BHP has already made great strides in digitalising its processes at mine site and operations centres, but Pat Bourke, VP of Technology for Minerals Australia at BHP, says collaboration will play a critical role in helping the company leverage further operational and safety gains.
Speaking at the IMARC Online event today, he gave examples of how BHP is combining “lean concepts” with digital solutions to improve its performance through in-house collaboration.
One such example was the company’s Maintenance and Engineering Centre of Excellence, which develops advanced maintenance strategies based on data analysis to decide on what assets to maintain, when to maintain them and how to maintain them for “superior performance”.
The BHP Operating System, meanwhile, supports the company’s “front line” to improve day-to-day operations through the use of standard systems underpinned by technology, he said.
“To fully capture the next wave of productivity at speed, we need to integrate technology and our digital solutions with these initiatives,” Bourke said, explaining that this will further enhance the company’s agenda of safety and productivity.
He then moved onto the external collaboration side, saying one of the critical elements to unlocking digital transformation was the ability to collaborate within the broader ecosystem as well.
“We can do a lot as an organisation…and as an industry…in partnership with our supplier, communities and government to solve for the future,” Bourke said. “We can do even more when we effectively combine our capabilities and bring multiple partners to collaborate on shared problems.”
Thinking differently about who the company connects and creates synergies with has led BHP to find partners outside its usual circles such as the Australian Defence Force, it said. This partnership, in particular, has seen the organisations collaborate on workforce learning, culture, technology, training and shared apprenticeships.
“Through these synergies, we can stack hands together to gain further insights and understand the similarities around areas such as quantum technologies, automation and cyber defences, for example,” Bourke said.
And, even during COVID-19, the company has been collaborating to produce productivity outcomes.
This has seen it work with Microsoft to deploy augmented reality headsets that combine video with advanced 3D sensing technologies, allowing BHP engineering teams based in the Perth office, some 1,300 km away from the Pilbara operations, to oversee complex installation of mine equipment remotely.
“But it’s not just the big partners who are helping us to find a competitive edge,” Bourke said. “In today’s world we know we need to innovate and deploy new technologies even more quickly to keep up with the pace of change.”
A collaboration with start-up Plotlogic is seeing BHP pilot precision mining technology, for instance.
“This technology will map the face of a pit wall to provide a detailed view of ore versus waste,” Bourke explained. “This type of precision mining will give us the step change in productivity that we are chasing to improve the quality of the ore we extract…this will enable further efficiencies.”
Earlier this year, Plotlogic confirmed it had signed its first contract to embed OreSense, its new AI ore characterisation technology, into an iron ore mine site of BHP’s in the Pilbara of Western Australia. This technology uses hyperspectral analysis and AI to optimise ore recovery on mine sites.
Plotlogic’s vision is to enable autonomous mining operations using precise grade control with its new AI ore-characterisation technology, bringing technology that can “see and grade ore” to optimise operations and maximise yield, it says.