trommelx 2018

Meet Escondida’s giant robotic arm – an example of open innovation

Susan Lasecki
Susan Lasecki

Head of Commercial Innovation, Minerals Americas

Our global operations need billions of dollars of goods and services every year to support the extraction of products for our customers – safely, productively and sustainably.
When our Supply teams buy these good and services they create partnerships with global suppliers and local businesses in our communities.

And these partnerships extend way beyond the standard buyer/seller relationship.

One of the greatest contributions we bring to the places where we operate is to engage our suppliers in helping solve our challenges, stimulating innovation and growing businesses to create shared value for local economies.

Take for example changing screens in our trommels. Trommels are used in the processing of the minerals we mine to sort them into different sizes. It is an important part of the process of grading the minerals. Trommel screens have to be heavy and robust to sort tonnes and tonnes of this raw mineral. Replacing them at the end of their life was difficult, sometimes dangerous and time consuming work – until now.

The Trommel Maintenance Robot has completely transformed the way we complete this task at our Escondida mine in Chile.

It’s just one of the unique technology solutions delivered through our Supply Innovation program.

Developed collaboratively by FLSmidth and local Chilean supplier MIRS, the robotic arm has benefits for safety and productivity. Workers are removed from potentially hazardous situations when changing the trommel screens and it also reduces the time to change each screen.

BHP’s Supply Innovation program develops operational solutions to productivity, safety, health and environmental challenges with suppliers. It brings us together with local suppliers in the search for unique bottom up transformation.

However, the lessons learned through this project, like so many others in the Supply Innovation Program, are much broader. It reveals the enormous opportunity to improve our performance and deliver greater value by drawing in others to the quest for increased competitiveness.

Diversity of thought drives better value for our business

Large companies like ours don’t necessarily have all the answers to the challenges of our production processes. We understand our operations and processes but when it came to finding a technical solution for our trommel maintenance we needed to look to outside of our business. Working with collaborative suppliers meant we got some of the best minds to share their expertise. Over the past twenty years, the technological innovation ecosystem in Chile has evolved to integrate universities, R&D centres, highly qualified and motivated local entrepreneurs, government and funding. The links between participants in this ecosystem have attracted increasingly diverse players, amplifying the opportunity for continuous improvement and value creation. This would not have been possible by BHP operating alone in Chile.

Engagement with our suppliers creates shared value in our communities

One of the greatest contributions we can bring to places where we operate is to enable local suppliers to benefit from the knowledge and globalised approach we have access to. Programs such as Supply Innovation engages our suppliers in our challenges, opening up global development and learning opportunities for them and creating shared value for local economies.

Opening our doors creates value for our industry

The technological and operational challenges of mining companies fuel the ecosystem and provide compelling opportunities for local suppliers and economies. When companies like ours open the door to these innovation ecosystems, it stimulates development that address the needs of companies in our industry around the world.

Broadening our thinking contributes value to global society

The Trommel Maintenance Robot project also demonstrates that local suppliers can produce world-class technology solutions. This not only has application in mining operations throughout the world; it may also help to address challenges in other industries.

Projects like this are neither accidents nor isolated cases. They are the fruit of systematic work initiated by us in Chile more than a decade ago. We have evolved and extended this program into a partnership with Codelco, Antofagasta Minerals and the Chilean government. We use an open platform known as Expande to connect unique mining challenges with suppliers, mining companies, government agencies, universities and sources of funding.

Continued success demands a consistent and long-term view. By continuing to more closely unite and align all of the parts to support entrepreneurs, we are increasingly growing an ecosystem in Chile of innovation, collaboration and economic development. This has helped fuel economic growth in Chile while also supporting development of companies as exporters of goods and services linked to the mining sector.

We see the Supply Innovation Program as a way to use our business challenges as a platform to spark innovation and create shared value for BHP and the communities and countries where we operate. At the same time we aim to create a base of knowledge and social capital for the future of Chile and the world. We believe Chile is capable of transforming its geological capital into knowledge capital. We want to support this and contribute to building an ecosystem of innovation that will enable countries to thrive through mining and start to build a future for when mining is no longer there.