Sunday, 26 January 2020
Sharna Glover, BHP - Event Write Up

Sharna Glover, BHP - Event Write Up

On Tuesday 13th February, Austmine kicked off our 2018 events schedule with a bang in Brisbane. We were joined by Sharna Glover, Manager Coal Technology Partnership at BHP, who was presenting on how BHP develops and identifies technology for operational requirements and how they plan the implementation process.

To begin, Sharna highlighted the key driver behind many of BHP’s decisions in this arena: how do we remove people in our operations from the line of fire? Technology is a significant enabler for this, naturally.

BHP has had a lot of change in its business over Sharna’s 17 years with the company and she noted how the current attitude towards technology and its critical role in the organisation is a very positive one. Technology has been quoted as having the potential to unlock BHP’s $12billion of resources, through automation of their supply chain, reducing waste and variability and improving the efficiency with which they can identify and extract the resource.

Last year, the global technology group was re-introduced back into the company, with over 1600 employees and its mandate spanning R&D, technology project delivery and monitoring and measuring digitally how all supporting technology is performing, all the way through operations and supply chain. A critical shift from the previous few years was that technology no longer only refers to IT.

Globally, the company supports 176 locations across 22 assets, 7 seaports and 15 data centres (although Sharna did note they’re looking at reducing the number of physical data centres). BHP’s vision is to be fully integrated and highly automated from the resource all the way through to the market. Sharna encouraged METS companies in the room to be a part of this vision by working with BHP through innovation, collaboration and connectivity.

Admitting that BHP had grappled with the IT/OT convergence that so many have struggled with in our industry, BHP have tackled this through ensuring that their newly re-introduced technology group incorporates IT, which Sharna acknowledged was critical for the success of the group. Initiatives that the group is working on span all engineering disciplines and are focused on adding value, rather than the cost-cutting continuous improvement approach that has been seen across the industry over the past 5 years.

Sharna then touched upon the general trends in the industry, positively in safety (although noting that until we’re consistently at zero fatality, it’s not good enough), and a downwards trend in productivity. Looking to other industries for inspiration, she noted that equipment automation alone is not going to be enough to drive major productivity improvement – it’s important, but not a silver bullet. The technology group is looking at all levels of the business to achieve improvement, including: digitisation; best management practice adoption; divisible and global supply chain; stability/repeatability and creating disruptive shifts in technical limits.

One specific way in which BHP are adapting using technology is through acquisition of daily survey information from their UAVs, which is uploaded into their GIS System, overlayed with their Modular Minestar fleet management system and used in pre-start meetings with their shift superintendents. Sharna made a very astute point surrounding the point of technology: “Technology is great, but it’s really about how do we use it, to make people more effective in their jobs?”

She noted this daily access to updated data through the UAVs’ surveys allows the shift teams to discuss pre-shift how the pit has changed, any safety issues to be aware of and where the mine plan is focused for the day, all using up to date data on their iPads. This is especially exciting because it truly shows a move to connecting technologies in the company, for better results.

Sharna moved on to discuss BHP’s IROCs, which are located in Perth and Brisbane and receive all of the company’s processing beneficiation information, provide support to the logistics chains (including rail and port for the iron ore division), as they own all the associated infrastructure. These centres have been so helpful for BHP to look at the supply chain in an integrated way and are key to sharing best practice amongst sites.

The IROC in Perth operates 24/7 and has a special focus in the IT/OT space, providing support to digitally monitor and remediate operations across Australia. The future goal for this centre is to receive volumes of data coming off low cost sensors on site, to cloud compute this data and leverage algorithms to drive machine learning. BHP want to use this to move to automated decision making where possible.

They have a strong focus on employee diversity in their IROCs, with workers from ambulance and emergency services; Sharna commented: “They really know how to dispatch!” BHP also has people from Qantas and other airlines, who truly understand logistics chain support. The centres reflect an achievement of 50/50 on gender diversity, and Sharna gave some advice to METS companies looking to work with BHP: “When we look at partner companies, we now drive hard that your diversity needs to start to reflect our diversity.”

Changing direction, Sharna went on to discuss how BHP go about planning innovation and the technology pipeline. She explained that technology planning all starts from their understanding of the resource and its associated operational and supply chain challenges. She explained BHP does not first take a great technology and then go back to their operations to find a problem it might fix!

Further to this, BHP employs an annual corporate alignment planning process, which is a bottom up planning process. They plan from long-term to short-term, starting with the life of asset (LOA) which defines the mine plan for every orebody they have over its entire life. They rebuild the plan every year, which underpins their resource and reserve reporting to the market.

So, where does this relate particularly to technology? Sharna clarified that it’s at this time of year in LOA, that they will define a technology as “alternative”. The team applies their thought around all the great technologies in the marketplace that could bring about an impact upon their assets and what they can translate into their mine plans.

The driver beyond a particular technology could be about improving productivity, or it could be about unlocking orebodies that they don’t value today through conventional technology. Their OPEX planning is linked to this LOA planning and how they start to prioritise funding. From the LOA planning, then they move into 5-year planning, and from there, the 2 year plans that incorporate technologies that are operationally ready. This annual planning session then receives quarterly re-prioritisation.

Sharna closed by explaining that BHP is adopting a distributed innovation model moving forward, and part of what this means is that they’re looking to engage in partnership models with METS companies, establishing shared purpose and common values. BHP wants to co-design solutions with suppliers, based on their existing operational challenges. They’re seeking fast-value opportunities: get in, work on the challenge and take some risks on technology and novel approaches.


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