Are you taking pictures of your drill core using traditional tools?

Most mid-tier and large mining operations today capture images of their drill core in some way.  Usually this involves taking pictures of the core using a smartphone or DSLR camera and transferring those pictures to a file system organized hierarchically by project, drill hole number, and depth.

A workflow traditionally follows the steps below:

  • use a smartphone or SLR camera,
  • take some pictures,
  • drop those pictures on your c:\ drive or Dropbox in some organized way,
  • and then whenever someone needs access to them, dive deep into tho the folder structure to find them.

What about on large multi-hole, long-term projects where thousands of feet of drill core are retrieved?

When you are expected to capture thousands of feet of drill core with some level of image quality and data consistency, you can see how a photo capture process using a smartphone or DSLR combined with a file repository system in the way described above can break down.

In this article we explore 7 benefits of using specialized drill core photography software over manual photo capture processes.

Seven benefits of drill core photography software

1. Less time to capture and archive pictures of drill core

Lets do some quick math on the time involved to take a single drill core picture and push that to a file management system using a conventional system comprised of a camera and a file sharing system such as Dropbox:

  • Frame the shot and take the picture – 10 sec
  • Transfer the image file to a PC – 20 sec
  • Rename the image file to a human-readable name – 10 sec
  • Transfer the image file to Dropbox (or similar file storage system) – 20 sec

Conservatively-speaking, it will take at least 1 minute for the entire process, per picture.  If each picture captures 5 feet of downhole drill core, then a 1,000-ft drill hole will consume 200 minutes of someone’s time, or 3.3 hours.  Note that this is just to take the picture, rename it to something that is human-readable, and store it somewhere where it is readily available to others.

Compare this to a process using software specifically designed for drill core photography:

  • Frame the shot and take the picture – 10 sec
  • Transfer the image file to a PC – 0 sec
  • Rename the image file to a human-readable name – 0 sec
  • Transfer the image file to Dropbox (or similar file storage system) – 0 sec

With dedicated software, the time required to do the same exact thing shrinks by 2/3.  So what would typically take more than 3 hours to do using an ad-hoc process will take about 20 minutes using software tools like Imago.  This is because there is no need to do any manual file transfers or manual file naming: these are things that are handled programmatically by the software.

2. Better image consistency

Image Quality.  If your organization is taking pictures of drill core without an imaging station, the image quality will suffer and vary widely between images.  An imaging station is basically an enclosure or stand that can hold the camera and lighting in a fixed position relative to the drill core below it, so that every picture taken uses the same lighting and distance.  Here’s a good article about the 2 main types of imaging stations, which you can easily build yourself for very little cost.

Here’s a picture of a mobile imaging station.

Image Metadata.  Drill core photography software capture metadata automatically: it will load metadata such as the drill hole #, depth start, depth end, etc into each picture. To do this manually requires you to edit each picture by hand.  Here’s an explanation how to edit a picture’s metadata in Windows 10.

Image Cropping.  Sometimes drill core boxes are not consistent, so to adjust for variances with core box sizes, or gaps in the drill core, a technician or geologist using a conventional/manual capture process will adjust their camera to fit the drill core into the picture.  But this type of adjustment will inevitably affect other aspects of the image.  And cropping the image manually after it is taken requires one to load the image into an image editing tool, edit as needed, and replace the original file with the edited one.

Image Filenames. Keeping filenames consistent means first coming up with a file naming convention, and then sticking to it, regardless of which geo or tech is taking the pictures and doing this work the conventional way.  It’s fairly easy for filenames to vary from person to person doing the work.

All of the above issues—image quality, metadata insertion, image cropping, and file naming conventions—are handled automatically by drill core photography software, so inconsistencies and variability is minimized, regardless of the project, drill hole number, coreshed, or employee doing this work.

3. Easier sharing of drill core images (plus maintain centralized access to this information)

Lets’ say that one of your geologists in one country has a question about a 3D model and wants to see a picture of the drill core from a particular drillhole and depth.  What do they do?  Most likely they will call/text someone in their org about their inquiry to find out first of all if there is imagery available, and if so, where they can go to retrieve it.  Then they will either wait to receive the imagery via email or text message/Whatsapp, or access it themselves if its available online to them (which usually is not).

If the imagery is not available, then someone at the coreshed will be contacted to see if it’s possible to retrieve the specific corebox containing the drill core requested by the geologist, take a picture of it, and then text/email the picture to the geologist.

With drill core photography software such as Imago, the geologist can retrieve the imagery on their own, and even if they don’t have access to the software, a link to the specific imagery can be texted/emailed to the geologist, which isn’t impacted by file size or internet bandwidth limitations.

Something to also keep in mind: what happens to all of that shared information in WhatsApp when an employee quits or is fired? Does it disappear?  How do you keep tabs on that information?

4. Easier to embed drill core imagery into 3D models

If you want to embed an image with a 3D model, you will have to upload the image into your model, or at least copy a shareable link from your file management system into the 3D model.  Since drill core photography software was designed to share imagery across various platforms, most of them benefit from direct integrations with all of the popular modeling tools such as Leapfrog, acQuire, Deswik, Datamine, Vulcan, Surpac, Geosoft, and others.

5. View your imagery downhole and compare against other datasets in scaled view

Something that is not even achievable without hiring a dedicated staff cropping and stitching images is the ability to display your drill core imagery vertically in sequence.

Here’s a screenshot of the Imago portal displaying core boxes for a drill hole alongside the first core box displayed vertically.

When you are able to view your drill core in vertical orientation, it is sometimes easier to interpret geologically.  And when you can compare it against other drill holes and datasets, it makes it even easier to interpret.

Here’s a screenshot of the Imago portal displaying core boxes alongside the vertical display of the first core box and a geologic log of the same depth interval.

6. Zoom in and out at the speed of Google Maps

Can your conventional tools do this?  Zoom in and out with the ease and speed of Google Maps?  I’ll bet not.  Not all drill core photography software can do this, but most if not all have some sort of zoom feature that makes regular tools pale in comparison.  Zooming in and out is a matter of simply pinching and zooming on a trackpad, or using your mouse.  No need to click on arrows or any of that old school stuff.

7. Get your geological data ready for AI and machine learning

Let’s face it.  Artificial intelligence and machine learning is here to stay, and only going to continue to improve.  At some point AI will be good enough to predict most things from imagery.  By starting now and getting all your imagery into a centralized system, the benefits you can derive at some point in the future will offset any pain experienced today.  Don’t get left behind the pack…lead the pack instead.

Drill Core Photography Software Available Today

While we would obviously prefer you choose our own Imago software, there are a few others now in the marketplace that you can check out, including the following.  Rather than summarize each, click the links below and give each an impartial look for yourself.

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