BHP's new inventors

BHP has created a technology incubator in the Pilbara that it plans to roll out to its global operations.
BHP's new inventors BHP's new inventors BHP's new inventors BHP's new inventors BHP's new inventors

BHP chief technology officer Diane Jurgens at Eastern Ridge

The Eastern Ridge Innovation Centre is a first for the company and is part of a transformation being led by Singapore-based chief technology officer Diane Jurgens.

It opened up the facility to the world's media this week, two years after it was established.

Jurgens told visiting reporters the company's culture was a key differentiator as it worked to take "bold moves" in the tech space.

"We don't do technology for the sake of it. We'll only do it when it adds value," she said.

The Eastern Ridge facility acts not only as a testing centre for new technology, but also somewhere new initiatives are invented.

"We don't invent technology somewhere in a lab in a big city - we create ideas here on site," Jurgens said.

"Not all technology you can just buy off the shelf.

"This is our incubator, our proving ground. It is a game-changer for the resources industry."

Jurgens said it used to take up to 10 years to develop and introduce a new product to site.

A BHP-invested industrial ‘internet of things' sensor gateway went from concept to first prototype in just 16 weeks.

The shiny red device is about the size of a home router and can be attached to equipment to collect data.

It reduces the need for people to take manual readings from equipment.

"It's world-first technology in a place that's remote, challenging - a bit gritty, which technology doesn't always like," Jurgens said.

"How do you do internet of things if you come to a place with no internet? But we've done that."

Another invention is the live mine scheduling tool, which can make real-time decisions based on data.

The system will be rolled out to the entire iron ore network, and eventually to global operations.

"I think it's going to have a tremendous impact," Jurgens said.

BHP is also keen to partner with industry on innovation as it has done with a Perth-based start-up on its acoustic monitoring system.

The system uses fibre optic sensors to detect anomalies on conveyers and other rotating equipment.

It ‘listens' to the equipment and collects data.

"It reminded me of a listening device my kids use to choose music," Jurgens said.

"That's essentially what we're doing with acoustic monitoring."

Of course, automation plays a big part in innovation and productivity gains.

At the Jimblebar mine, the company's autonomous drill rigs have increased productivity by 25% while reducing monthly maintenance costs by more than 40%.

There's also the added safety benefit of continued operation during one of the Pilbara's frequent electrical storms.

Autonomous trucks have reduced serious safety incidents by more than 80%.

Rail productivity is up by 2.4 million tonnes per annum due to the use of lasers to more accurately load wagons.

Jurgens and her team have a vision that the future supply chain will resemble a modern assembly line.

It takes inspiration from the automotive industry. Jurgens was formerly chief information officer at General Motors.

Jurgens said the "new paradigms" were technology plus people plus machines.

"We're not going to automate everything because people play an important role," she said.

"The future really is the best of both worlds."

The reporter travelled to Newman as a guest of BHP.