South32 uses robot technology at Worsley alumina operation

Worsley alumina employees operating the BIKE platform remotely. Image: South32

South32 is operating a new robot, the BIKE platform, to carry out safety checks at its Worsley alumina operation in Western Australia, one of the world’s largest alumina projects.

The BIKE platform has recorded a total of 67 confined-space entries and 68 working-at-height activities to date. It is used to carry out inspections on tanks, vessels and pipes.

South32 said, “One of the main advantages of these mobile robots is that they can reach locations inaccessible by humans because of size constraints, temperature, immersion in liquids or other safety reasons.”

The robots are operated remotely, and fitted with wide-view cameras and an ultrasonic probe to check for steel corrosion and wear.

Using magnetic wheels, the robots are able to climb walls, roofs and tackle obstructions such as stairs and 90-degree corners.

The technology has eliminated the need for employees to work at heights or in confined spaces — it helps ensure that employees go home safe and well every night.

During the 2018 financial year, Worsley alumina employed an estimated 1514 employees and 456 contractors.

TRIF accounts for total recordable injury frequency per million hours worked
TRIF accounts for total recordable injury frequency per million hours worked at Worsley alumina. Source: South32

“Technology and innovation is radically shifting our performance,” South32 said.

In early 2017, South32 was the first company to launch Airobotics multi-purpose drones at its Worsley alumina site. The drones are used to carry out machinery inspections, stockpiles mapping and surveys as well as security monitoring.

Worsley alumina is 130 kilometres south east of Perth, near the town of Boddington. Its bauxite is transported to the largest overland conveyor belt in the southern hemisphere for more than 50 kilometres, where the red bauxite rock is turned into white alumina powder in a refinery near the town of Collie.