Lehigh Hanson quarry utilizes drone for conveyor project

By |  August 28, 2017

For the past two years, Lehigh Hanson has been constructing a 4.5-mile overland belt conveyor between a quarry it’s developing in New Windsor, Maryland, and its cement plant in Union Bridge, Maryland.

“Our existing quarry in Union Bridge is going to be extinguished sometime in 2020,” says Kent Martin, plant manager of the north region at Lehigh Hanson. “Back in the 1950s, Lehigh Hanson began purchasing property over at New Windsor, and over the last 10 years we began to develop the mine.”

In order to transport limestone from the New Windsor quarry to the Union Bridge cement plant, Lehigh Hanson opted to use a horizontal-curved trough conveyor from Beumer Group to connect the two sites. The conveyor path stretches across farmland, a stream and some residential areas, Martin says.

Lehigh Hanson knew it had to educate community members about the construction of a project of this size, and a DJI Phantom drone offered the producer a simple way to show the community its plans for the project and provide updates throughout the construction process.

“Our lab initially bought the DJI Phantom to investigate some areas we can’t reach at the plant,” says Andrew Rigler, safety manager of the north region at Lehigh Hanson. “We had used it to gain visual access to ducting. When we began work on the conveyor project, I flew it the first time along what would be the conveyor path.”

Greg Johnston, quarry site supervisor at the Heidelberg Technology Center, uses this drone to perform 3-D mapping jobs at Lehigh Hanson’s New Windsor quarry. Photos by Megan Smalley

Rigler first used the DJI Phantom to video the conveyor path in April 2015. As construction advanced on the project, Rigler flew the drone over the path to record updates.

When the producer launched a website specifically for the overland conveyor project in New Windsor, Rigler decided to share the videos of his drone flights on the website. Since then, the DJI Phantom has served as a communications tool for the producer.

“When we developed a website, the drone offered a way to communicate with community members on how the project was going,” he says. “Instead of just posting pictures and narratives, you can watch a video and see the progress of the project.”

Rigler flew the DJI Phantom along the conveyor path between New Windsor and Union Bridge most weeks over the past two years. The producer also upgraded to a DJI Phantom 3 4K halfway through the project.

The drone videos have improved Lehigh Hanson’s outreach with the local community. The videos also allow the company to inform parent company HeidelbergCement, which is based in Germany, of headway on the project.

“This has been a tremendous tool for us,” Martin says. “We can post video updates on our website to let the community see the progress, which keeps the community apprised. Everyone’s been impressed with the content on our website and our social media posts. The community members might not all like what we’re doing, but if they understand the project better, they accept it.”

Other applications

Since Lehigh Hanson first purchased a DJI Phantom in 2015, it has gradually acquired a few more drones to aid with tasks.

At the New Windsor quarry, the company has its DJI Phantom to record videos for social media; a TuffWing UAV Mapper for 3-D mapping; and a 3DR Iris+ for stockpiling measurements. Lehigh Hanson has also been implementing the use of drones at a number of quarries across the country, according to Greg Johnston, quarry site supervisor at the Heidelberg Technology Center.

“We got a push from our global mining group to utilize drones for quarry operational life,” he says.

Lehigh Hanson also uses drones in New Windsor to perform safety investigations on silos, equipment and highwalls. If a piece of equipment has an emissions leak in ducting, the producer can fly a drone up to the leak to inspect the issue.

“Highwalls are dangerous to survey and drones take that danger away,” Johnston says. “They also keep your progress with stockpiles and are affordable. I think drones will be used more and more everywhere in the future.”

In particular, the New Windsor quarry uses a drone to gauge how much work its contractors perform. With the New Windsor quarry still in the pit development stage, the producer hired Allan Myers to prepare the pit for operation.

“We use the drones to map and measure change in elevations at the new pit,” Rigler says. “It does a calculation and tells us that Allan Myers moved ‘X tons’ of dirt this week, so that’s how much we pay them.”

The producer also hired Joseph B. Fay Co. (JB Fay) to help with the construction of its overland conveyor between the new quarry and old cement plant. The drones show progress on how much work JB Fay performs so that Lehigh Hanson knows what to pay the company. The contractor also uses its own drone to confirm that Lehigh Hanson’s drone provided accurate results, usually within a day or two of when Lehigh Hanson flies its drone.

“Both drones were 100 percent accurate,” Rigler says. “JB Fay uses their drone just like us, but they use it for billing while we’ll use ours for payments. They know it’s a good resource for them on future jobs, and now they’ll be able to invoice work based on drone measurements. I think drones are a fantastic tool for our industry.”

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