Freeport-McMoRan’s Jose Hernandez: Mitigating risk and reaping benefits with UAS

By Chantal Hortop

As new applications of various technologies are introduced into the mining industry, removing the human element from various aspects of the operations is a recurring theme. Implementing unmanned aerial systems (UAS) falls under this category. Jose Hernandez, Senior Engineer at Freeport-McMoRan, who will be giving a presentation on UAS at the upcoming GMG Tucson Forum, places the improvements in safety at the forefront of the benefits, but he and his team have also done the work to show how significantly these systems can also improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Hernandez says that Freeport-McMoRan began their own transition to using UAS by diligently working to “develop the business cases, inform, train and then in a systematic approach deploy these systems. As a result, the UAS Program has been welcomed by our stakeholders because we have been able to demonstrate the value and benefits of these systems.” He notes that mining operations that implement UAS could expect benefits such as reduced human exposure to risks and hazards, improved data collection processes (which in turn allow stakeholders to make better business decisions), and the ability to gather information that was previously unavailable through improved accuracy and resolution.

These benefits are already being seen with the current applications, which include various applications of videography; using UAS in combination with other technologies to survey and record measurements of various sites; and inspecting elements such as infrastructure, highwalls, and confined space areas. Hernandez notes that the potential for broadening the technology’s uses is certain. “As the technology moves forward, more and more applications are being deployed.” He notes that this ever-increasing expansion can create difficulty in “prioritizing the diverse applications of the technology to the industry.”

Other challenges are related to government requirements, Hernandez says. “Current FAA drone regulations are heavily focused on safe operations in our national airspace; it also presents challenges to leverage the full capabilities of the UAS in mining operations, thus limiting the use and benefits that may be attained.” These matters, however, have not diminished the undeniable safety and efficiency benefits of these systems.

Hernandez hopes that those in attendance will come away with a greater understanding of how UAS could benefit their operations. “It is not about the latest technology or the coolest gadget; it is about how you can develop a systematic and sustainable program to create value to all customers and stakeholders.”

Jose Hernandez will be presenting on “The Role of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in Mining” at the GMG Forum in Tucson, Arizona on May 22-23.

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