Life-saving infrared drones take centre stage at Queensland Mining Exhibition in Mackay

Drones Preventing Tyre Explosions on Mining Sites

This post originally appeared on http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-27/infrared-drones-take-centre-stage-queensland-mining-exhibition/7663852.

[Editor’s Note: The drones will be used to protect miners from tyre explosions.]

New infrared drone technology could hold the key to saving lives on mining sites.

Technology, innovation and cost saving were the focus of this year’s Queensland Mining Exhibition, and infrared drones took centre stage.

The quadcopters have been designed to protect miners from tyre explosions on mine sites, and Jim Whelan, business development manager for Redfox Solutions, is one of the creators behind the idea.

A number of miners have been killed after tyres have overheated and exploded, so the drone has been designed with infrared technology and cameras that detect heat and prevent explosions from occurring.

“The best way to describe that camera is in the way that police on their search helicopters can switch from a normal camera to one that detects heat. That is exactly what this quadcopter does,” Mr Whelan said.

The specific drone model is only a few months old, with only two available in Australia.

At present there are only five people around the country who are qualified to fly it.

“We send it in, it goes and detects the tyre temperature and then, hopefully, once it passes a safe temperature we will then bring it out and let people go in and take it over,” Mr Whelan said.

man holding drone in tent

Safety risks reduced for miners

Mr Whelan said from 2002 in the Bowen and Galilee Basins, there had been seven or eight instances of tyres exploding.

Last year a miner was killed during a tyre explosion on a mine site near Moura.

“In terms of the workshops — and those are very dangerous areas — this particular technology will be sent in instead of sending a man in what you think is a safe period,” Mr Whelan said.

“The drone is going to go and detect the true external temperature of the tyre, and once it reaches what we consider a safe threshold, then we believe it is safe to send the person in,” he said.

“That person goes in under much safer [circumstances].”

Mining companies save money too

According to Mr Whelan, tyre explosions have the potential to have the same detrimental impact as that of a small improvised explosive device.

He said that tyres at risk of exploding were initially detected through monitoring systems on the vehicles, or by workers simply through smell or sight.

Trucks with hot tyres are then treated as explosive devices and are set aside in an exclusion zone for 24 hours.

“So we are sending a drone in and not risking a person to go right in close and take that temperature throughout that exclusion period, so hopefully we reduce that period down hugely,” he said.

Having a truck out of action also causes financial losses for mining and resource companies.

On top of that, the cost of a replacement tyre can range from $7,000 to $200,000.

“I guess we are approaching it from the issue of the production costs of these. It is not something the mines ignore,” Mr Whelan said.

The drones are being trialled at Caval Ridge Mine in the Bowen Basin.

“The large mining company BMA, they were really the first innovative company to come and talk to us about how we might be able to employ this technology, so we’re working with them first as the largest mine in the area,” Mr Whelan said.

“We are going to do a proof of concept in about 10 days, and the outcome of that will probably dictate how many other mines may be interested.

“It’s very exciting, and we believe that drone technology is one of the fastest developing technology areas, and that’s recognised around the world.”

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