28 June 2023
We hear the term ‘transformation’ a lot lately – because it is a time of great change in the world. The pace of change, driven and enabled by technology, is increasing. And so it’s appropriate that we’re here talking about transformations in mining. But what is it that we’re transforming to? What are we seeking to become?
The world is starting to wake up to the role of the resources sector to support the global trends that are changing the world.
These trends will feed demand for metals and minerals for decades to come.
But new deposits are harder to come by.
What remains is deeper, harder to find, more difficult to access, or in more challenging locations.
And we have to produce those commodities in those locations with less – less energy, less water, less waste, less disruption – a fraction of the impacts traditionally caused by intensive mining activity.
I would ask us all to stand in the future for a moment – what do we see?
I see people removed from the line of fire, reducing both the risk of both safety and health impacts as we automate the work we do.
I see value chains with automated decision processes that lead to reduced power and water use and improve our productivity, contributing to responsible mining, and enhancing our ability to increase return on capital every day.
I see the democratisation of data with citizen developers throughout the value chain making processes run more efficiently, and digital twins enabling accurate prediction of problems to allow better maintenance and operational upgrades.
Under this vision, the processes we will be working on will be fundamentally different – we will have solved for in situ recovery, we will have eliminated energy hungry mill and float to use new and different ways to liberate the minerals we seek.
In doing so, we will have the ability to produce the commodities we need with a fraction of the waste, and whatever waste we do produce, can be repurposed into useful products.
Our power will have zero greenhouse gas emissions - and I believe nuclear energy will be a part of the baseload mix in the global elimination of carbon emissions rich energy.
As more of our systems and decisions are automated, we will become the orchestrators of improvement and innovation – the skills we need for the future must embrace highly digital operational and project management as the way we deliver value and efficiency.
We will fundamentally change what we consider to be an attractive resource.
The sub 0.5% copper resources of tomorrow will be just as attractive as the 2% copper resources of yesterday, delivering the critical minerals the world needs to decarbonise at low cost.
This means the mine waste of the past, will become some of the new resources of the future.
As we stand in the future I see an exciting, safe and automated sector, valued by society for the types of work it provides.
How do we set ourselves up to do this? At BHP we want to Think and Act Differently. But we also need to do it with urgency.
So how do we build a solution? What are we doing in BHP?
It’s been said before that data is the new gold – but we have to know how to use it.
Every mining operator generates reams of data. But it is how this information is captured, distilled, analysed, stored and used that makes the difference. You get out what you put in – quality outputs from quality inputs – or the alternative, garbage in, garbage out.
The opportunity – the prize – is clearly massive.
But there is no change without innovation.
Building the ecosystem
Firstly, we need to expand the ecosystem of ideas that we are exposed to – we are not in every pool of expertise, but we must be more open to conversations and ideas than ever before.
We know that not every good idea is our own idea.
I’m sure all the companies, universities, research groups represented here today have some very smart people working for them. We certainly do at BHP. But we know that the world of ideas is broader than our own company or our own industry.
And so we’re looking outwards to build an ecosystem of ideas, with a partnership mindset. So what have we done…
We are changing the way we work…
BHP Innovation has adopted an open innovation model, we are transparent about the ambitious opportunities and challenges we are working on and invite collaborators from universities, industry peers, adjacent industries and start-ups to join us.
We work with expert scanning and scouting partners, as well as ecosystem collaborators, like Deloitte’s new GreenSpace Tech ecosystem or MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program including their Startup Exchange.
We want to accelerate the technology development roadmaps of our partners and share in their success, not lock up their IP or restrict their growth potential.
We intend to Think and Act Differently in all our interactions.
We are also willing to invest.
BHP Ventures, our own Venture Capital arm, has been in action now for about 3 years. It is focused on emerging technologies that can help grow and improve our existing operations, our resource base, and our value chain.
It has screened more than 1,200 opportunities and built a high-quality global portfolio of over 20 holdings and continues to go from strength to strength.
We are thinking and acting differently about exploration.
Our exploration accelerator, BHP Xplor, merges concepts from venture capital and early-stage accelerators. We announced BHP Xplor in August 2022 and had many applications from all around the world, focused on the discovery of copper, nickel and other critical minerals. We’ve worked with seven companies, to provide funding and support to accelerate their growth. Wave 2 is coming soon…and I hope that all those from our first cohort can speak to this as a positive experience.
Operationally we also seek to be different, we have evolved our relationships with many of our vendors – we seek to partner to solve some of our biggest opportunities… this maybe quite tactical such as the partnership between Minerals America Technology, Escondida Operations and Microsoft to improve Escondida Concentrator recoveries…
A program that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning, to combine real-time plant data from the concentrators and AI-based recommendations from Microsoft’s Azure platform to feed our operations team information so they can adjust variables that affect ore processing and grade recovery.
This is the building of an eco-system, the setting of a foundation of partnerships and ways of working that is different – so what is that making possible.
What it’s delivering
Using these ecosystems, we must use data to drive solutions to make systems run better.
Partnering on tech and innovation is making our sites safer and more sustainable as we think and act differently to deliver real results.
One of the best ways we can reduce safety risks is through removing people from the frontline.
Where we have implemented truck automation at Jimblebar and Newman in Western Australia, there has been a 90% reduction in near miss events involving vehicles with a fatality potential.
We have extended automation to our fleets in Western Australia and here in Queensland and we are in implementation at Spence and Escondida in Chile.
Decision automation using real time data feeds from on the board fleet management systems provides a more efficient and productive result, shift in and shift out, delivering more safe tonnes per truck per year.
The advance of autonomous haulage by OEMs like Komatsu, Caterpillar – delivered in partnership with companies such as BHP are the first stage for decarbonisation...
The next stage is zero emission trucks…and at BHP we are investing in electric - even as we watch the hydrogen journey like hawks. We have a great partnership with Caterpillar and have a prototype truck running about in Arizona. We have advanced plans that consider trolley assists, recharging station distribution and dynamic charging as a part of the mine design of the future. Anna Wiley has presented BHPs vision of the electrified future here this week.
We can only create future value by through strong partnerships with our OEMs.
The other side of the equation is the need for sensible, innovative solutions to be shared for the collective benefit of the sector.
Our Operation and Technology teams at our Newman operation recently won their category at the Safety Excellence Awards run by the Western Australian government, for a remotely operated thermal lance for removing debris jams in crushers. It connects to a boom, meaning no more handheld thermal lances, removing people from potential harm from uncontrolled energy release.
BHP is licensing the design on a royalty-free basis so it can be used across the industry, worldwide – so please do get in touch with us if you want more information.
Tech and innovation supports better exploration.
Over the last couple of years BHP has re-organised our exploration team to seek out new deposits located across four global regions. We recognise that the old ways in which we approached exploration will not serve us as well in a new deeper, under-cover type of world.
We have leveraged the systems thinking of the petroleum industry and seek to understand the dynamic system required to emplace a new ore deposit – we aim to look at the earth in a different way.
I have to acknowledge the many BHP Petroleum colleagues who worked with the mineral geologists to develop and mature a minerals systems model using the extensive BHP datasets.
They have built a new way of thinking of the accumulations and concentrations of metals in given regions to inform our exploration search spaces. Those interested in more deeply understanding this can refer to the paper presented yesterday in this conference by Dr Cam McCuaig.
We also partner with those who bring new eyes, a different way of thinking and challenge to our process – the AI/ML partnerships such as those with DeepIQ/SRK, and Kobold are such examples.
And as we home in on our new targets we recognise the importance of new ways of using and collecting data. BHP Innovation, the Resource Centre of Excellence and Olympic Dam geologists and geometallurgists, have applied the first sparse 3D Hardrock Seismic Survey across the Olympic Dam deposit with very interesting results.
This work is an adaption of modern-day hard-rock seismic methodologies (again borrowed from the petroleum industry) and successfully applied across an ore deposit. This will accelerate resource characterisation and the targeting of drillholes – ultimately reducing cost and time to production.
If you are interested, check out a series of three papers presented at this year’s Australasian Exploration Geoscience Conference, led by Kathy Ehrig, Heather Schijns, and Jared Townsend, that explore these concepts more deeply.
And so what is old, or known in one industry, is being refashioned, accelerated and innovated to deliver new and exciting results today.
Collaborating on tech and innovation changes production and reduces waste.
At BHP, we have organised to have Digital Factories at all our operated assets, seeking to resolve problems through application of digital solutions using agile methodologies and strong asset sponsorship.
Let me give you an example. We all know product variability is a challenge across the industry. When we over or underestimate the quality of ore shipped to customers, it impacts the value we create.
So our digital factories got to work and came up with the Product Variability program, which we’ve been using at West Australian Iron Ore.
The technology used a Grade Adjustment Model that uses data sources to capture movements of ore across the supply chain in real time to map the grade coming from the mine.
We then use an application called StacksOn to maintain a 3D model of material in the stockyard, so we know what to load when.
The program addresses a fundamental issue in an innovative way. It is materially adding value to our operations, and we’re rolling it out across other commodities.
We have a Value Engineering team who work with operations to build dynamic models to answer questions about value chain performance and anticipated improvement options – able to define where capital spend, operational or improvement effort should be applied to maximise value, the team is in high demand across our business.
From modelling capital spend at NiWest, to defining the improvement activities to maximise throughput in the Escondida Concentrators, to predicting maintenance in train loadout stations in the WAIO, we are using data to define, measure and solve for the production impacts of tomorrow through dynamic modelling and digital twins.
At all stages of production, whether in exploration, in trucking, or extraction, we seek ways to innovate or disrupt… but we can only do this by thinking and acting differently.
How to support it
The evolution of the new mine site – safer, smarter, more automated and less manual – means the capabilities we need to run these operations are changing
We’re moving to a world where we are less hands on.
We increasingly need more people with digital skills right through our sector from the innovators to the front lines of production and maintenance. We need to bring workers with us on that journey. We simply don’t have enough of them.
The good news is that today’s generations of primary and secondary students are picking up digital skills as they learn coding etc at school; the base language of digital analysis is being engrained early.
The concept of a ‘citizen developer’ is built on this growing familiarity and comfort with code – and it’s important that the industry recognises the opportunity in these new generations of future resource sector workers.
At BHP, we enable people to register as a citizen developer to work on BHP problems. They are formally onboarded, supported with access to resources like security groups and environment access, and provided with education and training. There are more than 300 registered citizen developers at BHP, working individually and in collaborative communities.
The outcomes are exciting – for example, an app that improves on a complex escalation process for safety and environment events within our integrated remote operating centre has been a game changer for that team. The app was built by a processing specialist with no coding experience – he just saw a process that could be improved and set about doing it.
The industry needs more citizen developers. We need to train them now, and we need to make sure they see the mining industry as stable, attractive – dare I say exciting and future facing.
In conclusion, to deliver what the world needs, means identifying, developing and implementing digital and technical innovations – some of it novel and maybe a little scary(!)… and investing now in the people we need to find, build and work the mines of the future.
We all need to be thinking about setting ourselves up to do this now; Build our ecosystems, be open to new partnerships and ways of working, and be organised to move faster – driving ourselves forward with data, with people close to the opportunity finding the solution and then sharing the outcome for us all to use.
The data this industry can capture is increasing apace with the speed and quality of our capability to analyse it the only limiter. The opportunities to improve will be driven by our use of this data as much as by any other factor.
These mines of the future are vital to help to deliver the world of the future and a surer pathway to net zero. A transformation of mining, to deliver a global transformation by mining.