How remote control centers are changing the way mining operations are carried out

Key Points
  • Technology allows mining giant BHP to gain a real-time picture of its iron ore network in Western Australia.
  • A range of systems allows the company to keep operations running continuously. 
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Remote control centers are changing the way mining operations are carried out

Australian mining giant BHP is using innovative technology to operate mines remotely.

Its Perth-based Integrated Remote Operations Centre, or IROC, gives the business a real-time picture of its iron ore network in Western Australia, and makes use of a range of tech.

Marie Bourgoin is general manager for Integrated Production and Remote Operations (IPRO) at BHP. She told CNBC’s Didi Akinyelure that the IROC was “at the frontier of digital operations and innovation.”

Looking at the bigger picture, did Bourgoin think that the industry as a whole had been slow to adapt to innovation? “I’m not sure — I think there is a lot happening and a lot that we aren’t seeing because a lot is happening in remote locations.”

She described the Perth facility as state of the art, enabling the business to control equipment from “pit to port.” This included everything from drill control to the dispatch of trucks in a pit, train control and port control.

“How it all comes together is really through the technology that supports this asset, and this is the whole point, I guess, of the digital operations,” Bourgoin added. “Our critical assets are actually systems — production systems, downtime management systems, telecommunication systems, networks, CCTV cameras, so that we can keep eyes on the ground at any point in time.”

These systems were integrated and highly reliable, she said, allowing BHP to keep its operations going 24/7, some 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers away from where physical assets were located.

Joined-up thinking is crucial to the smooth running of things. “Despite being a digital operation, working in very close collaboration with our site stakeholders and the relationship with sites is at the forefront of everything we do,” Bourgoin said, adding that relevant parties had to stay connected when they made decisions.

“We have to make sure that our controllers here understand the impact of the decisions they make here on the ground over there, and conversely, we need to be aware of anything happening over there.”

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