The Ultimate Guide to Stockpile Measurements and Reporting

No matter what industry you’re working in, measuring and reporting on your stockpiles is crucial to successful operations. 

This post covers how drone surveying can improve stockpile measurements and make reports easier than ever.  stockpile measurements and reports Drone surveying is a fast, affordable, and user-friendly worksite surveying option. It can take as little as a couple of hours to collect your data, depending on site conditions. Many visualization and analytics platforms then take your data and turn it into a 3D map in 24 hours. This lets you view your stockpiles as they actually are, not as numbers on a spreadsheet.

Stockpile measurements and reports account for the most frequent drone use case on worksites. This isn’t surprising, since it can make or break your budget to over- or undersell material. 

You need accurate measurements of your stock on hand to do your job right. Here, we’ll cover how to get those numbers, plus:

  • Stockpile measurement methods with drone surveying
  • How stockpile volume measurements work
  • Stockpile reports using measurement software
  • Stockpile report costs using drones

Before we jump into the nuts and bolts of measurements themselves, let’s learn how drones and software actually measure stockpiles.  


Stockpile measurement methods with drone surveying

Before you can take a single measurement of your stockyard, you need to capture site data. There are a few ways to do this. “Drone surveying,” at its core, means using a drone to take aerial photos of your site and some form of GPS and ground control to tie the images down. 

With recent technological advancements, there are two major workflows to get the job done: GCP-based drone surveying and PPK drone surveying  


Drone surveying with traditional ground control

For this workflow, you need a sufficient number of known points to verify and pin your drone imagery to the ground. 

This is because a drone without onboard GPS correction is just a vehicle for capturing site imagery. Its position in the sky isn’t accurately geotagged, so you don’t get reliable positional data from its hardware alone; that accuracy comes from ground control person holding aeropoint and drone controller in field Having multiple ground control points (GCPs) is vital for accuracy, but they can be time consuming to set up. Establishing ground control can happen in a couple of ways:

  • Known-point method. A surveyor physically walks your site, shooting the points with a rover, and marking them for visibility. 
  • Using AeroPoints. AeroPoints are smart GCPs you drop in an optimal distribution across the entire surveyed area. 

Until recently, the planning, risk assessment, and legwork associated with setting up ground control was a necessary, if unwanted, sacrifice. But that’s changed with the introduction of affordable RTK/PPK-enabled drones.

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Drone surveying with PPK

While there are different kinds of GPS correctional processing technology, we’ll be covering PPK here. 

PPK stands for “post-processing kinematic.” With PPK capability, the drone geotags each image it captures with X, Y, and Z coordinates using a GPS unit. 

While this is happening, a base (be it a base station, an AeroPoint, or the CORS network) on the ground is also recording positional information, but with much more accurate triangulation.  how ppk drone works After the flight is complete, those two sets of GPS data (what’s recorded in the sky and what’s recorded on the ground) are matched up using timestamps. Knowing the offset after the fact, the on-board GPS data is overwritten to give the imagery accurate geotags.

Due to its ease-of-use and unparalleled accuracy, we recommend a PPK workflow for drone surveying on any site. 


Actually performing a survey on site

Whether you’re using traditional ground control or a PPK workflow, there are some basic things that need to happen to survey your site successfully.  person with PPK drone on site for survey When it comes time to head out on site to capture your data, everyone’s exact workflow will look a little different, but here are a few things you can expect. 

  • Preplanning
  • Placing ground control points (or a base) 
  • Launching your drone
  • Landing and wrap-up

[If you want to learn more, check out our ebook: How to Start a Drone Program on Your Site.]  


Turning your site data into a 3D survey with drone photogrammetry

Once you’ve captured your data with one of the methods above, it’s time to process it into a 3D site survey. But how does that happen? It’s thanks to the science of photogrammetry. At its most basic, “photogrammetry” is measuring via photos.

In reality, it means powerful processing engines are crunching numbers for many, many images and stitching them all together. It might sound dry and complicated, but photogrammetry’s inner workings define the way you fly.

We can’t overstate the importance of steady, consistent flights in getting these photos right for drone photogrammetry. The best way to achieve that is with a flight planning app. We recommend DJI’s Ground Station Pro for drone systems that don’t have integrated devices and flight planning software.  


How the science of photogrammetry works

When you see the same feature from three or more known positions, you can triangulate its location in space (get those exact X, Y, and Z coordinates). A feature is any visually distinct point in an image.

If you took an average image from your drone survey, you’d easily be able to pick out many “features” between images. 

The more features you match, the better you can connect images to each other and reconstruct objects within them. This is exactly what photogrammetry software does for one feature, and the next, and the next, and so on, until it’s covered your entire site. Drone survey point cloud example Once you have a lot of these features—think millions—you can create a “cloud” of points. Each point has a matched feature describing your surveyed area. 

You can then turn your point cloud into a 3D mesh, digital elevation model (DEM), or other regular geospatial software output. This is the basis of your 3D survey. Add on the orthophoto, and you have a photorealistic model of your site in three dimensions.  Full site orthophoto drone survey  

How stockpile volume measurements works

Ideally, a stockpile would be something with an easy volume to calculate, like a perfect cube or cone. But even in good cases, stockpiles have irregular shapes. 

What makes surveying stockpiles with a drone different is that it can capture all those irregularities and faithfully renders them in your survey. This allows the computer to calculate the volume of the true shape, not a rough approximation. Quarry stockpile volume calculated on the Propeller Platform Accuracy starts with the imagery. Drone photos capture worksites in great detail. Both horizontally and vertically (Z values), drones can capture high-resolution, survey-grade accurate data. Once your data is uploaded and processed, you can start to measure your stockpiles. 


Three types of stockpile measurement methods

There are different types of stockpiles—from ramp- and bin-style to regular—and you want to measure them accordingly. The following are a few examples of the different ways you can measure volumes in the Propeller Platform.

  • Measure volume from a reference level. Set the baseline to the right height and get your total volume from there up.

reference level volume icon

  • Measure using a smart volume, and let the computer do the work. For a smart volume, the platform extrapolates your pile’s base and gives you a total volume from there.

Smart volume icon

  • Compare volumes between two surfaces, like surveys from different times to see how things have changed.

Volume compare icon  

Stockpile reports using measurement software

Now that you know how to get your measurements, you need to report out on them easily. It does no good to have a bunch of data you cannot share.

Look for software that enables easy, automated report creation. Make sure its capabilities include all the report types you actually use in your day-to-day job.  You want to be able to pull those reports without too much hassle and have them in the file formats you need. 

With the Propeller Platform, there are both PDF and CSV options for inventory reporting (plus tons of file formats). Each take only three steps to create and download. 

CSV reports include

  • Name, description, and any material properties. 
  • All measurement quantities based on how you created the measurement. 
  • A link to each individual measurement.

PDF reports include:

  • Name, description, and any material properties 
  • All measurement quantities based on how you created the measurement
  • Full-site orthophoto
  • Image of each measurement, including outline
  • A link to each individual measurement

And if you’ve added monetary values to your material, the stockpile’s value will be listed for each individual pile.  


Sharing your reporting with stakeholders

Sharing should also be simple and straightforward. Propeller allows you to share your site with others through the Platform itself. All you need is an email address. You can set up permissions at a granular level for individuals or teams—from view-only to administrator. 

If you just want to share a single stockpile measurement with someone, you can share those via link. Through email, chat, etc., the recipient simply clicks on the URL and it opens to show the measurement selected, with the camera focused on that pile.  Sharing a measurement on Propeller GIF

Don’t have time to read the full guide right now? Save your full guide to stockpile measurement and reporting for later, plus gain access to additional content.


Stockpile reporting costs using drones

While some services are ultra-specific when it comes to stockpile reporting, those usually charge you by the pile. Often they don’t even return visuals, just a report that includes numbers. 

But cloud-based drone data platforms like Propeller typically charge per dataset, which isn’t limited to stockpiles alone. You can survey your whole site for that price and get back an interactive, visual 3D survey. 

Rather than asking how much stockpile reporting costs, a better question is, “how much money does stockpile reporting with drones save my business?” There are three main categories to answer this:  


1. Better financial forecasting

When it comes down to it, drone surveying and processing platforms like Propeller allow you to accurately measure your stockpiles. This simple fact means you can really count on your numbers. 

Aside from the fact that you now know with certainty what stock you have on hand, the benefits of that trickle down to even the smallest parts of your operations. 

Having that accurate data on your stockpiles—data you can easily share if you wish—lets you do better financial forecasting. No more “fluff factor” in your inventory reporting.  quarry with stockpiles  

2. Tighter supply-chain management

Knowing what you actually have on your site also allows you to tighten up supply-chain management. 

See when you need more stock and how much. If you’re your own supplier, you can plan out when you need to start drilling and blasting. If you use an external supplier, you can plan out purchases and budget better. Don’t be surprised by a big order again.   


3. Actually see how much your inventory is worth

With material property calculators built in, all the reporting you already need to complete can now show you the actual dollar value of your piles—or the money sitting in your whole stockyard. 

This means that every time you fly a survey, you can know how much your inventory is worth down to the last dollar.  


Measuring and managing your stockpiles with a drone is faster, more affordable, and accurate

With big advancements in drone surveying in the past few years, the drone has become more than a novelty, more than a tool—it’s become a profit generator.  Quarry stockpile overhead Today, surveying stockpiles by drone is quickly becoming the industry standard for measuring and reporting on stock. 

Because you can count on accurate, exact numbers on your stockpiles—and get them more frequently than ever before—you can tighten up operations, from financial forecasting to supply-chain management to accurate reconciliation. “Fluff factors” in inventory management can be a thing of the past. 

With drone surveying, updated information about your stockyard is now available as often as you want to fly. And with easy-to-share digital reporting, you can have a visual conversation with your team or your boss, and get everyone on the same page with processing platforms like Propeller. 



Download your full guide to stockpile measurement and reporting and gain access to additional content.

Stockpile measurement and reporting guide


You might also like:

Why is DJI’s Phantom 4 RTK the Drone of the Future?
How Stockpile Volume Measurements Work in Drone Surveying
Queensland-based Cheshire Contractors Uses Propeller for Insurance Claims, Faster Surveying

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