BHP’s next CEO to heighten safety through technology

Mike Henry believes superior tech application and innovation is one way for BHP to stay at the forefront of the global industry.

Henry, who will take over from Andrew Mackenzie as CEO next year, has witnessed the same approach at other leading resources companies.

Woodside, Rio Tinto, South32 and Fortescue Metals Group have all used technology to connect people, according to Henry.

BHP established its first fully autonomous haulage system at its Jimblebar mine in Western Australia in 2017. The initiative significantly reduced incidents with fatal potential and lowered costs, according to Henry.

The world’s biggest miner is also bringing innovative ideas such as seismic technology from its Petroleum business to better understand its coal resources, produce better mine plans, and mitigate risks.

“We are using some of the safety practices being adopted in our offshore Petroleum operations to inform how we can keep people safer in our onshore mining operations, including here in Western Australia,” Henry, speaking at Perth’s Resources Technology Showcase, said.

“Part of staying at the forefront of the global industry and value creation, must be being able to innovate and apply technology better than others.

“This is a significant focus at BHP. It will enable us to reduce our impact on the environment and it will give rise to more fulfilling jobs.”

Henry touched on an occasion last year involving Woodside Petroleum and Deakin University, where the three worked together to solve a safety issue with underground in one of its nickel mines.

“We had a valve under pressure that needed to be removed, but the risks were such that we couldn’t introduce people to the area. Woodside and Deakin lent us the robots and expertise that enabled us to resolve the issue with people operating remotely,” Henry said.

“This is a great example of the sort of opportunity for collaboration and knowledge sharing between sectors that is easier here in Western Australia than perhaps anywhere else in the world.”

The company has the same tech aspirations for BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA)’s Goonyella Riverside coal mine in Queensland. BMA will convert a fleet of up to 86 Komatsu trucks over the next two years starting from 2020.

BHP’s Innovation Centre at Eastern Ridge, Western Australia also acts as the company’s proving ground for new technologies, which will then be exported to its global operations.

This includes an industrial Internet of Things sensor gateway, which collects data from sensors on BHP mobile and fixed plant equipment such as trucks and drills.

A different team will exploit the rich data to make maintenance safer and more efficient. It only took 16 weeks to turn the technology from concept to first prototype.

BHP is also using some of its offshore petroleum practices to identify ways to increase safety at onshore mining operations.

“Whether it’s automated haulage, robotics, drones, big data or artificial intelligence – we are changing the way we work,” Henry said.

“Today technology has helped to make us safer, more predictable and more focused than ever before. However, there is potential is so much greater. The opportunities abound.”

Henry will advance BHP’s technology ambitions by collaborating with the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector.

He also plans to spend the next six weeks travelling to BHP’s operations and offices globally.

“I am committed to partnering with others to help make BHP safer and to take performance to the next level,” Henry said.