Polish mine uses drone for 3D scanning

A Polish mine owner has turned to a combination of a Topcon drone and Bentley Systems’ ContextCapture software to halve the time it takes to 3D scan its reserves.

The White Mountain sand mine, about 100km to the south of Warsaw, is Europe’s biggest sand supplier. Located in Biala Gora in the centre of Poland, the mine is owned by the Quarzwerke Group and is renowned for the quality of its sand, which is used for the likes of glass production.

Because the mine is always changing and evolving, thorough inspection of stockpiles is crucial, which is why Quarzwerke decided to try new technology. It’s using Topcon’s Intel Falcon 8+ drone to inspect the mine’s reserves, enabling it to collect accurate and efficient data in real time, which in turn enables it to plan excavation accordingly.

Inspecting such a large mine is no easy feat, so in June 2019 independent contractor Paweł Grad, who has been surveying the mine since 2013, decided to enlist the help of Topcon.

Grad said: “Inspecting the mine is an extremely large, complex and time-consuming job and we are often under huge time constraints – usually having just a few days before we need to present the data back to Quarzwerke. The owner is extremely involved in the inspection of the mine and we’re continually looking at ways to streamline the process and make it as efficient possible, so investing in the Falcon 8+ was a joint decision.”

The mine measures more than 44,000 sq m.

Piotr Matyjasek, regional manager for Topcon Positioning Poland, said: “The Falcon 8+ drone provides precise high-resolution imaging in tight spaces and challenging environments – making it the ideal tool for volume calculations and for conducting photo inspections of the mine.”

The Falcon 8+ features premium sensors, active vibration damping and compensating camera mounts. It is also able to capture imagery from all perspectives, while providing flexibility for immediate take off and soft landing.

Grad added: “Safety was a huge priority for us, as the mine is so close to a military base where the Polish Air Force operates. There are often helicopters flying back and forth, so moving away from traditional surveying techniques to a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) solution was a daunting prospect for us, but the technical team at Topcon has been extremely supportive – they’ve made this transition really easy, offering us training on every element, from platform and software to workflow and regulations – and we’ve now got a UAV pilot’s licence.

“From getting the initial photo data to presenting the survey information to the investor, the whole process is now simple and efficient. It’s completely revolutionised our workflow. The Falcon 8+ is also really easy to operate and has low noise and emissions, so our impact to the surrounding environment is minimal.”

The drone’s scans being processed in Bentley Systems’ ContextCapture software.

Processing the drone’s data

The drone is mated to Bentley ContextCapture software, which can quickly produce 3D models from photographs or point clouds. The hybrid processing in ContextCapture enabled Quarzwerke to create engineering-ready reality meshes of the mine that incorporate the best of both worlds, with the versatility and convenience of high-resolution photography supplemented by additional accuracy of point clouds from laser scanning.

Overall, the combination of Falcon 8+ and Bentley ContextCapture has helped to reduce the time it takes to capture and process the data taken from the mine. The whole process is now at least two times faster, but the precision and quality of data being of a much higher quality, with the equipment being able to measure millions of points of a single object.

Grad concluded: “The combination of Topcon technology and on-going support from the team has completely changed the way we survey – our workflow is more efficient and our results are more accurate. We’ll continue to use these solutions on the mine and on projects across Europe for years to come.”

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