Described as a world-class control centre, IROC provides BHP Billiton with a real-time view of its entire WA iron ore supply chain.
IROC will allow the mining giant to remotely control its Pilbara mine, fixed plant, train and port operations from one central location.
BHP Billiton Iron Ore president Jimmy Wilson said that for the first time, it could view its total supply chain.
“IROC plays an integral role in driving our productivity agenda by increasing the availability, utilisation and rate of our existing assets,” he said.
“It’s central to our efforts to achieve growth to 220 million tonnes per annum.
“IROC took only 22 months from the concept study phase to becoming operational, which is a remarkable achievement given the technology and people change required.
“The new facility also opens up a wealth of opportunities for our employees, providing training and up-skilling options and the chance to work in a state-of-the-art facility.”
Barnett congratulated BHP Billiton at the official opening of its “impressive” IROC.
“This is a far cry from the first days of BHP’s iron ore mine at Cockatoo Island in the 1950s,” he said.
“It’s an enormous step forward for the company. As everyone knows, it’s not only a very large iron ore operation, it’s a complicated one with seven mines, 1500 kilometres of rail and two loading port facilities, with thousands of people involved.
“This project has a number of advantages. It brings all the control and operating staff together, so they know and understand what’s going on.”
Barnett said he had noticed a change in the global iron ore market.
“I would suggest by the end of this decade, the Chinese steel industry would reach a mature, stable level of production that would continue on for many years,” he added.
Last year, China produced about 720 million tonnes of steel and Japan 120Mt.
China is expected to produce 780Mt of steel this year.
“China is a huge steel producer and buyer of iron ore and other natural resources,” Barnett said.
“But the heady days of rapid growth are starting to come to an end, which would mean future growth for BHP Billiton and other mining companies will become very cost competitive.”
Technologically, Wilson admitted that Rio Tinto was ahead of BHP Billiton and that IROC would help improve productivity, integrate processes and leverage volume.
Rio Tinto officially opened its Perth remote operations centre in June, 2010.
IROC uses a mine fleet-management system, train control and fixed plant-control systems for mine and port operations.
CCTV and radio systems are used for communicating with personnel onsite.
IROC employs 300 staff that operate the entire WA iron ore network 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In 24 hours, BHP Billiton trucks are dumped 4100 times, 4100 wagons are filled and then railed to the port so vessels can be loaded.
The facility has the capacity to expand in order to support similar projects in the future.