Lauren Elmore entered the mining industry with no idea how UAVs would expand her opportunities.
Tell us about yourself and your background
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Small business and family business has been a huge part of my life experience. When I went back to graduate school to get my JD/MBA, I knew that I wanted to do something in the same vein as what I had seen growing up. I wasn’t exactly sure what that was.
As I reflected and refined my plans, I decided to go the route of buying a small business to build. My brother, Gant, and I decided to partner in this endeavor. We bought a little company in Texas that used laser scanners to measure stockpiles and do other mapping projects for the mining and solid waste industries in 2014. We had no idea how quickly our world would be rocked by drones.
Since 2014, I have overseen Firmatek’s transition from a regional laser scanning company to a national leader in drone solutions for the aggregate mining industry. We are also expanding our service offerings with our landfill clients and entering new markets, including infrastructure.
(Bio stats: I have a background in law and finance, including work in financial consulting and private equity. I received a BA in Economics from Stanford University in 2008 and a JD and MBA with honors from Indiana University in 2014)
San Antonio, TX
How did you get started in the drone industry?
Unlike many people in the drone industry, I wasn’t looking to get into it when I did. Although drones are cool, I didn’t think that I needed to start a venture that incorporated drones. I ended up in the drone industry because the technology presented a new and better way to serve our clients.
In 2015, we saw many new entrants in our market offering drones as a new and better way to get inventory measurements for stockpiles and do other mapping projects. We knew we needed to figure out this new technology, just as we had figured out new and better technologies in the past.
Firmatek taking stockpile measurements
We started experimenting with a variety of drones. We also started working with clients to figure out what they were looking for and how we could start changing our business model to meet their needs with this new technology. We spent much of 2015 researching and testing.
We fully launched our drone program in 2016. Over the last three years, we have continued to bring new technology and new services to our clients, including a variety of different drone platforms. We believe in the right tool for the right job, and so we are constantly working with clients to determine what technology is best for their operational needs.
Tell us about your organization and your role there.
At Firmatek, we believe that our clients’ ever-changing environment can make decision-making difficult. We are here to provide them with insights and confidence that will help them improve their operational efficiencies. Our mission is to give our clients – the companies who build the world – supreme confidence.
Firmatek has been trusted by the mining industry for 30 years to provide end to end solutions for inventory measurement and mapping. Our team strives to deliver the best in data collection, processing, and analysis. Firmatek serves the mining, construction, and solid waste industries. We provide a variety of services including inventory management solutions, engineering services, aerial images, density calculations, fill volumes, LAS point clouds, Topographic CAD, and overburden removal.
Landfilled Aerial View
My role at Firmatek is President. As President, I am striving to build an organization that lives into our purpose and a place where people can grow. We get to be a part of an extremely innovative and ever-changing technology world, and that is exciting. The change in the business over the last five years has been incredible and has only been possible because of the experienced and innovative people we have on our team.
What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?
It is exciting to continue to find new technologies that solve problems for our clients. Problems that were previously too expensive or unsafe are now solutions we can provide. It has been exciting for us to continue to push the boundaries of what we can deliver with UAVs.
What’s your favorite type of project and why?
We do a lot of basic volumetric projects for our clients. It is what we historically performed before drones, but now we use drones to accomplish an enhanced version of the same deliverables. What I get excited about are projects where we can really make an impact for the client. In some cases, that has been being able to put the drones in the hands of clients so they can capture data when they need it. In other cases, it is doing something special or new for them. For example, one time we had a drone pilot fly a tunnel that had some safety issues for inspection so that no one had to go in it. Those are the types of examples, where we go beyond our typical services and help a client solve a problem, that are exciting to figure out.
Do you have a success story you would like to share?
We’ve had a number of key successes with our clients. However, I don’t think one was more meaningful than our first drone client. In 2016, we were working with clients to develop our drone solutions model – where the client flies the drone, uploads the images to us, and we process it and give them the deliverables – and we had a client that was a prime candidate. They move a significant amount of inventory each week. This client was willing to work with us as we developed the program. The solution we came up with has had a significant positive impact on their business operations, saving them time and keeping their inventory on track.
What’s your current favorite drone to fly?
While I don’t do the flying for the company at this point, as a company, we are really liking DJI’s P4 RTK. It’s a great platform for our team and our clients. It saves us time, since we don’t have to use ground control, and is easy to use.
What You’ve Learned
What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?
We have learned and developed a more robust testing and training of the tech that we choose before deploying it. It’s supposed to work. But pretty much without fail, new tech has bugs and things that we need to work out in order to get the high level of accuracy we need. Whether that was digging into camera calibrations or getting some in depth training with the manufacturer, it’s definitely worth the effort on the front end. Sometimes that isn’t possible as you only find the issues after problems start cropping up. However, a more robust training and testing on the front end can prevent some of them.