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Mining and quarrying company Sibelco Australia has recently purchased a Gatewing X100 unmanned aerial system to carry out aerial surveys on its minesites around Australia – and in the process now realises savings in contract survey costs.

Sibelco specialises in production of raw materials that form the building blocks for things used everyday. Sibelco is the leader in several of its main product categories, including silica sand, high purity quartz, feldspar, clay, olivine, lime, limestone, zircon and rutile.

In December 2011, Sibelco purchased a Gatewing X100 unmanned aerial system (UAS) specifically designed for mapping and surveying applications.

The X100 provides high quality image capture and mapping functionality, as an alternative to time consuming land-based surveying and expensive aerial photogrammetry.

According to Steve Talbot, a surveyor with Sibelco Australia, the company typically utilises contract surveyors to ground survey and aerial survey at a number of its sites around Australia.  “At times this expense can be considerable,” he said.

“Because of this, we were looking at finding a cheaper way to survey all our sites; Gatewing seemed to be – and has in fact turned out to be – a very good and also a safer solution for our needs.

“The fantastic thing about Gatewing is that you can use it whenever you want, so I can come out on any day and do an aerial survey – whereas with traditional aerial surveying, they can’t fly over the area if there are clouds in the way, and they can only fly at certain times when they are in the area.

“That means this system is a lot more flexible; I can simply do a flyover of any site I wish to do, whenever I want,” said Steve Talbot.

He said another key factor with Gatewing is safety.

“In terms of safety, mine and quarry managers today are really minimising people walking around pits, around machinery and so forth.

“Using Gatewing minimises the danger of getting hit by a truck or falling over a face, or tripping or falling anywhere in the quarry, so it is a very safe way of surveying.”

“Prior to the initial Gatewing survey, we spent a day setting up photo control in and around the site – we wanted to install and coordinate low maintenance, permanent targets to make future surveys quick and easy.

“You then have to allow about 40-45 minutes of setup time before a flight; you have got to find a landing site and a launching site and then go through the step-by-step process that Gatewing sets out in the manual and checklist.”

Steve Talbot said a typical Gatewing flight on one battery over a mine or quarry took 30-40 minutes and you can cover large areas with multiple flights.

“For example one of our sites covers two square kilometres, and I’d do about three flights, and you’d probably be looking at about one and a half hours of flight time,” he said.

Steve Talbot said the learning process for the system was very straightforward.

“Once we’d bought the system, I went through three to four days of training with Position Partners in Perth, and after that I was very confident about flying the plane,” he said.

“And the training was great, educational and a lot of fun, hands-on as well, so you are actually getting out in the field and using the Gatewing.

“Since the training and taking delivery of the system, I’ve flown about four or five flights; we’ve only had it for about a month and it’s been fantastic: no troubles at all.
“Every flight has gone according to plan so far,” he said.

Once the aerial survey has been carried out, Steve Talbot uses Gatewing’s Stretchout software for in-office processing.

Stretchout, which is fully integrated with the Gatewing UAS, delivers georeferenced orthophotos and DTMs with a high degree of accuracy.

“Using Stretchout is a very simple process,” he said.

“It’s just a step-by-step procedure and it is very easy to use, particularly compared with a lot of other surveying software that I have used.

“The system gives you three options: you can process the data rapidly, which gives you a rough solution; you can do a longer version, where you leave the software running over night and which gives you a very accurate solution, or you can upload it to Gatewing for cloud processing, where you pay per project and the data is processed for you.”

Aside from the Gatewing training provided through Position Partners, no additional training is required, although Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is looking at setting up a UAV licensing program.

“Certainly under current CASA regulations, you are not allowed to fly in populated areas but most of our sites are away from populated areas,” said Steve Talbot.

“Gatewing is a good solution for the majority of our sites,” he said.

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