Aggregates 101: How Innovation in the Industry Affects Everyone

Without aggregates, like stone and sand, industry would grind to a halt — and so would the lifestyle we all take for granted. From our roads and bridges to roofing tiles, paint and even medicine, we need those raw materials.

And we need a lot of them.

According to Peckham Industries, a supplier of road construction materials in New York, every American demands more than 5,000 pounds of aggregates per year.

Developments in how these materials are sourced and used have been changing the aggregates industry. Reducing the industry’s environmental impact has been a big driver of change — that includes everything from quarry reclamation to how petroleum is stored (or even cleaned up during a spill).

New sustainable and environmentally friendly practices have been developed, too, such as recycled asphalt pavement. And there’s proven technology, Mark Kuhar at Rock Products reports, that converts mechanical force into electricity. This may one day turn road vibrations into a source of electricity.

Responsible environmental stewardship affects the average person in terms of cleaner breathing air to breathe, reclaimed parks to enjoy and even bringing animal species back from the brink of extinction. You may have seen the UK report by Sarah Fry of The Institute of Quarrying on the return of the bearded tit to the wetlands of Nottinghamshire, a development owned by the UK’s leading sustainable building materials group, Tarmac.

And other things are taking place, too, like industrial odor control, which is just as important to the quality of life for people living in the area.


Odor Control

In a case study by Boss Tek, a dust and odor suppression equipment supplier in Illinois, authors note that traditional methods weren’t working at a Central Massachusetts soil remediation site.

Formerly the site of a manufactured gas plant, the 11-acre property was to hold the local transit authority’s fleet of buses. The area surrounding the site was residential, with a large park directly across the street.

The ground being broken contained a volatile organic compound, naphthalene, which has a bitter, chemical odor. The smell can be overwhelming in small quantities, so the usual management strategies were put into place: spraying the exposed areas with foam and covering storage piles with urethane sheeting. The perimeter fence line of the site was even misted with perfume spray in an attempt to mask any odors that wafted away.

Nothing worked, though, because the smell was not actually eliminated.

Enter Boss Tek with an air treatment agent solution. Safe for humans, plants and animals — and biodegrading in 36 hours — the chemical attaches to odor-causing molecules, alters their composition and eliminates the components that cause the smell.

Once the unit, an open-cylinder cannon designer that can be put into position using a pickup truck, was in use, the daily odor-related complaints from nearby residents stopped.


Noise and Dust

It’s not just odor problems that plague those in proximity to worksites, quarries and pits.

Many residents oppose the actual location of quarries, which tend to be close to the communities where their products will be used. In fact, a Canadian survey showed more than half of those asked are against sand and gravel operations, when compared to other types of development projects including windmills, big box retail stores and bio-waste facilities, Alisha Hiyate at Canadian Mining Journal writes.

The aggregate sector is underappreciated by the public, Paul Allard, executive director of the British Columbia Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, tells Hiyate, and needs to do a better job of educating people as to how crucial the sector is to the good lives those people lead.

One way to educate is to be a good neighbor, and this is exemplified by the Alberta Sand and Gravel Association’s promotion of the 25-cent-per-ton levy collected by municipalities. The money goes to mitigating an operation’s impact on the local area and can also be used to help the community develop. Provinces nationwide have different levies, from 11.5 cents in Ontario to 53 cents in Quebec.

Eliminating or reducing irritants like noise and dust are other methods sure to help public perception. One Sandvik employee tells Hiyate that noise can be dampened by building a shelter around the machinery. He also tells her that the same thing can be done with respect to dust, using a component so that the dust is encapsulated and kept in a confined area.

Twice-weekly blasting wasn’t the issue for residents, some of whom live less than 300 yards away from a quarry outside of Toronto. Instead, it was the near-constant beeping noises from equipment backing up, which could be heard six days a week and up to 20 hours a day, that were causing complaints, reports Hiyate at CMJ. An easy fix is to change the sound, which in the plant’s new loader sounds like a loud squawk or bark. The modified sound is less bothersome to the neighbors, but still meets safety requirements.


The Future of Equipment in Aggregates Industry

Volvo is in the research and prototype stages of using electricity to power equipment, according to a report in Heavy Equipment Guide. Not only would the vehicles and machines (used in excavation, crushing and transport) increase fuel efficiency by as much as 50 percent, but they would also show a significant reduction in noise pollution over equipment in use today.

“This research project is a step towards transforming the quarry and aggregates industry,” Johan Sjöberg, technical specialist in site automation at Volvo CE, tells HEG.

“By using electricity instead of diesel to power construction equipment in a quarry, we have the potential to deliver significant reductions in fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, environmental impact and cost-per-tonne. The electrification of construction equipment will produce cleaner, quieter and more efficient machines. This represents the future of our industry.”

images by: a4ndi/©123RF Stock Photo, Mariusz Prusaczyk, Etienne Pauthenet

Professional Development for Site Managers: Resources to Bookmark

Companies expect a great deal from their area managers, their environmental managers, their engineers and their site managers.

Beyond managing people and resources, these professionals must find new ways to move the Earth while respecting safety standards and environmental concerns.

No one walks fresh out of college with those capabilities; those skills are developed and cultivated over time. If you’re searching for an opportunity to develop your own skills as a worksite manager, then have a look at the 20 options below.


Courses and Certifications That Can Improve Your Job Prospects

Step 1 in professional development is to refresh your skills through dedicated training. These courses below will give you marketable skills — and in some cases accredited certification — that will demonstrate to current (or future) employers how seriously you take your career.


The ABCEP’s Certification Program

The Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals’ certification program is a career-long opportunity for professional development that demonstrates a clear commitment to learning. Certified professionals tend to have a least a decade of experience, and the credentials conform to ASTM International’s requirements for conducting Phase I Environmental Site Evaluations.


Caterpillar’s On-Site Manager Workshop

Industry giant Caterpillar has an excellent fatigue risk management workshop that runs just six to eight hours, and prepares site managers to manage teams more thoughtfully and knowledgeably. As much as this is a workshop on site safety — fatigue and distractions can have serious consequences — this is also a great program for building leadership skills.


Mine Safety and Health Administration

MSHA has an entire catalog of courses, seminars and training programs on making mining sites safer. Courses are available both online and at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in West Virginia.


Construction Health and Safety Technician Certification

The Board of Certified Safety Professionals’ CHST certification program gives health and safety professionals a leg up in finding jobs in that field. “In general, those who hold a BCSP credential are more likely to be hired, earn higher salaries, and receive more promotions and leadership assignments than their peers who do not hold the certification,” the organization says.


OSHA Certificate and Degree Programs

Likewise, having a degree or a certificate from OSHA is valuable for any health and safety professionals because those courses are the gold standards in the industry. You can take classes at one of several OSHA education centers or partner organizations across the country.


Alberta Construction Safety Association’s Courses

If you intend to work in Canada or already do, Your ACSA has courses every day across the province on the different aspects of worksite safety. Most courses can be completed in a day and will give your resume a nice boost if you’re trying to find work in Alberta’s booming mining and construction sectors.


ClickSafety’s OSHA 10-Hour Construction Course

ClickSafety offers an accredited online OSHA course that covers worker rights, employer responsibilities and what you need to do to file a complaint. Being up-to-date on OSHA standards will make you a valuable resource at any American job site.


EduMine’s Certificate in Mining Studies

The CMS that EduMine offers is designed to be a two-year program that brings together experts from the University of British Columbia, the University of Arizona, Imperial College London, Sauder School of Business and Simon Fraser University. All in all, it adds up to 160 hours of self-guided online study that will prepare you for a career in mining.


The Colorado School of Mines EMCIS Training Courses

The Colorado School of Mines has several safety training courses for the energy, mining and construction fields at its Western Mining Training Center. Courses include MSHA certification programs, mine rescue and emergency response programs, and supervisory leadership programs.


Job Boards to Keep an Eye On

It never hurts to continuously be aware of new opportunities. Whether you’re looking for a new challenge, a new location or a higher salary, these job boards are a good place to start. is one of the oldest — it was founded in 2000 — and most reliable job boards for people who work in construction. There are hundreds of jobs listed at any moment, and the team there is good about pulling listings after a candidate has been found.


SWANA Career Center

Openings in the solid waste industry are noticeably fewer than in other industries, but The Solid Waste Association of North America does a good job of curating a relevant, up-to-date jobs board.

MiningOilAndGasJobs usually features a few thousand job listings from across the world. Additionally, the site serves as a nice information resource with an industry blog and a handy guide to living and working in Australia, for anyone thinking of relocating Down Under.


Jobs 4 Mining

Jobs 4 Mining is a UK-based jobs board, but its listings cover the globe. Recruiters are notably active on this board, as well, so it’s worth uploading a resume even if you’re not actively looking for opportunities at the moment.


InfoMine’s Careers Page

The jobs board at InfoMine has nearly 8,000 worldwide listings at the time of writing, and the vacancies are relevant and up-to-date. On an average day, you can expect to find dozens if not hundreds of new listings.


Conferences, Seminars and Events Worth Attending

Inevitably, your best professional opportunities will find you through sheer luck, usually by meeting the right person at the right time. Make your own luck by participating in and networking at these industry events.


CMAA’s 2017 Conference and Trade Show

The October CMAA conference in Washington, D.C. will connect more than 1,200 construction management professionals with opportunities to learn, share ideas and network. The 2016 conference was one of CMAA’s largest ever, so expect a great crowd this year.


The International Risk Management Institute Construction Risk Conference

IRMI’s Construction Risk Conference will take place November 2017 in Indianapolis. It brings together hundreds of contractors and construction professionals as well as risk management professionals to talk financial issues like insurance costs. This is a great opportunity to network with some of the biggest decision makers in American construction.


The Construction SuperConference

The 32nd Construction SuperConference will take place December 2017 in Las Vegas, and this is probably the best networking and education opportunity in the US for construction professionals during the winter months. Expect several dozen exhibitors plus some excellent education sessions on legal and compliance issues.


The 2018 NAEP Conference

The National Association of Environmental Professionals’ 2018 conference will take place in Tacoma, Washington, in March and will bring together global experts in climate change, water resources, planning and permitting, and several other issues. This is one of the top networking opportunities in the first half of the year for environmental managers.


The 2018 Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada Convention

Another one for Canadian mining professionals or anyone exploring opportunities in Canada. The March 2018 PDAC Convention in Toronto will bring together more than 1,000 exhibitors, a few thousand investors and nearly 25,000 attendees to talk mineral exploration. If you’re involved in mining up North, be there.


The Canadian Mining Expo

The Canadian Mining Expo Big Event took place at the end of May 2017, and saw more than 4,000 exhibitors come through to network and demo products at Northern Ontario’s biggest mining expo. Just about every mining company that has a footprint in this region was represented, so keep an eye out for information on the 2018 expo.

images by: dolgachov/©123RF Stock Photo, pressmaster/©123RF Stock Photo, michaeljung/©123RF Stock Photo

Safety, Intel, Efficiency: 10 Reasons Drones Are a Must-Have for Stockpile Management

We’ve previously discussed some of the ways drone technology is revolutionizing heavy industry in general. Now, let’s zoom in on stockpile management because drones are completely changing how mining and aggregates companies operate.

This technology is providing new levels of business intelligence, creating operational efficiencies and making these companies better neighbors.

Here are 10 reasons any mining or aggregates company should look to drones for their stockpile measurements.


Drones Create a Path From a Reactive to a Proactive Way of Doing Business

Demand forecasting is probably the biggest opportunity for site managers.

By being able to fly quickly over a site, measure changes in stockpiles and render that into a 3D model, drones offer one of the best methods for estimating what client demands will look like in the future. Therefore, companies can anticipate demand rather than having to scramble to find ways to meet it.

Dr. Shane Buchanan, asphalt performance manager at Oldcastle Materials, tells Asphalt Magazine’s Mat Herron that this completely changes the way a business can be run — for the better.

“Aside from the proliferation of drones, Buchanan said he sees more companies emphasizing a demand forecast model, which can tell them how much material they will need for a client and adjust that forecast accordingly,” Herron writes. “Demand forecast helps ensure a company knows which aggregates it will need for a given time period, and that it can obtain them efficiently.”


They Provide Accurate Measurements and Predictive Models

Geomatics manager Stantton Pallister tells On-Site Magazine that the 3D models of construction projects that drone data can deliver have been a game-changer for both the company and its customers.

The models look impressive, sure, but having accurate measurements of aggregates down to the cubic meter means quantities of earth or gravel never get written off, and construction teams can bill for work completed precisely and progressively. “We’re more accurate, and this adds up to substantial savings,” Pallister says.


That Intel Will Only Get Better, Too

In May, Christina Cardoza at InterDrone reported on some deep-learning software that a company called Neurala was developing for autonomous systems such as self-driving cars and drones.

Massimiliano Versace, the company’s CEO, told Cardoza that the software is built upon the company’s understanding of neural networks, which mimic how the brain learns and retains information. With this kind of artificial intelligence in a drone, he says, the vehicle will be able to learn how to navigate around obstacles and scramble when it detects a situation in which it needs to provide visibility.

In other words, it won’t be long until your drone will detect when stockpile volumes have changed, and fly itself out to the pile for an up-to-date measurement.


National-Level Regulators Are Turning to Drones, Too

It’s not just companies that are embracing the benefits of aerial intelligence. Governments and industry regulators — who require site owners to have data calculations and verifications done by a third party — are embracing drones as an effective means of verifying stockpile volumes and site owner compliance.

As Sarah O’Brien-Smith at the law firm Hunt & Humphry notes, Australia’s Department of Mines and Petroleum has begun to deploy UAVs to monitor compliance with the country’s Mining Act of 1978.

“As operations often span hundreds of kilometres across remote landscapes, the key driver for the use of [UAVs] is gaining information efficiently and safely,” she writes.


Drone Manufacturers Are Doubling Down on Mining and Construction

Multi-rotor hobbyists may have been the initial drivers of drone ubiquity, but the companies that make the technology have recognized that the future of their industry is in commercial applications — and demand is hottest right now in the heavy industries.

As Jeremiah Karpowicz at Commercial UAV News points out, DJI’s release of the enterprise-level M200 drone, Parrot’s pivot toward commercial applications and Skyward’s acquisition by Verizon are all strong indicators that we should expect to see rapid innovation and new opportunities in our industry.


Drones Help Other On-Site Technology Work Together Better

The intel from drone data does more than just help site operators make better business decisions. It also helps the site operator’s entire fleet of tools talk to one another and work together more efficiently.

Caterpillar is already taking steps toward building a fleet of machines — drones plus other worksite vehicles — that can all share data among one another. At the time of writing, the company has a fleet of a half million connected machines.

“Our vision is that by enhancing our Cat Connect Technology and Services offerings, entire fleets and worksites — every machine, engine, truck, light tower, smart device, and drone — will eventually share data on one common Caterpillar technology platform and speak the same language,” Caterpillar CMO George Taylor tells Quick Base.


Drones Help Mining Companies Be Better Neighbors

A big site with all of its operations can be disruptive to the people and animals that live nearby, and that’s often because site managers don’t have a complete picture of the needs and wants of these neighbors. Drone surveillance is changing that, BHP Billiton’s Frans Knox writes.

For example, in Western Australia the company’s drones are being deployed to map and record sites of cultural heritage for local Aboriginal communities.

“For me, the bigger picture is what this technology allows us to do that could never have been done before, and for us that means being able to share and preserve cultural heritage that might otherwise have been lost,” BHP Billiton Heritage Manager Daniel Bruckner tells Knox. “We’re now able to share all our footage with local Aboriginal groups, and they’re excited about that possibility.”


Drones Save Money and Time

Let’s go with the most obvious benefit first: Drones can go where people can’t (or shouldn’t), and they can do so more quickly and for far less money than a manned aircraft could.

So, sure, it was theoretically possible to perform aerial stockpile measurements in the past, but that aircraft required at least one person to fly it, the job would have taken a long time, and the measurements would not necessarily have been accurate without modern tools such as photogrammetry and mobile lidar.

Simply put, stockpile measurements taken this way are not a good use of time or money. “Without drones, these tasks might require hiring a plane or helicopter…” Skyward’s Annie Norris writes at sUAS News. “Drones provide the opportunity to offer these services at a more competitive rate, and with the bonus of gathering the data safely.”


They Make Work Verification Much Easier

Even in an office with 30 people, it’s hard to get visibility on how much work is getting done. Scale that to a worksite of acres upon acres, and verifying work is nearly impossible without an eye in the sky.

But verifying work is crucial for site managers who need to keep track of progress and check to ensure key milestones are hit, Hugh McFall writes:

“Drones have helped bridge this gap: many of our customers fly their site once per day, process their images into an orthomosaic, and then create an elevation map that can then be compared to the initial site plans as the project goes on. This helps document and monitor progress at important phases of the project, and enables more focused quality control.”


Those Efficiencies Will Be Needed as the Aggregates Industry Grows

As Persistence Market Research notes in its Global Market Study on Construction Aggregates: Industry Analysis and Forecast 2016-2024 report, global consumption of aggregates will grow from 43.3 billion metric tons to 69.2 billion metric tons over that eight-year span.

As that pie grows, so will competition for the various slices of it. The companies that walk their piles once a month will continue to lose ground to the companies that have real-time, to-the-cubic-meter volumetric data about their stockpiles.

images by: João Rocha, Mariusz Prusaczyk

Big Data Challenges: Turn Your Stockpile Data Into Business Intelligence

Accurate stockpile measurements are not option. They’re not a nice-to-have. They’re foundational to your business.

This is the driving mission behind why we use precision mobile lidar, drone mapping and 3D modeling technology when we offer full-service stockpile management.

And yet, all of this technology generates its own digital stockpiles of data. How does a mining company, for example, manage that particular stockpile? How does it ensure the data’s quality, and how does the company turn that information into real business results?

In this post, we’ll explore what top-performing companies do with their stockpile measurement data.


The Business Case for Granular Accuracy

Step 1 when working with data of any kind is to ensure you’re measuring with accuracy and precision.

That’s why each generation of drones, cameras and modeling software in our industry gets more and more precise. As Michael Schwartz, executive vice president and CMO at Eka Software Solutions points out, ground-based and drone-based stockpile surveys currently get area measurements down to the centimeter.

“Depending on the quality of the equipment, users can expect a variation of two centimeters or less,” Schwartz writes at Aggregates Business International. “With high-end cameras in place, the variation can go down to 1.5cm per pixel.

“This difference may appear small, but when replicated over a full-sized stockyard it can represent millions or even tens of millions in profit saved or loss avoided. With far greater accuracy in the resulting 3D models, drones can deliver accurate data that makes a significant contribution to minimizing variance in inventory allowances. Operators can therefore avoid inventory swings, alleviate any end-of-year write offs, and provide commodity traders a far more accurate picture on current availability and replenishment needs.”

Schwartz also touches on the speed aspect of drone technology, which is a business case in its own right, and one that we will explore further in a minute.


Powerful Tools Must Be In the Right Hands

First, it’s important to understand the business implications of these modern tools — and how using them incorrectly can create serious problems for your business. Lewis Graham, president and CTO of GeoCue Group, notes that site managers or pit owners who don’t take care to be ultra-precise when using these tools can get wildly inaccurate measurements.

And those are user errors. For example, each 1-inch of vertical error creates a volumetric error of about 134 cubic yards per acre,” says Jeremiah Karpowicz, who spoke to Graham for a piece at Commercial UAV News.

“Graham has seen end users buy a drone and a point cloud generation application and do this computation with no knowledge of referencing. They are then quite surprised at the huge difference between the number of truckloads of dirt taken from the site and their volume computation.”


Moving Beyond the Spreadsheet

Then, these numbers all need to live somewhere so they can be referenced and made sense of. For years, volumetric measurements haved lived in spreadsheets — either written ledgers or Excel files.

But as Commodities Now Editor Guy Isherwood notes, spreadsheets don’t do a good job of tracking tonnage, the stockpiled material’s quality or its value.

“Studies by independent academics show that as many as 94% of complex spreadsheets contain errors including input errors, logic errors, interface errors, and incorrect cell range errors,” he writes in a paper for Triple Point Technology.

“These errors, even significant ones, often go undetected because spreadsheets are usually created by non-programmers who don’t perform formal testing. Because of this, many mining companies using spreadsheets function without the knowledge that a problem even exists, giving them a completely inaccurate picture of day-to-day operations and affecting all aspects of the supply chain.

“Without the necessary data validation and control, errors spread throughout key corporate processes that control hundreds of millions of dollars of inventory, putting the entire company at significant operational risk.”

This is why modeling stockpiles in four dimensions — the fourth dimension accounts for changes over time — gives site operators a much clearer picture of their inventories.



Automating Regular, Precise Measurements

Accuracy is only half of the business case, however. The other half is the efficiency created by technology such as drones.

When machines can be automated to fly over a site, then stockpile measurements are no longer bound by having the right people around who are available to walk piles and do geometry.

What’s more, a drone is exponentially faster at measuring a site than a person is. “State of the art drones powered with standard SLR cameras take hundreds of images of stockpiles in just a few hours, completing in one day what would typically take a piloted aircraft or individuals with hand scanners a week or more,” Dale Benton at Mining Global writes.

So now, site operators can take inventory with much greater regularity, which helps them create much more accurate budgetary forecasts and better business decisions.

“For us the biggest benefit [of drone-based measurements] we realized so far is the stockpile volumes,” says Iain Allen, senior manager of geographic information at Barrick Gold. “At most of our mines we don’t have enough available space to have separate stockpiles for different ore, so we need to know which ore is in each pile. The mill has to know what we’re sending so they can process it appropriately.

“If we get it wrong, it reduces our return on gold and that costs us money. A 3D model of a stockpile is extremely useful and it’s much faster than conventional survey techniques.”



Preparing Your Data to Become Business Intelligence

Once you have your stockpile data readily available and in a format that’s useful in guiding decisions, then you can begin to harvest real business results from it.


First Things First: Know Your Business Objectives

The first step, however, is to clarify your business objectives. And if you are using a service provider for your stockpile measurements, make sure the provider is on board, too, Colin Snow writes at Dronelife.

“Before signing up with a drone data mapping or imaging service provider, make sure that provider is fully committed to understanding the use case and the industry vertical you serve,” he advises. “Not all do.

“Some providers have more experience in one industry vs. another. For example, they may promote the functionality to serve mining when in fact their core functionality is based on serving agriculture.”


Ensure You and Your Data Speak the Same Language

As our company president, Lauren Elmore, told attendees at AGG1 2016: “Just because ‘everything we do is in tonnage’ doesn’t mean it is the best way to do it.” Tonnage doesn’t tell you anything about a stockpile’s density, and a volume of one material will always weigh more or less than a volume of another material.

So, make sure your measurements are in volumetric terms of cubic yards or cubic meters.


Reconciling Your Inventory Figures

Inventory reconciliation can be a headache in any industry — exponentially so in mining and aggregates when you’re working with problematic data. But if you’ve taken care to measure accurately and you’ve cleaned the data to report volumetric numbers, you’ll be ready to properly analyze how much of your stockpile has moved relative to how much the balance sheet reports.

This is also a good time to ensure that your other measurement tools — your truck scales, for example — are calibrated as precisely as your volumetric measurement system.

Afterward, as we pointed out in an earlier blog post, you’ll need to remember to reconcile the fact that you’re measuring by volume, but you’re most likely selling inventory by weight.

As you introduce greater efficiency to your stockpile measurements, you’ll have more frequent counts and more opportunities to spot inconsistencies before they grow into bigger problems. After all, no one wants to write off inventory.


The Next Frontier: Real-Time Stockpile Management

The quality data companies are collecting today will eventually serve as the foundations for stockpile management systems that will track changes in real time and be available to anyone in the industry, no matter how big or small.

ABB Mining has an excellent paper on what this will look like through the implementation of stockyard management systems, or SMS.

“An SMS is an integrated part of the overall stockyard management and control system and it includes instrumentation, electrification and scope for automation of operator-controlled stockyard machines,” the paper reads.

“A SMS organizes the stockyard in real-time based on job definitions generated by production management. The SMS merges data on incoming material quantities with additional information such as quality data, ownership of material and localization and visualization aspects to provide a comprehensive picture. An ‘anti-collision system’ at the control level provides for safe operations.”

Accurate, real-time figures on how much stockpile inventory is moving will be the next step in the mining and aggregates industries forward.

images by: Pexels, Mariusz Prusaczyk, Sebastian Pichler

Ancient Sites and Modern Tech: How the Tools We Use Help Archeologists, Too

In many ways, an industrial worksite has the same requirements that an archaeological dig site has. There is excavation to do, there is aerial surveillance to perform, there are environmental impacts to consider, and there are even volumetric measurements to take.

So, in their quest to learn more about older civilizations, archaeologists use many of the same tools — drones, lidar, 3D models — that we use at Firmatek to measure and model worksites.


Lidar Gives Archaeologists New Visibility Into Lost Worlds

Archaeologist Damian Evans made news in 2016 when his team announced the findings of a three-year study in Cambodia: They had found medieval cities under a layer of forest, one of which was nearly as large as Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and largest city today.

Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at the University of Bristol in England, has an excellent writeup on the findings, and what was so different about Evans’ research methods.

Between 2012 and 2015, Evans and his team mapped a massive swath of the Cambodian jungle with helicopter-mounted lidar — a project that would have taken a lifetime of work just two generations ago.

That setup offered unprecedented precision in the maps they created. “With 16 data points measured every square metre, the researchers were not only able to pinpoint well-known monumental stone structures in exquisite detail, they also discovered the massive urban cultures which surrounded these temples, identifiable by the remains of earthworks such as mounds, canals, roads and quarries,” Horton writes.


Lidar can see through centuries of decay and erosion

Discover Magazine’s Nathaniel Scharping, writing about the same Cambodian discovery, says the natural processes of degradation make research so difficult at a site that’s now just dense jungle.

Many of the newly discovered civilization’s structures were built with wood, he says, which has long since decayed. The only clues that remain are “traces of human stewardship”: canal beds, faint paths left by old roads, the outlines of a foundation.

“Lidar is ideal for mapping these patterns, firing short bursts of visible and near-visible light that penetrate the rainforest canopy, revealing the structures beneath,” Scharping writes.


Mapping England’s history with lidar

Historic England, the public body that investigates and protects the country’s heritage sites, has been using lidar technology for years. Its first projects revealed the site of an ancient Roman fort up in Yorkshire.

In 2016, Historic England worked with local aerial photography company Bluesky to create 3D maps of several locations in and around Devonshire in the south, which includes an area used in Roman times for ironworks.

You can see from this image that Bluesky created what Scharping meant by the phrase “traces of human stewardship” — even though those traces are now more than 1500 years old.

Drones Contextualize Information on the Ground by Offering a Bird’s-Eye View

Drones have been such a boon to archaeologists, who had long been hamstrung with some rudimentary surveillance technology.

“Although it seems impossible to anyone immersed in the world of UAVs [drones], the go-to method that aerial archaeologists use to document a site like this is kites,” the DroneDeploy team writes. “As in: program a camera to automatically take pictures, strap it to an ordinary beach-flying kite and let it loose.”

Kites and balloons make sense, actually. Most sites are too small for helicopters or small planes to be useful, even if the researchers had the money for such aircraft. But drones have proven exponentially more efficient than balloons or kites.


How drones make work faster and easier for research teams

DroneDeploy cites one researcher who says aerial photos the old way took three to five days on a site less than an acre. Drones turn that into a 15-minute project.

Drone photography looks great, too. Just have a look the photos the Drone by Drone team captured of the 9th Century Castillo de Santa Marta de Pancorbo in the north of Spain. (The site is in Spanish, but you can click and drag through the photoset to get the idea.)

Further, drones are much sturdier and much more weather-resistant than balloons or kites. “You can fly in almost all weather circumstances, while a kite needs just the right wind, and a balloon doesn’t want any wind at all,” says Jan Driessen, a professor in Belgium who is leading excavations in Crete and in Cyprus, tells Peter Gutierrez at Inside Unmanned Systems.

“The only limits are battery life and the number of pictures you can shoot.”


Archaeologists have to get volumetric measurements, too

Peter Rauxloh, director of technology solutions at the Museum of London Archaeology, has an excellent blog post on how archaeologists essentially have to keep tabs on how big the holes they dig actually are.

And, of course, precision is important for scientists.

So, on a recent project at Orford Ness, a delicate environment on England’s eastern coastline that is under the National Trust’s stewardship, the MOLA team deployed drones to get an idea of how much of a footprint they were making on a pair of shallow excavation sites.

A previous survey, done without drones, had delivered 110 total points from which MOLA researchers could create a 3D model of the hole they’d dug. With the drones, however, the team could get 73 such points per square meter, resulting in “a density of coverage more than two orders of magnitude greater,” and a set of volumetric measurements that were much more accurate.

Affordable Technology and Rapid Innovation Are Defining a New Generation of Archaeologists

Every industry, discipline and field of study is undergoing a dramatic leap forward in intelligence thanks to all the tools we now have to collect and process data. Archaeology is no different — though perhaps it has made a much longer leap than other fields of study.

Carl Feagans, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist and author of the Archaeology Review blog, notes that just a few years ago a lidar sensor would have cost $80,000 and weighed so much that only heavy-duty drones could lift it. Today, that sensor costs $500 and is light enough to mount onto most drones.

This changes everything. Now, you don’t need a huge budget to do aerial mapping, surveillance and 3D modeling. “With a UAV and the right software and GPS, an archaeologist could fly a grid pattern over a few acres in about 15 minutes,” Feagans says. “Bring the UAV home, pull the SD card, insert it in a laptop, and georeference a point cloud into ArcGIS for a centimeter level view of the site she’s standing on.”

Further, the big data revolution is creating a generation of researchers and other professionals who are fluent in data management. This, says University of Leiden professor Karsten Lambers, is crucial because now archaeologists are building databases that will be accessible and useful for generations to come.

“Now, finally archaeology has understood what is at stake here,” he tells the Leiden Centre of Data Science. “We are now very serious about data management, to make sure that data is stored in safe and easily accessible ways.”


Let’s Put This All Together

Efficiencies created at worksites are accelerating thanks to all of the innovations we have access to today. So, it’s worth examining the near future of archaeology because the exponential drop in lidar costs that Feagans mentioned is only a drop in the bucket.

At worksites, we are already seeing technology that lets miners explore and test solutions in virtual environments. At dig sites, the same kind of technology is helping researchers model ancient cultures.

The drone photography, the lidar-based 3D models, the datasets. All of these tools create inputs that let archaeologists run thousands of simulations based on what they know about an extinct civilization — and even answer what made that civilization go extinct in the first place.

“For every environmental calamity you can think of, there was very likely some society in human history that had to deal with it,” says Washington State University professor Tim Kohler, who has spent years building models to understand how ancient peoples interacted with their environments. “Computational modeling gives us an unprecedented ability to identify what worked for these people and what didn’t.”

That’s knowledge with important contemporary applications. If we understand what didn’t work for every culture that was killed off by drought, flooding, invasion or some kind of localized extinction event, then we as a species are better prepared for any existential dangers on our own horizons.

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17 Mining and Engineering Programs the Class of 2018 Should Look Into

Mining and mining engineering can be lucrative fields, even for recent college graduates. It’s not uncommon for a student to leave a mining engineering program and walk right into a job that pays $70,000 per year.

But programs tailored to the needs of the mining industry are few and far between: In the United States, there are only a handful.

Here’s the thing: If you are a high school senior who is interested in minerals, engineering, sciences and/or hard hat industries, you have some incredible college opportunities. The schools that do have such programs are excellent, there are abundant scholarships, and there are plenty of employers competing for the students who graduate from these programs.

Here are 17 such programs in the US and Canada.


Safety, Health and Industrial Hygiene at Montana Tech

Occupational health and worksite safety will always be ongoing challenges in the mining industry. Montana Tech’s Safety, Health and Industrial Hygiene program offers a few tracks for students looking to earn a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, either of which can set you up for a long career in health and safety.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health makes grants and scholarships available to students, and Montana Tech also has a couple of endowed scholarships set aside each year for female students.


Mining and Metallurgy at the University of Nevada, Reno

The Department of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno has several options for students, from a mining engineering minor to a Ph.D. program in geo-engineering. The department also has several merit-based scholarships available every year.

One other bonus: The University of Nevada, Reno has its own Mine Systems Optimization and Simulation Laboratory, where companies can run simulations and test models in interactive environments with the help of students and researchers. This could be a great way to meet and network with industry leaders.


Mining Engineering at the University of Utah

Officials at the University of Utah say graduates of the school’s mining engineering undergrad program often find themselves with two or three job offers upon graduation. This immediately sees Utah grads entering fields such as mine design, mine production and organizational management, and starting salaries typically fall in the $60,000–70,000 range.

On campus, mining engineering students can connect with student organizations and professional organizations such as the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration Inc. and the Society of Women Engineers for excellent networking opportunities.


Mining Engineering at Penn State

Penn State‘s mining engineering program boasts a 100 percent placement rate upon graduation. In Happy Valley, students pursue lines of research such as geomechanics, acoustic emission and microseismic techniques, using VR as a training tool, and sustainability issues pertaining to mining.

On campus, you’ll find a laboratories for studying ventilation, rock mechanics, dust and particles, and mineral processing, among others. The schools also has some 15 endowed scholarships set aside specifically for qualified first-year students.


Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City has a world-class program for materials and metallurgical engineering. “From generating electricity to constructing our cars, buildings, and machines, metals are the foundation of our modern world,” administrators write.

“As a metallurgical engineering student, you’ll study the processes that transform mineral resources and metals into useful materials that improve the quality of our lives.”

A handful of specializations are available, including mineral processing, extractive metallurgy and materials transformation (“everything from spacecraft to thin diamond films”).

Also, automatic scholarships are available to students who are admitted early (by mid-January for the upcoming fall semester) and who have excellent ACT or SAT scores.


Mining Engineering at Southern Illinois University

SIU Carbondale has a mining engineering department as part of its College of Engineering, and there students can earn a B.S, an M.S. or a Ph.D. in the field. At the undergraduate level, expect an emphasis on fundamental of engineering, plus a focus on coal and aggregates.

“The undergraduate and graduate programs, because of strong departmental research emphasis, have special strengths in rock mechanics and ground control, coal processing, surface coal mining, environmental problems related to mining and processing, and systems analysis with recent increasing emphasis on management (disposal/utilization) of coal combustion by-products,” school officials write.

The school provides some excellent facilities for students, including laboratories and access to the Illinois Coal Development Park. Also, note that the department hands out more than $75,000 each year in scholarships.


Mining Engineering at West Virginia University

The West Virginia University mining engineering program in Morgantown dates back 150 years, when it originally started out as a mine surveying course. Several program tracks are available:

  • a B.S. in Mining Engineering,
  • a B.S. in Mining and Civil Engineering,
  • and a B.S. in Mining Engineering and Geology.

Also, WVU’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources makes merit-based scholarships available to students with high ACT scores and high school GPAs. You don’t even need to apply separately; the admissions team will determine eligibility as part of the application process.


Mining & Materials Engineering at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech’s undergraduate mining and materials engineering program features a low student-to-faculty ratio so students can receive one-on-one mentorship and advising. Also, via endowments and private contributions, the program has several scholarships and funding options available to first-year students. In fact, more than 60 percent of students qualify for some kind of funding up to $3,000 per year.

And for graduating students, the program has an excellent job placement program that brings recruiters to campus for one-on-one interviews with students.


Mining Engineering at Missouri S&T

Missouri S&T mining engineering department lets students follow a number of academic paths, including:

  • mining health and safety,
  • sustainable development,
  • quarrying engineering,
  • explosives engineering,
  • coal,
  • and environmental impacts of mining.

Further, the school has an experimental mine it shares with companies in the minerals industry where “students are introduced to current equipment and mining practices, enabling them to develop an understanding of some of the engineering problems that occur in actual mining situations.”


Mining Engineering at the University of Kentucky

University of Kentucky’s Department of Mining Engineering builds upon a solid foundation of math and science, then introduces students to applications of those disciplines in mineral processing, surface mining, explosives and several other fields.

For incoming first-year students, the department has a scholarship, the Thomas Lester Scholars Program, that automatically offers funding to students who have strong ACT or SAT scores, plus high unweighted high school GPAs. That scholarship is worth $12,000 over four years.


Mining Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

“Alaska is a resource state, and its future is linked intricately to the development of its vast land,” school officials at the University of Alaska Fairbanks write.

This is America’s northernmost mining engineering program, and it offers students a chance to explore mining against the backdrop of one of the world’s great frontiers. Specializations include exploration, mining and mineral beneficiation.

What’s more, the College of Engineering and Mines says each of its graduates typically receive job offers, and starting salaries can reach $100,000.


Mining Engineering at the University of Arizona

The mining engineering program at the University of Arizona allows students to pursue tracks (chosen in their third year) in mine operations, geomechanics, sustainable resource development and mineral processing.

What’s more, the Department of Engineering is pioneering a vast amount of research into environmental and sustainability concerns. “We are world leaders in desert and dry environments and in water research,” school officials say. “A focus on the diverse populations of the southwest, especially American Indian and Hispanic issues, is another distinctive opportunity for UA environmental scholars.”


Mining Engineering at Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech introduced a new mining engineering program in the fall of 2016, and it reaches across the university’s entire College of Engineering.

“[The] program includes courses from Civil and Environmental, Chemical, and Mechanical Engineering, and the School of Technology, in addition to courses from core Mining and Geological Engineering programs,” school officials write. “This multidisciplinary Mining Engineering degree prepares students to address the challenges of modern mining practices and positions them for a leadership role in the mining industry.”


Mineral Engineering at New Mexico Tech

New Mexico Tech provides its students with a strong scientific foundation in its mineral engineering course before getting into concentrations such as earth minerals, environmental issues, and mine design and operations.

Senior-year students have large-scale design projects in which they must apply their engineering skills to a business question, or they must design and plan major works such as a mine or a solid waste landfill. This is an excellent program for hands-on learning.


Mining Engineering at Queen’s University, Canada

At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, all engineering and applied science students follow a common curriculum that then serves as a foundation for when they get into specific fields.

For the mining engineering option, students learn how to design, operate and manage a mine. For the mineral processing and environment engineering option, students learn how to design, operate and control plants that turn ore into valuable materials. And for the mine mechanical engineering option, students learn about heavy equipment, and how to design, modify and maintain this equipment at a worksite.


Mining Engineering at McGill University, Canada

McGill University in Montreal is home to Canada’s oldest mining engineering department, founded in 1870. However, it’s only been in recent years — since 2013 — that students have been able to take all courses in English. That’s due to demand from out-of-province and international students, most of whom don’t speak French.

There is also a co-op program in which students can get hands-on learning, and get paid in the process, while working in research labs.


Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia, Canada

The University of British Columbia in Vancouver has an excellent mining engineering program that builds a foundational knowledge base and skill set among students, then gives them ample opportunities to shine.

These opportunities include a co-op program that goes for 20 months total (it takes five years to graduate if you do the co-op) in which students are placed in companies around the world.

And for graduating students, there is a field trip in the last year of studies to a mining site somewhere overseas (the class of 2017 chose South Africa and Botswana). “It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that for many students these trips are probably one of the best experiences of their lives,” school officials write.

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The Future of Work: How Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence Are Changing the Jobsite

Technology such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence — the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters a generation ago — is now a reality.

And it’s changing the way whole industries do business. Even doctors and teachers are finding applications for VR in their everyday work.

The same goes for construction sites, mines and landfills. Worksites around the world are getting increasingly smarter, safer and more efficient thanks to things like simulated work environments and machine learning.

But there are still roadblocks to this new way of working.

Let’s take a look at what virtual reality and artificial intelligence are doing for worksites today, and what needs to happen for these technologies to become everyday tools for people who work at mines or landfills.


Virtual Reality Saves Time, Money and Lives by Simulating Tasks

Professionals in a wide variety of industries are discovering the benefits of being able to simulate their work environments. In those realities, you can build models and test a near-infinite number of outcomes — and at very little cost to your bottom line.

VR can also model future realities as well as current realities. This creates some exciting opportunities for worksite engineers. As Peter J. Barden, AIA, NCARB, writes at Construction Superintendent, four-dimensional modeling (a 3-D model plus time) brings new layers of intelligence to the way industry professionals schedule work and anticipate risks.

“[This] will allow superintendents to step into the future of their project and understand requirements and pitfalls long before they occur, while also affording the construction team the ability to ensure the construction schedule is being maintained through the review of installed components and comparing those items to the 4-D model.”

And at mining sites, VR is creating collaborative environments that can feel as big as the mining site itself, says Russ Alford, general manager of medical equipment planning and management, Turner Construction.

“You’ll see two-wall caves so teams can collaborate in real scale and real time without having to leave the trailer,” he tells Construction Dive. “We want to have those caves on every site if we can. More than anything else, it will be the tool to change collaboration on the job site and enable a level of communication that will get much more detailed.”

One other great feature of a simulated environment: You cannot get injured in one.

Wilhelm Prinsloo, managing director at Simulated Training Solutions 3D in South Africa, tells Mining Weekly that this makes it possible for mining executives to virtually go down into their mines to get a better idea of what hazards their employees face so they can make the changes necessary to improve work conditions.


Augmented Reality Offers Real-Time Support for Workers

A cousin of virtual reality, augmented reality encompasses all of the technologies that overlay interactive digital information on top of our fields of perception (think Google Glass).

This has exciting applications in equipment maintenance.

In Europe, researchers working on a project called EMIMSAR developed an augmented reality tool that allows miners to work on machinery underground, where space and visibility are limited.

“Miners can view ‘augmented reality’ versions of their equipment on handheld computers and helmet-mounted displays,” project leaders write. “They can move through images of the machine and its components, call up data on the history and present condition of the machine, or be guided on how to repair or maintain components.”

This lets miners see real-time visualizations of the machinery as they’re working on it, and there are even voiceovers that provide step-by-step instructions. The project was so successful that Germany’s largest coal mining company, RAG, adopted it to plan maintenance on its long wall equipment, belt conveyors and loaders, Julian Turner writes at

And at CSC, researchers cite a project by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation called ReMoTe (Remote Mobile Tele-assistance), which projects an actual hand onto a maintenance worker’s field of vision for more precise remote instruction.

“In addition to simple pointer functionality, the hand gestures allow the expert, often located in a major metropolitan city, to demonstrate how to perform specific complex manual procedures for workers located on site,” they write.

Companies are already building AR-enabled hardware for onsite employees. One such company, Daqri, has built a Smart Helmet that visualizes data (and even thermal vision) onto the visor.


AI is Teaching Your Worksite How to Be Smarter

The full power of predictive analytics is coming to mining sites very soon.

In early 2017, Goldcorp Inc. and Integra Gold Corp. hosted the #DisruptMining event, in which five tech companies pitched their ideas to five mining and tech executives. Two of those five companies were built around artificial intelligence and machine learning:

  • Goldspot Discoveries, which was awarded $100,000 for its pitch, uses a machine learning algorithm to make mineral exploration targeting much more precise. With that intel, the company can then “stake acreage, acquire projects and royalties, and invest in public vehicles to create a portfolio of assets with the greatest reward to risk ratio.”
  • KORE Geosystems Inc., which was also awarded $100,000 plus the chance to negotiate a million-dollar deal, delivers engineering and operational intelligence in real time so engineers and managers can make high-level (i.e. expensive) decisions with much better insight.

And at Mining Magazine, Dr. Penny Stewart of PETRA Data Science has a piece that explores how machine-learning predictive tools, such as her company’s Forestall algorithm, can know hours in advance when to expect downtime so that operators and maintenance crews are ready.

Finally, expect to see a convergence between drones and AI very soon.

Mouncey Ferguson at Core77 has an excellent piece on these AI-native drones — drones both built with AI and flown with AI. The automated navigation is especially interesting: One product designer has outfitted a drone with the hardware and software that will make it capable of navigating a racecourse on its own after a few test flights. The next step, the piece notes, is to give these drones situational awareness then teach them how to roam freely.


4 Challenges That Impede This Generation of Technology

Many of these tools are already in use at worksites around the world, but many others face some significant barriers to wider use.


1. A Tech Skills Gap

First, as VIATechnik founder and president Danielle Dy Bunico points out on CONEXPO-CON/AGG’s podcast, there is a skills hurdle in hardhat industries. “Somebody who’s coming with a degree in computer science is going to work for companies like Google, Amazon and Apple,” she says.

Therefore, the expertise to grow these technologies in industries such as mining or construction need to be developed within, she says.


2. A Worksite’s Existing Tech Infrastructure

Steve Soechtig, who leads teams that develop digital experiences for Deloitte Digital, tells TechTarget’s Nicole Laskowski that AR and VR have substantial processing and bandwidth needs because they work in real time. At many worksites, these tools might not be interoperable with legacy systems, he says.


3. Physical Limitations

Especially with augmented reality, certain inherent flaws in the technology — at least, as it currently exists — will hinder its application. For example, Eric Sabelman and Roger Lam of Kaiser Permanente have an excellent analysis at IEEE of the dangers AR can present simply because it disrupts the ways our eyes normally work.

“[O]ur innate neural wiring prefers images of people to objects — and that is the case even if the people are virtual and the objects are real,” they write. “So if you’re looking at something not human in the real world, but the AR image includes people (or even simple shapes resembling the human form) AR will win the struggle for attention.”


4. Regulations

This is an evergreen challenge, especially with disruptive technology. But as Black & Veatch’s Brian Melton notes, because the FAA’s guidelines restrict drone flights to within an operator’s line of sight, their use is severely restrained.

“Drones have the capability for autonomous flight, where they can be programmed to inspect miles of natural gas pipeline or power line distribution,” he writes. “However, using drones on large linear projects poses a challenge for utilities due to current Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.”

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Inventory Measurement: Why a Site Manager Should Call in a Pro

If only managing stockpiles were as easy as managing warehouse inventory.

In warehouses, everything is boxed up and neatly coded, so auditing your inventory is a breeze.

When your inventory is a pile of coal, iron ore or aggregates of different degrees of coarseness, measurement is a massive challenge. There’s the geometric challenge of measuring the volume of a pile. There are the environmental challenges such as torrential rains. And there is the problem of having your stockpiles mix, which at scale can create problems measured in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Then, even if you have these risks under control, there’s the matter of turning those measurements into reliable business intelligence. “Historically, corporate finance and auditors have received the results of an inventory count in a spreadsheet without assurances that risks to the count have been minimized,” the team at Rock Products explains.

This, above all, is the most compelling reason any site manager should consider hiring professional teams to measure their stockpiles. Their own team has their hands full with management of the piles and with operations. Handing the actual measurement off to professional surveyors ensures the kind of accurate numbers that translate into real business intelligence.

Here’s why.


What Makes Stockpile Measurement Especially Difficult

Vulcan Materials gave a helpful presentation a few years ago at the Plantmix Asphalt Industry of Kentucky’s winter conference that outlines what makes materials stockpiles, particularly aggregates, difficult to measure at any size:

  • Stockpiles can intermix if they aren’t properly separated.
  • Unwanted material such as debris or even vegetation can contaminate the pile
  • The stockpiled material can degrade and break down over time.
  • Materials of different particle sizes naturally segregate over time.

Then, there are acts that simply fall under the umbrella of force majeure, as Reno’s Regional Transportation Commission found. In early 2017, local journalists Anjeanette Damon and Seth A. Richardson reported that a dozen stockpiles at one of the commission’s projects had been breached by flood waters, spilling soil that contained mercury into the nearby community.

“But [Regional Transportation Commission] argue that the mercury-containing soil would have been an issue in a flood event regardless of whether it had been stockpiled and said it could have been worse had the dirt not been stored in one place,” Damon and Richardson wrote.

In other words, site managers have a lot on their plates already. Folding accurate stockpile measurements into the mix is a tall order.


Until Recently, Stockpile Measurement Was an Imprecise Science

Most worksites have someone who can eyeball a stockpile of gravel or soil and ballpark its tonnage. And they’re pretty accurate, too, all things told. Pen-and-paper measurements get you a bit closer, but still in the realm of “pretty accurate.”

But while “pretty accurate” might be sufficient for a site’s operations, it’s insufficient for business intelligence, where a measurement that’s a ton or so off translates to thousands of dollars. Complicating matters are the shape and size of a given pile, both of which affect measurements.

“The volume of a pile is often calculated by taking several width and height measurements and recording the results on paper,” Jackson Beighle writes at Elecdata. “The amount of guess work and number of measurements depends on how irregular the shape. The repeatability is normally acceptable but it can be difficult to achieve good accuracy if the pile has a lot of peaks and valleys.”

Further, as we pointed out in a previous post: “Many (if not most) surveyors either ignore the irregularities on the top of the pile or simply take a few representative points and interpolate between them. The conventional technique of going around the pile with a measurement wheel and approximating the angle and height of the pile is a common example.”

Imprecise methods of measurement can thus create errors in apparent volume. That means some corrections have to be made and stats must be juked a little from one inventory to the next.

But there is one other, even bigger problem with manual measurement methods.


Manual Measurement Creates Safety Problems

It’s one thing to survey a pile from the ground and risk imprecise measurements. It’s another thing entirely for someone to walk the pile to get a better gauge of its contours and contents.

“Hiring a surveyor to walk a pile collecting topo points can be costly, dangerous, and you may not get your data back for a few days,” Chase Fly points out at Elecdata.

Different states might have different safety regulations, the team at Renishaw points out, but a goal everyone can agree on is to keep surveyors off of piles.

Technology such as drones and lidar mapping does just that. “Laser scanning eliminates the need for anyone to walk on a storage pile and can, in the case of mobile scanning, keep the survey crew safely inside a vehicle,” the team at Aggregates Manager writes. “When the project requires the use of a tripod-mounted scanner, the survey crew generally has the flexibility to select locations that are not in harm’s way.”


3 Ways Stockpile Measurement Pros Will Make Your Work Easier

If you don’t have your own commercial drones or lidar 3D mapping technology in house, you’re stuck with old school methods of stockpile measurement.

Here’s how hiring that work out will save you time, energy and money:


They will turn your piles of inventory into accurate business intelligence

The combination of aerial surveillance and 3D area mapping makes stockpile measurement much more precise than it was just a few years ago. As Drone Compares points out, companies like Datumate in Israel are getting consistent measurements with drone photogrammetry that are accurate to between 3 and 5 centimeters.

With that kind of accuracy, you have numbers that you can reliably plug into financial models so your company can make data-driven business decisions.


They can help keep your team safe

The Mine Safety and Health Administration reports that in 2015, there were seven accidents involving dozers and stockpiles — most of which involved the dozer falling into a cavity that was hidden by what appeared to be a sturdy surface.

Remote surveillance technology doesn’t eliminate the problem of dangerous stockpiles, but it does keep your team from having to climb unnecessarily on top of one.


They get the job done faster

The team at DroneDeploy has an excellent interview with Dallas VanZanten, owner of aerial mapping company Skymedia Northwest, who discusses the efficiencies that drone surveillance can create at a worksite. VanZanten specifically mentions a 30-acre site that would take a full day for ground-based surveyors to measure. With a drone, he estimates the job would get done in a half hour — and for about half the cost.

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Why 2017 Will Be a Pivotal Year for the Aggregates Industry

2017 is shaping up to be a big year in the aggregates industry.

President Donald Trump is helping drive the conditions that will make this year a busy one, but he is by no means the only industry driver. The technology our team uses — namely lidar and drones — is evolving rapidly, and industry stakeholders are bringing some substantial initiatives to Capitol Hill.

Here is a quick summary of what you need to know about the aggregates industry’s potentially huge 2017.


America’s Renewed Focus on Infrastructure

First, let’s talk money.

At the end of January, Aggregates Manager reported that a leaked document from the Trump administration indicated it was planning 50 national infrastructure projects that, all told, were valued at about $137.5 billion and could create nearly 200,000 jobs.

This was welcome news for the construction, mining and aggregates industries. “The foundation is in place for an extended recovery, with growth in public construction spending just beginning to join the growth we have been seeing in private construction,” Investor’s Business Daily quotes Vulcan Materials CEO J. Thomas Hill as saying on a Feb. 7 earnings call.

Additionally, that piece points to another $200 billion in approved public transit measures passed by voters in half of the country’s states, plus another $5 billion earmarked in California for a decade-long infrastructure package.

“To rebuild the shaky infrastructure in the U.S., rocks and concrete are exactly what is needed,” U.S. News & World reporter Simon Constable writes. “Rocks … are needed to help surface all the highways that need upgrading. Likewise, steel is needed to reinforce structures, and pipes are needed to channel water away from roads or bridges.”


Congressional Measures That Could Affect the Aggregates Industry

At the legislative level, a pair of proposals are underway that anyone in the industry should pay attention to.

In mid-February, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association asked the House to consider reforming the Clean Air Act’s standards. “Local officials need some sense of predictability in order to develop long-range transportation plans to achieve emissions reduction goals,” the ARTBA says.

“In many instances, counties are focusing on addressing existing [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] and any additional changes to the standards are akin to moving the goalposts in the middle of the game.”

In January, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) announced a minerals reform bill, the “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2017,” in the Senate and the House to make it easier for companies to access the country’s mineral wealth, Minerals Make Life reports.

“Currently, the process to obtain a mine permit can take upwards of seven to 10 years,” MML writes. “These protracted delays make it nearly impossible to secure domestic minerals in a timely and efficient manner. When compared to other countries that follow similar strict environmental standards, the U.S. falls behind in minerals development.”



New Uses for Commercial Drones and Lidar Technology

A variety of industries are all discovering how much safer and more efficient drones can make their worksites because flying craft can reach places that would have been impossible or dangerous for a person to reach.

In January, Jeremiah Karpowicz at Pit and Quarry had a great piece on the impact of drones at mining sites. “Engineers and operators in this space are using drones in conjunction with existing techniques and tools to create more powerful workflows that have made these operations safer and more efficient, and those changes are apparent everywhere you look,” Karpowicz writes.

“…The bottom line is that UAVs have given operators access that was previously unheard of, along with the ability to collect more valuable data, all while reducing the time spent gathering that info.”

He notes, however, that the regulatory environment around drones might hamper some workflows, especially in the US, where federal regulations require commercial operators to only fly their drones within their lines of sight.

Even still, stockpile measurement is becoming a killer app for drones. Wayne Grayson at Equipment World notes how Kespry’s new Drone 2 is introducing some incredible precision to worksites.

“Thanks to a new GNSS base station receiver on the ground, the Drone 2s can now deliver accuracy of 2 to 10 centimeters,” he writes. “Rather than having to set up multiple ground control points as is typically necessary with drone surveying, Kespry says the base station acts as a single survey control point.

“During a flight, images from the Drone 2s and data from the base station are collected simultaneously. … Both of these data sets are then automatically uploaded to the cloud for processing. In just a few hours the platform delivers survey-grade data.”


How Drones Fit Into the Work of Surveying Sites

Even with that kind of precision, however, drones are not going to replace other methods of surveying sites and getting measurements, Karpowicz writes in another piece at Commercial UAV News.

“Ultimately, drones are tools that allow surveying professionals to capture info in order to create and deliver products,” he says. “Whether it’s intentional or not, the hype and excitement around drones can make operators and stakeholders think a UAV is all anyone needs, no matter the industry or project. Time and time again though, the serious professionals explain how and why drones are tools, just like any other. They’re a fit for some projects and uses, and not fits for others.”


Lidar News

Meanwhile, lidar technology is finding a whole host of applications at worksites and elsewhere. Looking to the future, we see how crucial this technology is going to be for the fleets of self-driving vehicles poised to take the road in the next few years.

Because lidar is so useful at building 3D images of landscapes, it’s a perfect fit for autonomous vehicles, which “require an array of other sensors to position themselves precisely and maintain awareness of nearby pedestrians, vehicles and other objects,” Alex Webb at Bloomberg writes.

And currently, Google company Waymo is suing Uber over claims that the latter stole the former’s lidar technology. Keep an eye out as this battle unfolds. We’ll touch on some other developments in the autonomous vehicle universe in just a moment.

But first, a look to the past. Brigit Katz has an excellent piece at Smithsonian Magazine describing how archaeologists are also using lidar tech to uncover details of lost civilizations. In the jungles of Guatemala, Katz writes, researchers have discovered a vast network of roads — at least 17 — built by the ancient Maya.



Self-Driving Vehicles at Worksites

As welcome as self-driving cars will be to millions of commuters, this technology might have the biggest impact on industry.

At the end of February, European trucking industry supplier ZF announced the launch of its ProAI self-driving system, Monitor Daily reports. This system, which is set to go to market in 2018, is designed to fit both passenger and commercial vehicles that include forklifts and materials-handling vehicles, the piece says.

In other words, the big trucks hauling materials to and from work sites will soon be driven by robots. That translates to huge costs savings for trucking companies, for whom drivers are roughly a third of operating costs, Chris O’Brien writes at

“IHS Automotive analysts estimate that annual sales of autonomous heavy-duty trucks could reach 600,000 units annually by 2035, beginning with several thousand deployed in 2020,” O’Brien writes.

“In a study released last summer, McKinsey & Company projected that by 2025, at least one of every three new heavy trucks will have high-level automation technology, which will be a big factor in the trucking industry seeing revenues increase 50 percent over the next decade.”

At the macroeconomic level, this could create seismic changes. For starters, driverless vehicles aren’t limited by a person’s need to sleep, so the current rules that limit a long-haul driver’s daily travel time to 11 hours won’t apply, says Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono.

“Therefore, a Level 5 truck could cover more mileage, haul more freight and ultimately generate more revenue per day than a truck driven by a human,” Vantuono writes. “Trucking, which has lost market share on longer hauls in recent years to railroad intermodal service, could become more competitive again.”

Back at the worksite, driverless technology is already making inroads. Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals currently use self-driving vehicles, Cowen and Company Vice President Novid Rassouli tells Vantuono, and these companies have already seen productivity gains as a result.

“The financial and safety benefits are compelling,” Rassouli says. “Rio Tinto ex-CEO Andrew Harding stated that the company’s autonomous fleet outperforms a manned fleet by an average of 12%, due to the elimination of required breaks, absenteeism and shift changes. Fortescue Metals has utilized driverless truck technology at its Solomon Hub mines in Western Australia since 2013 and claims to have seen a 20% productivity gain.”

Images by: ©1971yes/123RF Stock Photo, ©lenor/123RF Stock Photo, ©buhanovskiy/123RF Stock Photo

5 Creative Ways Developers Have Given New Lives to Old Landfills



Landfill development projects can be excellent ways to turn solid waste disposal sites into spaces that serve a whole new purpose — the site of a new building or green space, for example.

But landfill development is a much trickier process than it might seem, and many of the challenges inherent in these projects stem from the waste itself. As Green Building Advisor points out:

  • solid waste creates unstable foundations for larger developments,
  • and leachate can ruin the soil or groundwater around a site if it isn’t properly contained.

Still, these are engineering problems, not deal-breakers. More than anything, landfill developers and community stakeholders simply need patience with these projects. “I always tell my clients they need to anticipate a very lengthy timeframe for getting the approvals needed,” Anna Amarandos, an attorney at Rutan & Tucker in California who specializes in environmental law, tells ConstructionDIVE.

There are scores of examples all around the United States of landfills that have been recycled and given new life. Here are five examples of what repurposed landfills have become in their new lives.


Solar Parks

What better way to repurpose an old waste site than to turn it into a renewable energy power station by covering it in solar arrays? Several cities in the United States are exploring this option right now.

In Portland, Maine, the city council passed a unanimous resolution in September to build one of the larger municipal solar arrays in the state on top of its old Ocean Avenue landfill, Dennis Hoey at the Portland Press Herald reports.

According to Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, the project would reduce the city’s electricity dependence on fossil fuel by 25 percent over the next decade, and it wouldn’t cost the city much money at all, only about $150,000 over the project’s first six years.

Bangor City Council Member Sean Faircloth says the 660 kilowatt array will generate enough electricity to power Portland’s city hall.

Down in Charlotte, North Carolina, the city council approved a lease in November that would rent 22 acres of long-unused landfill space to a solar company, Bruce Henderson at The Charlotte Observer reports.

“The company that leased part of the Statesville Road landfill, Momentum Solar LLC, will spend a year on further study of the site’s suitability for solar energy,” Henderson writes. “Permitting and other details could add years more to it development, but Momentum believes the site could support a 2- or 3- megawatt system. That output would be enough to supply 360 to 540 homes for a year.”


Golf Courses

Developers have long recognized that the vast, rolling landscapes they can build on top of old landfill sites are perfect for golf courses. Golf Vacation Insider has a piece on various sites that were reclaimed and repurposed as golf courses, including the Park Ridge golf course in Lake Worth, Florida.

“Thinking about the Palm Beach area conjures visions of blue ocean water, palm trees and amazing wealth,” the piece reads. “So it’s strange that one of the area’s best public golf courses is a ‘brownfields’ (former landfill) course.”

A few other such brownfields courses include


Park Spaces

Green spaces don’t need to be groomed for golfers, exclusively. Many excellent parks have been built on top of old landfills, too, providing recreational options to city residents all around the country.

Steve Scauzillo at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in October to accept a report that included a plan to build a park on top of the Puente Hills Landfill in East LA. That plan calls for the construction of “trails and other amenities such as a giant slide, a gondola ride taking visitors to the top and back, an amphitheater, a zip line, stair climbs and a bicycle skills course,” Scauzillo writes.

And up in the Bay Area, the city of Berkeley has long enjoyed its Cesar Chavez waterfront park, built in 1991 on top of a peninsular landfill that jutted out into the bay. Now, it’s a place where residents can take in some pretty breathtaking views, and it’s also the site of an annual kite festival, as featured in Atlas Obscura.


Retail Centers

At sites where the ground can be stabilized sufficiently to support large construction works, some developers have found old landfills can become excellent commercial areas.

In Carson, California, for example, city authorities had marked a former landfill site as a place that could support an NFL-sized football stadium, if the Raiders or Chargers were to relocate to the LA area.

When the NFL passed, Sandy Mazza at the Daily Breeze reports, the city council voted to begin negotiations for turning part of the 157-acre site into an upscale outlet mall.

“[Macerich Real Estate Co., the developer] wants to erect a 500,000-square-foot outlet center with 150 high-end stores that would take up a fourth of the site,” Mazza says. “Macerich promised to front the city $1 million to cover fees for preparing the documents to pass over control of the land, and $250,000 of that is slated to go into the city’s community nonprofit fund.”

She also reports that the city estimates the site would generate $4 million annually from sales taxes.


Wildlife Conservation Sites

Dora Chi, writing for the National Audubon Society, has an excellent piece on the Rio Salado Restoration Habitat in Phoenix, a 600-acre former landfill, now protected land, that is once again providing a home to native burrowing owls, whose communities were uprooted as Phoenix grew rapidly in the 20th Century.

Today, the city is encouraging all citizens to build makeshift burrows for these owls, and to note any sightings on a specially designed smartphone app so local scientists can track the species’ repopulation.

These owls aren’t the only species returning to their native habitats thanks to the restoration project. Officials also report that monarch butterfly populations have been growing year-after-year since 2011, taking refuge in the cottonwood and willow trees when Phoenix’s summer heat reaches triple digits.
images by: David Ragusa, Viktor Kiryanov, Gerry Roarty