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COVID-19 pandemic drives BHP innovation

Cutting-edge wearable technology is enabling BHP’s teams in Perth to remotely assist auto electricians’ and mechanical fitters on site 1,300 km away during pandemic.

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Because BHP’s Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) mining and processing operations run at a very high performance rate, very little room is left for unexpected breakdowns and equipment downtime.


When these situations occur, the problem must be resolved quickly with ‘all hands on deck’. When a phone call or a video conference is not enough for BHP’s teams to do this, the miner normally has to fly people site, which is costly and time consuming.


Distance will soon no longer a boundary thanks to wearable mixed reality devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens, according to Alex Bertram, manager digital transformation at BHP’s WAIO.


“When COVID-19 struck, our teams couldn’t travel from Perth to our sites in Western Australia,” said Bertram. “So we improvised.


“In mining, people fly-in/fly-out and some drive-in/drive-out. Soon, our teams will be able to ‘RiRo’, which stands for remote-in/remote-out. RiRo is essentially our teams providing remote assistance via live point of view video calls to our personnel on site.


“Utilising cloud services and a mixed reality headset device, our technicians on the frontline can call for help and technical support when they need it most – during critical breakdowns and when undertaking new or complex tasks.”


BHP said that that RiRo will allow its engineers, IPRO operators and technical experts in Perth, in site offices or wherever they may be in the world to see exactly what the people in the field see, in real time. They can then provide step-by-step guidance directly to the operator wearing the mixed reality headset device, even sending them schematics or technical manuals straight to our technicians.


Cristina Perbellini Silva, BHP’s manager for decision automation in technology, is now trialling the technology with the firm’s Rail teams at the Mooka Ore Car Repair Shop.


“Remote assist using mixed reality is the start of a promising journey. As we learn and adapt, we expect our teams will find new and novel ways to use the technology to improve safety and productivity.


“During COVID-19, we have been able to move at an amazing velocity because we all have a clear goal and are empowered to make the right decisions – this helped us cut through the bureaucracy and red tape and implement solutions faster than we thought possible.”


Pat Bourke, vice president of technology at BHP Minerals Australia, said the strength of this technology is its simplicity. “We are using standard platforms and hardware that already exist,” explained Bourke.


“What we are doing differently is thinking creatively. That’s where you can gain a competitive advantage, and I can see the RiRo way of working being a real game changer.


“During COVID-19, we’ve needed to think of innovative ways to have minimal amount of people on the group while still maintaining a safe operating workplace.


“Remote work using technology was always an option for us, however COVID-19 has pushed us to really harness innovative technology and we will only continue to improve our productivity as we make it widely available and perfect its use.”


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