Guide to Drone Series: What Type of Analysis Will You Perform?

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Use Technology to Avoid Common Stockpile Measuring Mistakes

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By Lauren Elmore. Published in Aggregates Manager.

Stockpile measurements are an integral part of running a successful aggregates business. Operating efficiency and profits depend on stockpile measurements, yet many aggregates operations are guilty of making numerous common mistakes.

Leaders in the aggregates industry know their business, but they don’t generally know the ins and outs of the technology used to measure it. Gathering data can be extremely complex, and a skilled professional can find and address issues in order to deliver the best results possible. To keep everything moving forward in an organization, working with a service company is one of the most effective solutions for gathering and processing data into a usable form.

Stockpile measurements aren’t 100 percent perfect, but operators should focus on making accuracy one of their top priorities. With a more refined picture of stockpiles, an operator can base decisions on sound data instead of deceptive estimates, improving efficiency and boosting profit margins. To solve some of the most common measurement problems, keep the following strategies in mind.

1. Choose the right technology for your needs.

To manage resources, an operator has to measure them accurately. Depending on the types of technologies used, operations are often left with incomplete data sets. They may not be able to measure the entire pile, which means they need to make assumptions that will affect decisions down the road.

The best way to obtain accurate measurements is to use the right mix of technology. For most sites, a drone or a mix of terrestrial LIDAR and drones will be a good mix. However, if the operator has a very large site (more than 5,000 acres), aircraft-based LIDAR or photogrammetry may be a good option to collect accurate data.

2. Measure consistently.

Infrequent measurements that are only made once or twice per year can also contribute to errors in inventory, and these mistakes will impact operations and sales.

In the aggregates industry, quarries and yards are dynamic environments. Huge machines are capable of moving thousands of tons of material in a single day. Over the course of weeks and months, entire landscapes can change, rendering previous measurements obsolete.

Quarterly or monthly measurements are a good starting point for most operations. Some operations that move a lot of material may need to measure as frequently as weekly in order to obtain a strong understanding of the material they have on the ground.

3. Make adjustments instead of corrections.

Many operations simply correct numbers when they find an inconsistency in measurements. While updating the books to reflect reality is a necessary step, it also fails to take into account the source of the problem.

Instead, adjustments must be made to determine why numbers are off so that the inconsistency doesn’t continue to manifest itself. Density numbers are a frequent source of error — if the density is off by even a tenth of a ton per cubic yard, the inventory measurement may be woefully inaccurate.

Data is revolutionizing our world, and the aggregates industry is no different. Innovative measurement techniques have led to improvements in safety, accuracy, and affordability, encouraging industry leaders to view consistent stockpile measurements as an investment instead of a cost. Accurate measurements give organizations the confidence to make good decisions, ultimately leading to better business outcomes.


The Solution is Sky High

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By Mark S. Kuhar. Published in Rock Products.

ROGERS GROUP EMBRACES TECHNOLOGICAL EFFICIENCY WITH FIRMATEK’S ENTERPRISE DRONE SOLUTIONS.

Rogers Group Inc. is the seventh largest producer of crushed stone in the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Headquartered in Nashville, Rogers Group has quarry operations across the Midwest and Southern states.

Rogers Group began using San Antonio-headquartered Firmatek for annual inventory measurements in 2017, and it has since rolled out an Enterprise Drone Solutions Program in partnership with the company.

Firmatek’s technology has given Rogers Group a solution to many inventory management problems, thus allowing the company to focus its time and effort in other areas of its operations. The approach to adapting new technology has also improved the company’s culture of innovation.

Traditional Measurement

Prior to working with Firmatek in 2017, Rogers Group managed its inventory with annual flyovers in combination with proper belt scale and loadout scale calibrations. While that may have kept them in the ballpark, most day-to-day decisions were based off of visual inspections. While this was a valid approach years ago, technology now enables companies like Rogers Group to get accurate inventory numbers on a much more frequent basis.

The goal is to have the products that customers need, when they need them. However, with old technology and infrequent measurements, it is a guessing game. Newer technology can provide a cost-effective way to have better business intelligence on which to base decisions.

Inventory numbers are critical to being an effective supplier of aggregates, as with all commodities. It is important for those making decisions to have an accurate inventory number on which they can base their decisions. Key decisions like, what products to produce and what the balance of products should be in a market area, are critical to maintaining relationships and preferred supplier status in the marketplace.

Rogers Group Out in Front

While many companies in the industry have been exploring drone solutions for inventory measurement and management, Rogers Group is among the first to successfully implement an enterprise-wide program.

Rogers Group partnered with Firmatek to tackle this program. Internally, Rogers Group has committed to improving their technological efficiencies. Their initial focus was in the inventory management sector.

“Rogers Group has always utilized an aerial solution for inventory, but not the management piece,” said Jared Nix, , director of corporate quality control for Rogers Group. “We needed the capability to acquire real-time measurement at the frequency that works best for us. Drones have given us that option.”

Firmatek worked with Rogers Group to develop an enterprise program that worked for them. The two worked together to develop custom forms, emails and approval processes to meet all of Rogers Groups internal requirements and create an easy and efficient process in order to promote adoption.

At Rogers Group, you need approval from the strategic market area vice president and the director of corporate quality. Rogers Group also has a Risk Management department that gets a form from Firmatek so that they can track the drones and manage their risk easily. That’s the administrative side. There is also an onboarding and training process. Firmatek worked with another provider to run a two-day training session to get a number of pilots up and running quickly.

“Drones fit in our strategy by being another tool for our toolbox of continuous process improvement,” Nix said. “Technology, especially in our industry, has and continues to rapidly evolve over the years. We do our best to stay on the cutting edge and I feel that drone use helps maintain that innovative culture.”

Rogers Group currently has about 15 pilots utilizing 11 drones across the company. Once they have their FAA Part 107 license, Firmatek ships them a drone and they start flying when it is convenient.

Rogers Group requests everything from inventory measurements to ortho photos to pit progressions. Instead of one measurement a year, they are measuring monthly. These frequent measurements help keep the inventory numbers accurate throughout the year and enable them to make more informed business decisions.

“We follow all FAA regulations regarding airspace and flight safety,” Nix said. “We also respect our neighbor’ privacy and confine the flight parameters to our own property. However, we have also provided the drone service to the community during fundraisers and other community outreach activities.”

Why Firmatek

There are a number of drone providers offering products and services to the aggregates industry. Rogers Group chose Firmatek because Firmatek’s innovative, forward-thinking approach to technology complimented its own ideas.

In addition, “It’s simple, fast, accurate, accommodating and most importantly exhaustive,” Nix said. “Firmatek refuses to consider a project deliverable complete until we are completely satisfied with the end product.”

The company has a unique history. Founded in 1988, Firmatek pioneered the use of lasers to measure stockpiles. Since then, it has continued to bring new technology into the aggregate mining industry, revolutionizing the way data is captured and analysis and insights are provided to the industry. In addition to introducing laser measurement to the industry, the company also pioneered mobile LiDAR as a tool to capture data. 

With that history of innovation, Firmatek continues that legacy today. They are a national leader in drone solutions for the aggregate mining industry, providing enterprise drone solutions to the largest producers in the country. Firmatek also recently launched their software development department, showing their continued commitment to offering the industry better tools and ways to visualize their data and gain insights and business intelligence from the data.

New Technology

Rogers Group recognizes the importance of embracing technology in this industry, and the company is committed to improving its use and commitment to technological efficiency. The company knows that technology will continue to impact its work, and will see that impact growing exponentially.

The aggregate industry is constantly evolving, demanding more from technology. For example, the workforce is changing, demanding industry-wide innovation, and the speed of information availability is increasing, demanding more from technology.

Rogers Group is excited about the new opportunities that drone technology brings to their organization regarding mine planning, construction and even training. Firmatek is working with Rogers Group to continue to develop new applications and ways to incorporate drones into their operations.

“Firmatek is a service organization, and we enjoy partnering with clients to find solutions,” said Lauren Elmore, president of Firmatek. “In fact, in September we worked with two clients, including Rogers Group, doing on-site presentations and working sessions to continue to develop new solutions and educate the organizations about the technology and how to use it effectively.”

So what does the future hold?

“The sky is the limit, pun intended,” Nix said. “One of the strongest appeals to me for drone use is its untapped potential. I am constantly being asked by folks within Rogers Group, ‘can we use the drone for this, or for that?’”

And almost every time the “this” is a new concept and the answer ends up being, “yes.”

What Growth in the Drone Industry Means for Firmatek for 2019

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By Andrew Maximow, Chief Drone Officer.

What does “growth in the drone industry” mean to Firmatek in 2019?

The challenge for measuring growth in the drone industry, like many nascent technologies, is identifying what to measure and how to quantify.  This is especially true in the commercial/enterprise sector where the only available metrics are the number of Part-107 licenses being issued and to some degree, the number of drones being shipped.  If the rate of new Part-107 licenses being issued is declining, does that mean that overall growth in the drone industry is declining? At Firmatek, we don’t believe that is the case.

While the consumer drone market is mature and possibly saturated, we believe that mass adoption for commercial/enterprise applications is still ahead of us. In 2019, there will be a gradual transition from early adopters to an early majority, at least in the industries that we support.  While we experienced a major increase in Part-107 licenses, pilots, and drones in 2018, the key observation was a greater utilization of those pilots and drones in terms of frequency and demand for incremental value-added deliverables. The drones that were deployed were used more often and more creatively to collect different types of data.  The consensus among our clients is, “You can’t manage it if you can’t measure it.” Thereby driving the demand for data analysis from an annual/quarterly auditing requirement to a monthly and weekly inventory management best practice. The regular use of drones for 3D mapping prompted the question, “What else can I use my drone for?” This unlocks a plethora of additional use-cases including site planning, change detection, equipment monitoring, and underground inspection, just to name a few. In 2019, we see this trend catching on with the early majority of customers driving the demand for more data analysis. This in turn will drive additional demand for pilots and drones.

How does Firmatek plan to facilitate pent up demand and drive growth in the drone industry?  

Our plan is 3-fold:

1) Services-led, technology-enabled approach.  

 Drone technology in the commercial/enterprise sector is still in the nascent stage with new innovation in drone hardware, software, systems, and analytics being developed and introduced at a rapid pace. Early adopters and the early majority of clients will need guidance and help to implement these technologies in a meaningful way that helps solve real-world business problems.

2) Put the tools in the hands of our clients.  

It is becoming easier and easier to fly missions and collect data with basic drones.  Enabling clients to plan missions, fly, and collect data empowers them to fly where ever, when ever, and as often as they like.  This drives frequency and the demand for more data analytics.

3) Drive incremental value-added services.  

Drone manufacturers are responding to the needs of commercial/enterprise clients with new types of sensors, integrated RTK/PPK platforms, and new way of analyzing data. During 2019, Firmatek will be actively working on testing new drones, new sensors, and software in addition to the deliverables generated by 3D mapping requirements.

Firmatek will continue as a trusted advisor to its clients with service as a priority and technology as an enabler towards providing insights and building business intelligence.  If we do that well and guide our clients through the complexities of the technology, the growth will come.

Firmatek Transforms Drone Data into Insights in the Aggregate Mining Industry

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By: Jeremiah Karpowicz. Published in UAV Commercial News. Q&A with Firmatek president, Lauren Elmore.

Being able to transform drone data into actionable insights that can drive business decisions is becoming more and more of a priority for operators of all types. After all, it’s easier than ever to send a drone into the air to gather information, but what’s being done with that data after the flight is complete? How is that information being integrated into or impacting an established workflow? Most users understand that drones can make a given task faster, cheaper or safer, but how are those efficiencies quantified?

At DJI AirWorks 2018, Firmatek President Lauren Elmore explored all of these topics in great detail during her Transform Site Data into Powerful Insights with Drone Technology presentation. Since her company delivers accurate and measurable data to assist their clients in effectively managing their business, her insights around these topics were as powerful and they were informative. They’re just part of the reason that Firmatek is currently servicing 14 of the top 15 aggregate producers.

During her presentation, Lauren shared numerous experiences from the aggregate mining industry, showcased how one of their clients embraced new technology to increase operational efficiency and keep their employees safe, and explored exactly how Firmatek has been able to transform data into insights. Her presentation was one of the best I’ve seen around defining this critical but sometimes amorphous topic, and it’s why I wanted to detail and more fully explore much of what she laid out in the interview below.

Jeremiah Karpowicz: As the President of Firmatek, you’ve helped to enable your company’s transition from a laser scanning company into a leader in drone solutions for aggregate mining. What can you tell us about when and how you recognized this need for transformation and how drones became a part of it?

Lauren Elmore: We saw that the change was coming, but we didn’t necessarily recognize it would happen so quickly.

In late 2014 we began learning about and getting involved in the drone industry. We recognized in early 2015 that there were a lot of new competitors and clients were starting to ask about a drone option. That’s when we really started ramping up our R&D on the different technology options at that point and started thinking through a new business model for drone technology.

Q: What was the most difficult aspect of this transition?

There have been a number of challenges as we started our drone program from scratch. One has been the technology itself.

Initially, the drones that were capturing quality data were at a price point that was too expensive and complicated for many of our clients. Because we are experts in and understand geospatial data, we were not willing to give something to our clients that was not going to get them the accurate information that they needed. We took our time, worked with a lot of vendors and a lot of clients. Eventually, the technology tools became available to deliver a great solution to our clients and for our team to use in the field. We believe in giving our clients supreme confidence and so we needed to feel confident internally with the repeatability of the results.

Q: Part of that transition undoubtedly involved realizing that the position of “chief drone officer” was a necessary one for your company, and that’s a made a big difference for you. How has the insight and perspective of a CDO impacted the conversations you’re able to have with clients and even internally?  

The decision to hire a CDO was an important one for us. We knew we were viewed as a laser company not likely to “make it” in this new world of drones. We needed a drone industry insider to help us break into the drone world. We needed to show we were a player and intend to stay. But more than that, we knew we needed someone who could help us stay on the forefront of drone technology, who knew people in the drone industry, and who could help us become thought leaders.

It has been very helpful with our clients to be able to bring in a “drone” expert to our conversations with clients. Our CDO is constantly working on finding new technology, whether it’s new sensors or drones, to bring to our clients as options. If a client has a question about a use case, he will dig in and see how we can do it, what technology we need to serve the client, and figure out where else we may be able to use similar ideas with other clients.

Internally, we are able to have more informed discussions and stay up on the new tools available to us. It helps us keep pushing the envelope and continuing to develop new solutions for clients.

Q: Your clients are clearly having success, as Turner Mining recently announced how they were able to streamline billing and reconciliation. Has it made a bigger impact for management (in terms of the bottom line) or for production (in terms of making people’s job easier)?   

I think the bigger impact is with management. The drone solutions are helping managers make better decisions because they have better information. They are building their understanding of the operation each time they fly (building their business intelligence), and using this to make their decisions.

That said, there is certainly a production impact as well. They don’t have to stop production to get a survey done and it is extremely easy for the operations guys to fly the drone.

Q: At AirWorks 2018, I thought your presentation, “Transform Site Data into Powerful Insights with Drone Technology” was notable for several reasons. Are there any commonalities when it comes to workflow transformations that span a variety of client deliverables which range from point clouds to quarry mapping to aerial ortho images? 

Across all our clients and deliverables, we strive to give clients more than just data. Sometimes, they do just want data, so a point cloud or ortho image isn’t necessarily “transformed” but the general concept is that it across our deliverables to clients we give them more than a number or data. We provide them with confidence and key insights so that they can make critical business decisions.

Q: Your presentation had a whole section titled “Transforming Data into Insights”, and that’s something I want to break down with you. This is a concept I’ve been focused on lately, but it’s often so amorphous. How do you approach getting specific with it in a meaningful way to clients and potential clients? 

I agree that this is a difficult topic. We try to focus on a couple of key things.

First, we focus on how they can use the information that we give them. We like to show some case studies like the Turner Mining Group one, or the general ROI on inventory management. We show clients that what they get from us are insights that they can use, not a tool or way to do analysis themselves.

We also try and show that there are those 4 pieces to the process (data capture, data processing, insights, business intelligence). Often we see clients think that the data processing piece is the end that it is just a number or a picture that they need. We try to cast the vision for what could be if we take it the next two steps.

A great example of the insights instead of just data is that we had a client recently who for the past few years would get one inventory measurement a year and was always taking a huge write-off. For the past 5 quarters they’ve been doing a combination of monthly and quarterly measurements, this year their write-off will be just 1%.

Q: Can you walk us through what it means to go from data capture to business intelligence? What are the biggest challenges that are inherent in this process? 

It all starts with good data. The data collection process and tools are the critical first step.

However, I think where the biggest challenge comes in is that many people stop after getting processed data. They get a basic number or an image and think that is all they can get from a drone solution. So having the expertise and the tools to take it a step further can help get actual insights from the data. We deliver clients key operational metrics that they can then go apply in their business decision-making.

Q: That key insight phase seems especially critical, but the trouble there relates to everyone having or needing to gather a different key insight. How have you been able to help clients shape what kind of insight they should be gathering? As you mentioned during the presentation, it doesn’t make sense to gather this data if it doesn’t lead to a change in process or procedure, does it? 

There are a number of key insights in particular industries, but we agree that especially across industries, everyone needs something different. We like to partner with clients to figure out what will be most useful for them and help them develop what those insights that they need really are.

Turner Mining was a good example of how we helped them shape what they could do with it. We worked with them before drones, but we tapped into some of their key issues around disputes on how much was moved and presented a drone solution to help solve that problem.

Similarly, we worked with landfills to understand the key drivers of their financial success and regulatory restrictions (airspace and density). Then we worked with them to develop the best ways to show those things to them and help them use the deliverable to make better decisions.

Q: What are some examples of the business intelligence you’ve seen companies create/enable/utilize?

Many of those distinctions are spelled out in our Turner Mining case study, but to give you one example, Turner helped themselves and their clients streamline the billing and reconciliation process by using Firmatek’s Drone Solutions. Instead of time consuming and costly disputes about how much volume was moved, they have a recognized third-party number every time.

We’ve seen incredible differences for clients working with or in landfills as well though. When a landfill is closing a cell, they will request frequent deliverables from us, usually monthly. So we help them closely monitor the closing of the cell so that they can get the most value from it. Historically, they would have just gone based on plans and an annual survey. Landfill clients that are closing a cell now take the information we are giving them and they make adjustments to when they will move into the new cell (potentially delaying large capital expenditures) and increasing the life of the landfill.

Q: How do you explain the difference between measurement and management? 

Measurement is the number, often the volume. You certainly have to start here. If you measure it, you can manage it.

In order to manage, you need to bring in more data, and ultimately start making decisions. So first, we bring in information like the types of material. Sometimes we bring in permanent bases to get to a total inventory number. With many clients that are having trouble with their inventories, we walk through the results with them and look for patterns. We help them analyze what the issue might be, so that they can make changes in their operation.

The major difference is that measurement is simply a number. Management requires analysis and decision-making.

Q: When it comes to ROI, we’re talking about a measurable that can vary depending on the company and application, but you mentioned your work with an aggregate company that went from writing off $500K to now only writing down $100K thanks to changing their inventory measurement process from annual to monthly. What can you say about the process this company went through in order to quantify this result?

The quantifying was based on the book value of their inventory vs what the annual measurement said. The more challenging part was what they went through during the year to make sure that their numbers stayed in line. This is where the frequent measurements helped them keep their books in line throughout the year. They didn’t have to have their assumptions compounding upon one another month after month, but rather would have a check and make operational and assumption adjustments on a monthly basis.

Q: How typical of a result do you think this is? Should companies go into a technology adoption process with expectations around percentages and ROI?

I think for many aggregate companies who are measuring only on an annual basis and using assumptions throughout the year, this is a fairly typical result. The degree will vary, but I think most will find significant savings and a high ROI.

I also think that they should consider the ROI of a new technology adoption. We often see clients simply caring about the cost of the technology and not looking at the bigger picture of what they can save if they use it. We all do this to a certain extent when we look to buy something new. However, it is especially prevalent in something like stockpile measurement because of the perception that it is a necessary evil for many as well as a big change. So it’s important to show the value they can get outside of just a stockpile number that they have to turn over to corporate.

Q: If I’m someone that believes drones and the data they gather can create value for my operation, but I have concerns that I’d be able to effectively work through the key insights and business intelligence steps of your process, what would you tell me? 

Firmatek will help you work through that. We aim to be trusted advisors to our clients. So we can offer suggestions on how to use the information and insights most effectively.

It’s not about the Tech: What Matters is Business Intelligence

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It’s not about the drone or the software platform, what really matters is business intelligence.

-Lauren Elmore, President of Firmatek

As drone and related software technology have continued to advance over the last several years, the focus has largely been on those tools. And that’s what they are: tools. There are a wider range of drones that can collect good quality data. Some of them are extremely complex and expensive, and they have a variety of sensors from Lidar to cameras to thermal. Others are fairly inexpensive, and with the right procedures, they get the job done as well. The same is true on the software sides. Some software and software platforms are expensive and include lots of bells and whistles, while others just give basic information.

With so many options, and more every year being developed, how do you choose? Do you choose to buy access to a platform? Do you choose to buy your own drone? Do you outsource it all? Do you internalize it all? Do you do some combination of all these things? What is the best technology to implement? How will you keep up with it?

These are all good questions. But they are missing a key point. Why do you actually want a drone or a software platform? So often we start with the “what” when we really need to start with the “why.” Hopefully, your answer to that involves getting insights and improving your business intelligence. We believe that your ever-changing environments have dramatic impacts on the success of your operation and your ability to make decisions. You need more than just data to improve your operation and make more informed decisions. Having really cool, fancy tools doesn’t actually give you more than data. They are just tools. But something needs to happen after you get information in order for it to actually make a positive impact on your operation and organization.

At Firmatek, we talk a lot about providing insights to our clients. We want to give you more than just another data point. We work with clients to help them understand the data and the insights that they receive from us. Collecting and processing data is getting easier and easier as technology advances, but something still has to be done with that data. We need to take it and turn it into something that you can use. That’s why we do more than give you a volume number. We help you see changes over time, know what you have left in your reserves, and how much inventory you have on the ground.

However, the next step is up to you. You have to take the insights and use them in your business. We have seen clients with the insights to transform their business at their fingertips, yet not use them. One client recently changed behavior from just receiving the insights to putting them to work. He drastically improved his operation by choosing to take the insights we were providing him and use them to improve his level of understanding of the operations and update his decision-making.

This particular client had been writing off around $3 million a year in inventory across his area. While he had been doing some measurement of the inventory – once or twice a year – he had not been doing much management of the inventory. Measurement is just data. Management occurs when you take the data, analyze it, get insights from it, and then apply those insights.

The client started doing more frequent measurements, but more importantly, he started using the insights to increase his business intelligence. Then, he started changing the way he was operating.

He ended up writing off less than $175,000 this year, making the area profitable for the first time in over 10 years.

There’s a difference between measurement and management. Frequent measurements help improve your inventory management, but it is important to apply the insights and make changes to your operation in order to improve profitability. When you do that, you can see impressive improvements in operational efficiencies and profitability.

All these tools that we have today make it much easier to get the insights you need to improve your operational efficiencies and make your operation more profitable. But the tool itself will not solve your problems. You need to get more than data from your tools. You need to use the insights that you receive.

It’s about your business intelligence. It’s about using that business intelligence in your operation. That is what is going to make the difference for you.

3 Ways Technology Can Combat Pipeline Challenges for the Energy Sector

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Inventory Issues: Doing the Same Thing Expecting Different Results

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3 Tips To Make Your Month End Inventories Successful

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