile measurements of all the different sized aggregate products I have available.

James Veakins
Quarry Manager,
Hanson UK

Kespry says insights generated by the Kespry Cloud, which can be easily shared with colleagues, can contribute to the benefits and savings that come from progress monitoring and asset management. “The Kespry Cloud web portal is very simple to use, and very intuitive,” continues Veakins.

“There are four different types of image available from the data. An overall site image is always provided, set into a background image from Google Earth or similar, an overall contoured image – including the ability to overlay a ‘heat map’ showing relative height differences in colour bands, a 3D model image allowing me to navigate virtually around the surveyed area, and the option to view individual frames or images collected during the flight.”

“The Kespry software has the drone taking camera shots every half a second during a flight. That’s an awful lot of images that are knitted together to give me one site overview. It also allows me to go into the system’s picture archive and look at lots of detailed high-resolution images from one particular area of the site.”

Veakins can see the advantages of extending Kespry drone and Kespry Cloud use at Chipping Sodbury quarry beyond the basic requirements for routine stock measurement. “Analysis of the geotechnical conditions of the site would be useful. I’ve got old quarry working faces two or three benches up that we no longer have safe access to. The drone can fly close to these faces and give me photographic imagery of their condition. This would enable me to see if there’s any rock movement over a period of time. In our active areas, I could also use the drone to create 3D models to make sure that the quarry’s haul road edge protection continues to meet regulations and highlighting those areas requiring remedial work to maintain safety."

The Kespry trial we have implemented in the UK, in Germany and the US has shown clearly that the system is one that is intuitive, easy to use and provides accurate and reliable data on which we make operational and sales decisions.

Neil Wells
Head of Land and Minerals,

Hanson UK is part of the HeidelbergCement Group, and Neil Wells, HeidelbergCement’s Head of Land and Minerals, has been keenly assessing Chipping Sodbury Quarry’s use of the Kespry drone and Cloud system since its installation in spring 2016.

“The primary focus of our interest has been in developing routine, low-cost solutions for stock measurement bringing this work in-house and providing the tools for quarry managers to collect data to support their work. The Kespry trial we have implemented in the UK, in Germany and the US has shown clearly that the system is one that is intuitive, easy to use and provides accurate and reliable data on which we make operational and sales decisions."

“Beyond stock measurement, we have been looking at other interesting applications that would either be expensive or inconvenient to implement routinely. Face condition monitoring is an obvious application, as is more frequent face position monitoring to ensure alignment with the quarry development plan. We see that one of the big potential uses of the Kespry system is for Building Condition surveys. We have some very tall and large buildings in many of our quarries, and we don’t really want to be sending people up on roofs,” says Wells. “High quality photographs of the roof will allow us to identify where there are holes, debris accumulating or birds nesting.”

Wells adds that he’s also been impressed by how supportive Kespry has been during the early use of its technology at Hanson UK sites in England and the U.S. and HeidelbergCement quarries in Germany.

“We are in frequent contact with Kespry suggesting changes and additions to functionality of the Kespry Cloud. Kespry has responded positively to suggestions and has worked with us to enhance the user experience by making reporting easier and more adaptable to the needs of individual managers and sites."

“The relationship we have is mutually beneficial – we get the amendments we need to ensure that the tools are as easy to use as possible without the need for extensive training and understanding of 3D modelling, at the same time providing to Kespry real world knowledge and expertise to support their wider development objectives.”

Wells concludes: “This is a tool that as a global aggregates business we see as definitely scalable and applicable in many countries and regions allowing us to harmonise and standardise on practices and process worldwide. This, in turn, directly supports our Group ambitions for consistent stock management and reporting, supporting both operational and financial planning.”