BHP achieves first ore at South Flank iron ore operation in the Pilbara

BHP has today achieved first ore at its US$3.6 billion South Flank mine in the central Pilbara, Western Australia. South Flank is an 80 Mt/y sustaining mine, and will be the most technically advanced high quality iron ore mine in Western Australia. Together with the existing Mining Area C, it will form the largest operating iron ore hub in the world – producing 145 Mt of iron ore each year.

It is worth noting the level of technology and innovation that has gone into the project. South Flank has been constructed as autonomous ready with the ability to remotely monitor and control all aspects of daily operation from the IROC in Perth, 1,067 km away. It forms part of BHP’s Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) operations which consists of four processing hubs (Newman, Yandi, Mining Area C and Jimblebar) and five mines (Newman, including Mount Whaleback; Mining Area C – North and South Flank; Jimblebar; Eastern Ridge and Yandi). The key equipment includes autonomous Epiroc Pit Viper 271s and SmartROC D65s; 41 290 t Komatsu 930E-5 trucks with Schlam Hercules bodies that are expected to be progressively automated using Komatsu’s FrontRunner AHS. These are loaded with six Liebherr 600 t R 9600 shovels.

These are the very latest model from Liebherr; equipped with a Truck Loading Assistant that helps the operator attain optimal productivity and efficiency. With 99% measurement accuracy, the system measures the instantaneous bucket payload and provides real-time information to the operator. It strategises the number of passes required to achieve the target payload of the truck, and also provides a progressive update in achieving the strategy. In addition, to provide operators and customers with productivity KPIs of the machine performance, the severity of the application and the operational conformance of the machine is realised in real-time on the machine. The Bucket Filling Assistant is an adaptive or semi-autonomous digging product which allows for easier and faster bucket filling with a consistent bucket fill factor, load after load even in the toughest digging conditions.

Two Metso Outotec MKIII 70-89 primary crushers at Grand Central North and Vista Oriental are the largest in BHP and are linked to the largest ore handling plant in Australia. They each have a nameplate capacity of 40 Mt/y. The crushing stations have a dual truck dump apron located at the top of a mechanically stabilised earth wall designed to accept the ultra-class mining trucks which feed a ROM bin located over the gyratory crushers that crush the iron ore to a -250 mm top size.  The crushers wdischarge to a surge vault directly beneath.  An apron feeder draws ore from the surge vault and loads the discharge conveyor, which feeds onto the overland conveyor (OLC) system and to the Mining Area C hub. In all South Flank involves 22 km of high speed conveyors. The Mobile Equipment Maintenance workshop has 12 work bays and 200 staff.

BHP President Minerals Australia, Edgar Basto, said: “South Flank is Australia’s largest new iron ore mine in over 50 years and has been delivered safely on time and on budget. South Flank’s high quality ore will increase WAIO’s average iron ore grade from 61 to 62%, and the overall proportion of lump from 25 to 30-33%. The project has created more than 9,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction, and will provide more than 600 operational roles through its life. South Flank’s ore will supply global steel markets for the next 25 years, helping to build electricity, transport and urban infrastructure across the globe. And its high quality ore will have an important role in helping BHP’s customers lower their greenhouse gas emissions.”

He added: “South Flank is on Banjima country, and this milestone would not have been possible without their support and collaboration over many years. We are proud of our longstanding partnership and strong working relationship with the Banjima people, and we thank them for their vital contribution to this success. First ore from South Flank is the result of the hard work and ingenuity of thousands of people and organisations spanning state and federal governments, our suppliers, customers, and partners in WA and around the world.”

The South Flank project has expanded the existing infrastructure at Mining Area C, and involved construction of the 80 Mt/y crushing and screening plants, an overland conveyor system, stockyard and train loading facilities, procurement of a new mining fleet and substantial mine development and pre-strip work.

South Flank’s workforce is diverse and highly skilled, with 40% female and 15% Indigenous operational staff.  More than A$4.6 billion of works have been awarded for South Flank with 78% awarded to Australian businesses, including 41% to Western Australian businesses, and 37% committed in the Pilbara region.  South Flank has a competitive capital intensity of $45/t – approximately half of BHP’s last major iron ore project, Jimblebar.

Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan stated: “The South Flank project is an example of my government’s commitment to working with industry to take advantage of the international market and business development trends to create Western Australian jobs. I congratulate BHP on the first production of ore and look forward to this project continuing to provide jobs for Western Australians and delivering considerable economic benefit for our state.”

Australian Minister for Resources, Water, and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt said: “This is a major project that is creating thousands of jobs and again shows why the resources sector is so important to our national economy. Establishing Australia’s biggest iron ore project in half a century is a significant vote of confidence in the industry’s future and its long-term benefits to Australia. I have just visited the Pilbara region in WA and took the opportunity to thank the workers, including those at Jimblebar, who’ve kept our mining industry going through the coronavirus pandemic and I look forward to returning to see the South Flank project in operation.”