Thursday, 27 February 2020
Austmine’s Adelaide Mining Innovation Roadshow Review: Nathan Flaman, Head of Supply – Olympic Dam, BHP
Austmine Limited

Austmine’s Adelaide Mining Innovation Roadshow Review: Nathan Flaman, Head of Supply – Olympic Dam, BHP

By Megan Edwards, Head of Membership Services, Austmine

At Austmine’s Innovation Roadshow in Adelaide at the start of October, our opening Keynote Presentation was delivered by Nathan Flaman, Head of Supply – Olympic Dam, BHP. Nathan’s presentation covered the topic subject of Beyond Technology in Innovation in South Australia, which he broke down into 3 broad areas:

1.       The case for change and the huge opportunity BHP has in South Australia;

2.       What they’re doing at BHP to respond to change and how they want to go from fast followers to early adopters;

3.       What the future looks like for BHP, Olympic Dam, SA and establishing long-term partnerships to ensure everyone benefits.

The Case for Change

Nathan opened by asking the audience “Why innovate?”. He noted that the world is changing fast and the global climate change strike that took place on Friday 27th September felt, to him, like a tipping point. We are seeing an exponential rate of change in technology, resulting in disruptive emerging technologies like Air Tasker, Uber, etc. that radically changes aspects of our economy.

Nathan questioned whether the mining industry is keeping up with this rapid rate of change that’s occurring outside our industry. He observed that mine sites today look similar to how they did 20, 30, or even 50 years ago. We can’t afford to stand still, or we will be disrupted. Mining must innovate, be more productive and more sustainable. Nathan gave an impassioned plea to the audience that we must innovative in order to deliver our products at lowest possible cost, more safely and with less environmental impact – the world demands this of us.

“Rapid change is disruptive, hard, stressful. But the potential is enormous.”

How is BHP Responding?

They are bringing people and resources together to build a better world. Nathan commented that this is not just a tagline: it is BHP’s fundamental reason for being and what they do every day to create value for their stakeholders. But they can’t deliver on that purpose without embracing innovation.

Nathan heads up Procurement and Supply for BHP’s Olympic Dam and, in that arena, BHP are firmly jumping into the 4th Industrial Age. They’ve established their local buying program, which embraces entrepreneurial thinking and makes it easier for small, local businesses to connect with BHP (he acknowledged it’s not always easy for SMEs to do this). BHP is challenging their procurement team to go beyond their traditional vendors and seek out vendors who might have new ways of doing things.

Nathan observed that his team must now be prepared to fail fast if they want to truly achieve supply innovation. Unlike usual sourcing, where they know exactly what they want to buy – or they think they do – they go out to market with a question and ask vendors to help them solve this problem. Nathan termed this: “Using the collective brainpower of vendors to solve some of our most wicked problems!”. He clarified this new approach doesn’t mean that BHP then owns this solution – the vendor still owns whatever technology or solution may come out of this process, helping to stimulate innovation in the METS sector more broadly.

BHP is also looking to other industries for inspiration, such as learning from the ecommerce sector, e.g. Amazon, to help make their parts supply chain operations more predictable and efficient.

Nathan discussed a number of other examples where BHP is transforming their business and their future through technology, such as the trial of underground electric vehicles at Olympic Dam. This initiative is reducing people’s exposure to diesel particulate matter, whilst at the same time reducing emissions.

BHP is working with vendors to trial new technology, e.g. their partnership with Orica on detonators. Their work with Bureau Veritas that began back in 2012, on a heap leach program, concluded this year and confirmed heap leach could be viable for Olympic Dam’s operations. They are utilising drones, already considered an “older technology”, but BHP keeps finding new uses, e.g. remote surveying. In future, Nathan suggested they could be used for deliveries onsite, as drone payload capabilities continue to increase exponentially.

What does the Future Look Like?

BHP’s future must feature a continual innovation in how they partner. This has been an inherent part of their history and will be a critical part of their future.

Nathan commented that with automation and machine learning, today’s journey includes some pretty complicated technology. However, achieving success from these technologies can be simple – such as empowering their front-line employees: “These are often the people driving innovation that is fundamental to our sustainable success.”.

Nathan went on to discuss the role of diversity, and how imperative it is for BHP to have a culture that is inclusive and diverse, where employees can challenge convention and feel safe to speak up. It’s been proven by many studies now that diversity of thought encourages new ideas.

Nathan said: “This is incredibly important; it is no longer an ethical or moral case, it’s an economic imperative. For this we have to lead the change. At BHP, we work at this every day and are starting to see positive change.”

BHP has a goal of achieving a gender balanced workforce by 2025, which will require a 3% increase YOY from where they are today – a very achievable goal. It is agreed that both safety and productivity improvements come from inclusive and diverse teams and in fact BHP have recorded an impressive 15% better performance from diverse teams in their company!

BHP’s technology strategy puts people first – because people drive everything they do.

Nathan closed with “Creativity, trust, authentic human trust, credibility – these are becoming ever more critical in our modern world. We won’t be successful by building equipment that’s bigger and faster. We have to embrace people’s hearts and minds.”

Austmine members can download the presentation slides here.

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