BHP says it is continually looking for new ways to improve its processes and minimise risk to its workforce. A recent example of this is an innovative remote-controlled solution developed by its Technology and Fixed Plant team which removes the need for operators to enter the lower crusher cavity for thermal lancing to remove jams.
Traditionally, when objects get stuck in the crusher bowl, personnel are required to climb into the crusher cavity and use a handheld thermal lancing tool to melt the metal and eliminate the jam. A thermal lancing tool heats and melts steel by using pressurised oxygen fed through a steel tube packed with steel rods to create very high temperatures for cutting. This lancing method is very effective and is used widely across BHP’s mining business and across many other industries, including construction and demolition.
“The issue, however, is that the way the lance is traditionally used may expose our people to uncontrolled release of stored energy. In the mining and construction industries, this has on occasion caused serious injury. This led our team to commission a local vendor in Western Australia, DSM Consulting Engineers, to help produce a remotely operated thermal tool which eliminates the potential risk to our operators.”
The solution allows operators to attach the Remote Thermal Lancing tool to a rock breaker and release the jammed object from a distance. Once the oxygen is turned on, the lance lights automatically and the site personnel can then use a wirelessly connected camera that’s mounted on the end of the tool to view the stuck object. The operator uses a joystick and tablet computer to control and feed the lance until the object is released. They are able to do this from at least 30 m away.
Kim Tan, BHP Specialist Engineer, explains how this innovative lance tool has multiple benefits and applications. “This tool, which was cheap to develop, lightweight and locally manufactured, is really a game changer for thermal lancing activities at our mines. Critically, it removes operators from the line of fire, but it also gives them better visibility of the lodged objects when they’re trying to remove them. It also can be used in other thermal lancing applications such as rail cutting and demolition. We are really keen to get the word out about this solution so that other areas of our business and other companies can begin using the same technology. It’s an important innovation that can potentially save lives and avoid serious injuries, so we are very open to sharing this concept with whoever can benefit from it.”
BHP is licensing the designs we commissioned on a royalty-free basis to any interested parties so that these innovations can be adopted more widely. This includes DSM who are equipped to quickly and cheaply manufacture the lances for anyone who needs to improve the safety of their personnel.