Following his recent appointment to Senior Explosives Engineer, Dan Richards talks to Onsite about the end-to-end drone management solution ‘Dronedesk’, a web platform he’s recently brought into EPC-UK and EPC Metrics’ digital toolkit to increase productivity, safety and speed:
“Our use of drone technology in the quarry has grown significantly in recent years,” Dan explains, “safely assisting us in gathering data for the blast design process or profiling and helping us to perform whole quarry mapping flights.
“EPC-UK began flying drones in 2017, with just a couple of trained pilots at the controls. In that year our own Consultant Explosives Engineer and Technical Director of EPC Metrics, Dr. Rob Farnfield – who is also an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Quarrying and a Member of the International Society of Explosives Engineers – had his paper ‘Cloud Scanning and Photogrammetry – A Comparison of Blast Face Surveying Techniques’, internationally recognised at EFEE 2017. His research on the technology’s accuracy and its subsequent progression has been so enabling that we now have over 30 pilots within the team, together flying in the region of 30 drones to assist our operations.”
“As always, safety comes first and foremost at EPC-UK,” Dan says, “so we strictly adhere to the Civil Aviation Authority’s flight regulations, just as a commercial operator flying a plane would. We track and store data gathered from our drones in accordance with our Civil Aviation Authority granted Operational Authorisation, demonstrating with integrity that we are meeting legal regulations.
“Before bringing Dronedesk on board, we logged and managed our flight data using spread sheets and collaborative platforms, however the continuous growth of our drone operations meant we needed a more suitable solution, capable of gathering a greater level of data oversight.
“Recommended and reputable, the Dronedesk web platform allows us to record our drone and battery assets, track and report our programme of maintenance, record our pilot data – including certifications, incidents and flight hours, provide airspace and proximity intelligence and assist with our flight planning, logging and data reporting.”
“All our existing data has been successfully transferred to the new platform and the pilot team have access to its information. Trialled at the end of 2023, the technology went live on the 1st of January this year. Already our drone flight processes have been streamlined, made accessible for all and are more efficient; providing greater visibility of our drone fleet and halving administration time so we can spend more hours flying, and less filling out the ‘paperwork’.”
Commenting on EPC-UK’s decision to use the software, Dronedesk’s Founder, Dorian Ellis says: “We were delighted when EPC-UK chose Dronedesk to help manage the team’s drone operations more efficiently and effectively. We have clients in every conceivable domain, but EPC-UK is the first that operates drones in the drilling & blasting industry. As part of the onboarding process, we worked closely with Dan to ensure Dronedesk met EPC-UK’s needs and that the software would support operational procedures and comply with CAA authorisations. We even delivered some quick tweaks to the application, based on the EPC-UK pilots’ valuable feedback.”
“The tweaks Dorian added, together with the software’s built in safety tools, are excellent and help to meet EPC-UK’s criteria of putting safety first,” Dan continues. “The software provides links to alert the military if we’re operating in low flying areas, and the rare occurrence of a ‘fly away’ drone incident can be safely managed through the platform’s ability to highlight sensitive areas within the drone’s vicinity. By providing relevant phone numbers too, we’re able to communicate quickly with facilities in the area before the drone has flown even 500m. Furthermore, at the click of a button, Dronedesk will post the team’s planned flight area and mission times to a live map used by other drone pilots called Drone Assist. This provides us with shared sight of where we are operating, helping to deconflict the airspace or supporting us in changing our flight plans if appropriate. Whilst the tools aren’t necessarily required for regulations, they do go beyond our expectations and allow us to perform safely and respectfully – the EPC way.”
“In addition,” Dan adds, “we can track users’ flight times and, through a teamwork approach, support our pilots as they maximise their competencies. Having this oversight assists with our maintenance scheduling, which in turn helps to keep the drones performing efficiently. Being able to prolong the overall life of the drones adds to our sustainability remit. Importantly too, the software is a useful tool within the EPC-UK’s drone replacement programme, which to reduce safety incidents in harsh operational environments ensures we phase a drone ‘out of action’ following a predetermined number of flight hours and replace it with the latest model.”
“Since going live with Dronedesk, we’ve been able to record instantly accessible, relevant data gathered from 77 customer locations through 122 separate flights. It’s a great bit of kit and I look forward to realising its continued potential and subsequent results as our drone operations further evolve.”
EPC-UK’s SPIRIT values
Safety, Passion, Integrity, Respect, Innovation and Teamwork.