The mining industry in Western Australia is enlisting the help of drone technology to drive efficiency and safety in their operations.

The use of the technology started with driverless trucks, trains and drills, and is now focussed on the benefits of unmanned flying objects.

Rio Tinto is using the technology to inspect its equipment and mining pits at its iron ore and diamond mines in the north of the state.

Fortescue Metals Group trialled the technology last year at its Cloudbreak iron ore mine and BHP are understood to be investing as well.

Mining operations sprawl hundreds of kilometres across the remote Pilbara landscape, creating challenges for inspection and maintenance.

Rio Tinto's aviation manager Kevan Reeve said that's one reason why the technology is so attractive.

"The biggest thing for us is driving efficiency. Gaining information is the core of what we need to do," he said.

"We need to know what our operations are doing.

"We have got our operations centre here in Perth that's bringing that information in, and we are using the drones to increase our ability to get that information."

The drones are being used mostly for surveying and monitoring work.

"At our Argyle diamond mine they are taking footage of the open pit where they're mining directly underneath," Mr Reeve said.

"We can't put people into the pit to actually measure the pit now, so we're using the rotary wing drone."

"We are also using small fixed wing drones to survey our stockpiles and to look at rehab work."

The drones being used in Rio's operations do vary in size.

"I think the one that Argyle use is a six-bladed rotary wing so it is like a small helicopter," he said.

"The ones we use in our operations for iron ore are a small aircraft essentially, one-and-a-half kilogram; very, very small and made with polystyrene.

Source: - see full article