Technology Beyond Measure
- Published: Wednesday, 12 June 2013 12:05
New System for Calculating Stockpile Volume Via Smartphone May be a Game-Changer.
By Mark S. Kuhar
You know the drill. It is time to measure all of your stockpiles for inventory management, production monitoring, taxes, business evaluation or some other reason. In the past, you had to order a fly-over; crawl up and down the stockpile with a tape measure; or drive around the quarry with that bulky laser apparatus in the back of a pick-up.
Now, you can just pull out your smartphone.
The Stockpile Reports system from Redmond, Wash.-based StockpileReports.com, calculates timely and accurate aggregates stockpile volumes, tonnage and locations, using data collected with a mobile phone. It’s that easy.
According to Galen Kovak-Lewis of StockpileReports.com, who conducted an exclusive in-the-field demonstration for Rock Products, the new system just may be a game changer for aggregates producers.
“We’ve created a system that allows aggregates producers to collect and use stockpile data easily and efficiently, and it provides them with timely information they can use to better analyze and manage their products and business,” he said.
Aggregates producers that have seen and used the new system are giving it a big thumbs up. “I like the system because it is a simple and easy way to measure and report production,” said Brian Gray, president of Knife River Corp.’s Northwest Region. “And more importantly, it gives our top-line managers ownership of inventory.”
Gray also points out two benefits that are a big plus for his company’s operations: simplicity and accuracy. “A measuring system that provides data you can trust is a big selling point for us,” he said.
Stockpile Reports uses a three-step process to calculate aggregates stockpile tonnage, volume and location:
- Collect stockpile data.
- Synch the data with the Stockpile Reports website at www.stockpilereports.com.
- View the results online.
Collect Stockpile Data – There is only a small amount of required equipment to collect data: Two orange traffic cones; a 25-ft. measuring tape or nylon rope; and an Apple iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 with the Stockpiles application installed (see photos page 36).
“You won’t need special equipment such as LiDAR or GPS; advanced training; or an internet connection,” Kovak-Lewis said. “It’s all right there on your phone.”
To take a measurement, producers first position the traffic cones 25-ft. apart in front of the stockpile to create a frame of reference for distance. They then start the Stockpiles app and select the stockpile product. Next, they begin recording in video mode while walking the perimeter of the stockpile, keeping the base (toe) and top in view. They finish by stopping the recording of imagery after completing one trip around the stockpile, plus a few feet of overlap.
Sync Data – There are currently three ways to synchronize (synch) the Stockpiles app data with Stockpile Reports:
- Wi-Fi network.
- Cellular network, preferably LTE.
- USB cable to a laptop or desktop computer with an Internet connection.
“The memory capacity of the iPhone determines how frequently to synch the data with Stockpile Reports,” Kovak-Lewis said. “An iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 with 16GB capacity typically holds the data for 50-60 stockpiles.”
In the event of battery failure, the Stockpiles app safely stores the unsynched data. After power is restored, the data can be synched without loss.
View Results Online – When the stockpile reports are complete, registered users may login and access the results. Typical processing times vary from a few minutes to a few hours. The results contain two types of reports: Stockpile and Site.
“A Stockpile Report contains both categorical and calculated data, most importantly, tonnage and volume (cu. yd.) It includes an image of the stockpile and a topographical map,” Kovak-Lewis said.
A Site Report collects the Stockpile Reports for a site and overlays them on a Google Maps view. The purple-shaded areas represent stockpile data collected using an iPhone. Green-shaded areas represent stockpile data collected using GPS. Clicking on a stockpile reveals information about the pile, including: the pile name, material, tonnage and volume.
According to Bill Gibson, production equipment manager for Knife River, the Stockpile Reports system has great potential to become an integral part of the company’s regular production procedures.
“This is a great concept,” Gibson said. “It has a lot of potential. Any time you are not climbing on the stockpiles, it is a plus.”
Gibson said that the company used other types of measurement systems in the past, however this one is safer and quicker. “It used to take three or four hours to walk the piles and get the information we needed,” he said. “We had to import data into AutoCAD to create stockpile models and calculate volumes. Using the Stockpile Report system, maybe two hours total and we are done.”
Gibson said because the system is so easy to use, they would likely measure stockpiles more often, giving them access to a larger amount of data for use in analyzing production.
Gibson also notes its Oregon operations are currently only able to use the system to measure about 75 percent of all its stockpiles. “The un-measureable ones have issues such as bins, walls, piles too close together or material piled up against berms or banks,” he said. “With some better housekeeping and loader-operator education, we can increase that number fairly easily.”
According to StockpileReports.com, benefits of the Stockpile Reports system include:
- Increase Productivity: Collect data for each construction aggregates stockpile in minutes. Eliminate the travel time required by a full-time, survey team.
- Greater Timeliness: Receive aggregates tonnage and volume calculations in hours, instead of days or weeks. Implement new, competitive business strategies based on timely data.
- Greater Relevance: Calculate aggregates stockpile tonnage every day, week or month, instead of every quarter or year. Reduce safety stock.
- Comparable Accuracy: Aggregates tonnage and volume calculations are comparable to stationary LiDAR and mobile laser scanning.
- Promote Employee Safety and MSHA Regulatory Compliance: Collect stockpile data by walking around stockpiles. Use each Site Report to plan, position and manage stockpiles more safely.
- Simpler Training: Simply point an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 while walking and recording imagery.
- Lower Equipment Costs: Replace expensive LiDAR and GPS devices with an inexpensive iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 device.
- Greater Consistency: Collect stockpile data using best-practice processes at every mining, quarrying, rock crushing and aggregates distribution location, every time.
Stockpile Reports’ benefits add up to better decision-making, faster inventory turns and lower operating expenses, according to the company.
While Stockpile Reports, as a tool for measuring stockpile volume and creating visual pile models, would appear to be benefit enough, several unintended benefits have come out of the woodwork.
“Because you use video to create a 360-degree walk-around of a stockpile, managers are finding that they can replay those video clips and analyze how effectively their loader operators are building the piles, and recommend changes and process improvements,” Kovak-Lewis said.
According to Gibson, having a track record of data – both visual and in statistical form – allows the company to look back and gain insight into how production progressed over a specific period of time. “You can look back to see how piles accrue and shrink, and then check that against the data sheets, which you can even email or share between managers for a better understanding of how that impacts the operation,” he said.
Stockpile Reports has now measured more than three million tons as they move from trial runs into actual usage in the field. They measured more than one million tons in March of this year alone.
In March, StockpileReports.com applied for its first non-provisional patent with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
The company is expanding internationally as well. They have measured their first piles in Canada and have now visited to Australia to meet with interested companies there.
The technology that drives the Stockpile Reports system – photogrammetry – can possibly be adapted to other areas in the quarry as well, such as determining the amount of reserves on-site or how much material was dropped after a blast. The future for technology that is this flexible and adaptive is limited only by the imagination.
To learn more go to stockpilereports.com or call 425-285-4303.
Who should manage their aggregates inventories online using Stockpile Reports? The benefits cut across the entire company.
- Quarry managers and plant supervisors who want to optimize the profit performance of their mining, quarrying and rock crushing operations.
- CFOs who want to increase inventory turns of construction aggregates while decreasing operating expenses.
- Construction aggregates sales managers who want to sell every ton of inventory while decreasing stock-outs.