Alcoa revolutionises mine operations with drone technology

Alcoa senior technologist (IT) and chief UAV pilot Andrew King demonstrates use of drone

Alcoa continues to pioneer new ways of working with digital tools and is now utilising drone technology to perform its operations across Western Australia.

The drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are now able to report back with data to allow for more accurate maintenance planning, exact scaffolding requirements, clearer work focus and better budgeting.

They overtake high-risk jobs that are usually performed by employees on ropes or scaffolds.

Now an operator can sit safely and watch a live feed on an iPad.

Andrew King, chief UAV pilot at Alcoa Alumina’s Centre for Excellence, said that drones could also be adapted for various tasks, and work that would normally take several days could now be completed in hours.

“The sky is the limit for drone application, but knowing how to best understand and use the data we can gather using drones is the real art,” King said.

“The vision for detailed inspection is one benefit but the same data can also be used to make very accurate 3D models. This is an enabler for other technologies such as augmented and virtual reality.”

Drone technology is now being used by the company to perform safety inspections, maintenance assessments, stockpile inventory monitoring and survey information gathering.

Last May, Alcoa announced a plan to expand the development of the world’s first carbon-free aluminium smelting process in partnership with Rio Tinto and tech company Apple.

Among three alumina refineries, two dedicated port facilities and three farmland in Western Australia, Alcoa runs the world’s second largest bauxite mine in the state, Huntly.

Alcoa’s operations also support approximately 4,300 direct jobs, predominantly in regional Australia.

The company produces almost 43 per cent of Australia’s alumina and approximately 20 per cent of Australia’s aluminium.