Ball Clay Producer Uses a Kespry Drone System for Site Surveys, Permit Application Materials, Reserve Calculations and Future Planning.
By Mark S. Kuhar
Old Hickory Clay Co. (OHCC) has the largest ball clay reserve base in the United States, comprised of Kentucky clays, Tennessee clays and Mississippi clays. This large clay portfolio makes it possible for OHCC to produce a wide variety of clay blends to meet any customer requirement and to engineer unique clay solutions required in today’s most demanding applications.
The company currently operates 23 active mines in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, including an aggregates operation, and has several more sites in the permitting pipeline.
OHCC operates two ball clay-processing plants located in Hickory (Graves County), Ky., and Gleason (Weakley County), Tenn. It’s the only ball clay producer with an operation in Kentucky.
The production of clay products entails excavating material from a deposit and transporting it to covered storage. OHCC ball clay blends are then produced in shredded form (20 to 25 percent moisture), semi-dried form (8 to 1 percent moisture), air-floated powder form (2 to 3 percent moisture) and slurried form (65 percent solids).
Ball clays are shipped in bulk and in packages via rail and truck to consumers all over North America and Mexico, and in packages to Europe, Central America and South America. OHCC has the experience and expertise with logistics to ship ball clay anywhere in the world.
Operations in Real Time
With a large number of plants and equipment regularly moving from site to site, it became difficult for the company to keep a grasp on the real-time status of its operations.
According to company Engineer David Gavin, P.E., when he came on-board a little more than a year ago, the company was using traditional surveying methods to track site conditions. Gavin wanted to take a more technological approach.
“I tried using Google Earth, but the images were sometimes far out of date,” he said. “Plus, often we would do work at a site for a few weeks and then not come back for six months, and the site might be filled with water by then. We needed to capture a picture of the working portion of the mine to use as a baseline, and keep regular track of site conditions.”
OHCC determined that the best approach would be to buy a drone and use it to survey each of its mining operations on a regular basis. After doing its research, the company chose a Kespry Drone 2s System.
The Kespry Drone 2s
As simple to use as it is reliable and accurate, the Kespry Drone 2s is lightweight, durable and one of the most advanced autonomous aerial data collection tools in the world, according to the company. The Kespry Aerial Intelligence Platform delivers end-to-end performance in a single, seamlessly integrated system. The lightweight quadcopter design maximizes airtime and area covered. The system ensures uninterrupted flight and immediate data transfer, even in more remote areas.
The Kespry Drone 2s includes a high-quality dual frequency GNSS receiver designed to eliminate multipath errors and mitigate electronic interferences common in industrial settings. Using PPK (Post Processed Kinematic), the system automatically processes field data at a new level of repeatable accuracy that serves a wide range of valuable professional applications, including topographic maps for design.
Designed to make field data capture quick and simple, there are no joysticks. You create a mission with the supplied iPad and the touch of your finger. The Kespry Drone 2s calculates the flight path and flies autonomously, using a LiDAR sensor to avoid obstacles. The Kespry system manages the transfer and processing of data within the platform. No piloting, SD cards or clumsy integrations for you to manage. Just high-resolution orthoimagery available in the Kespry Cloud in minutes.
Built for industrial uses, the Sony UMC-R10C camera has a large Exmor APS-C Sensor that captures 20 megapixels of color detail to accurately calculate volumes, precisely measure distance and angles, and safely identify hazards or damage. Kespry configures each camera to maximize image quality for specific job types. Geotagged high-resolution images are processed using photogrammetry in the Kespry cloud. A single orthomosaic image is created to deliver high quality topographic maps, dimensional and volumetric data, and rich business insights.
OHCC not only uses the Kespry drone for site surveys and future planning, it is also used to create materials for permit applications and calculate reserves. “Our drone helps us create real-time data for our mines,” Gavin said.
Two additional benefits of using a drone concern safety and accuracy. “No one has to walk through the brush to get to the back of the mine site now, or walk along a high-wall, which can sometime be dangerous,” Gavin said. “Our mine sites are sometimes 60 to 80 ft. deep. With the drone, I can go to one of our sites and set it up, and survey the entire operation from where I am standing.”
OHCC dug deep before choosing Kespry as its drone provider. “We shopped around a lot and we talked to a lot of different people,” Gavin said. “One of the big things with Kespry is the ground control, the ease of setting up a base station. The features of the drone also had appeal for us. And the price point was very favorable when we looked at the entire package. It was a good selection for us.”
Gavin is the company’s main point person for surveying and permitting. He operates the drone himself, downloads data from the drone and uploads it to The Cloud. “I am not a licensed surveyor, so there is a comfort level in knowing that I can easily gather this data and that it is accurate,” he said. “I can sit at my desk now and I can look at every mine. If someone has a question I can answer it in five minutes where before, I would have to drive out to a site and gather the information in person.”
In addition, company executives can sit at their desks and look at any of their mining properties in three states and see how work is progressing. No doubt the convenience is a plus.
When it comes to permitting, it is now easy for the company to create a current plot of a mine site to help expedite the creation of materials for submission. “I can bring the ortho photo into our CAD software and make adjustments,” he said. “So I can show sizing impoundments, acres disturbed, number of roads, areas reclaimed, what parts are vegetated, all of the details in just a matter of minutes.”
The company now also has an easy way to map contours for an existing mine. “By analyzing topography, it is easy for us to determine what water flow will be in a particular deposit and what the contour changes are after we have worked in a particular area,” Gavin said.
At its aggregates operation the drone is also used to determine stockpile volume and material on the ground, although they cannot use it for that at its clay operations, as the excavated material is stored under-roof.
“I would highly recommend the Kespry system to other operations,” Gavin said. “It has saved us time and money, and we just may find other uses for it up the road as well.”
100 Years of Service
Old Hickory Clay Co. shipped its first rail car of high quality Kentucky ball clay from the Hickory, Ky., area in 1918. The company was founded by Ralph N. Scott, a Paducah, Ky., resident who was the manager of West Kentucky Coal Co. After successors Lee F. Powell, and Joe A. Powell followed him in running the family business for many years, it is currently in the 100th year of continuous operation under the ownership of fourth-generation President J. Lee Powell.
Through the years Old Hickory has enjoyed expansion stages through growth and acquisition opportunities that have included mining and processing plants in Gleason, Tenn., and McIntyre, Ga., in addition to a modern headquarters and plant site in Hickory, Ky. Most recently a sister company, Gleason Clay Co., was added via acquisition in 2014 which further enhances reserves of Tennessee ball clays, and adds additional mines, and a large processing plant with extensive storage to the family of businesses.
Old Hickory and Gleason Clay products are used for industrial minerals applications including ceramic tile, sanitary ware, dinnerware, asphalt emulsion, electrical porcelain, refractories, proppants, synthetic rubber, and various other building materials, fillers, and adhesives products.
There are approximately 100 employees working in all aspects of the operations of clay mining, including drilling, overburden removal, mining, trucking, processing and shipping the finished product. Clay is shipped via rail, truck, intermodal and barge both domestically and internationally.
Old Hickory and Gleason Clay share an experienced management team including President/CEO J. Lee Powell; COO Cheryl Lehmkuhl; CFO, Bill Hinson; Vice President Of Sales Bill Rogers; and Technical Director Ken Bougher.