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BHP looking at higher iron ore output

BHP is targeting higher iron ore production through improved productivity and debottlenecking initiatives at its WA Iron Ore (WAIO) site in Western Australia.

Speaking at an on-site tour investor briefing, WAIO asset president Brandon Craig said BHP’s last major rapid growth project in 2013 – which included inner harbour improvements, Jimblebar expansion and port blending and rail yard facilities – lifted WAIO nameplate capacity to 240 million tonnes per annum.

“Since then, we have been systematically improving through productivity and debottlenecking of the supply chain through low cost, targeted, capital efficient investments by addressing rail, mines and more recently at the port with our car dumpers,” he said.

“Despite COVID headwinds, this has enabled us to creep sales to above 280mt over each of the past three years, including a record 284mt last year.

“Today, we have a tightly coupled supply chain – extremely efficient, but with limited ability to sprint, or manage major maintenance.

“While maintaining this efficiency, we are allocating capital throughout the value chain to unlock capacity and shift the bottleneck to the port, which is our designed bottleneck.”

Craig said the aim was to get to 300mtpa medium term guidance, and a potential 330mtpa rate.

“Broadly, to get from where we are today, to production levels greater than 300mtpa will take some investment in both the port and rail,” he said.

“These projects are underway; we expect that getting to 330mtpa will require additional investment in our mines, and port – and will most likely require an additional car dumper.”

Craig said the introduction and expanding use of technology and innovation across WAIO would be a key lever for BHP to unlock the productivity potential within the system.

“In 2016, we started our remotely operated blast hole drilling program at Yandi – managed from the IROC. Today, we now have one of the biggest autonomous drilling fleets in the world, with 26 rigs across our five operational sites,” he said.

“Our autonomous haulage journey has delivered safer, more reliable, and productive operations, starting at Jimblebar in 2017 and expanding to Newman East in 2020.

“At South Flank, our autonomous fleet is growing with 10 trucks currently operating autonomously. In the year ahead, we’ll convert the remainder of the South Flank haul truck fleet.

“Our Newman East operation is already fully autonomous. Studies are in progress to deploy automated trucks at Mining Area C and Newman West as we move towards having approximately 85 per cent of the fleet automated by the end of FY27, capitalising on the significant benefits of improved safety and productivity outcomes.”

Craig also touched on the company’s Rail Technology Project (RTP), which provides an option to replace the end of life signalling system, and leverage technology that will shift the network from the current fixed block signalling system to a moving block.

This would improve the safety and integrity of the system, and unlock capacity by reducing the following distance between trains, increasing throughput along our rail network to the port.

“We are also currently trialling two automated shiploaders and have plans to transition towards becoming fully automated later this year. Once completed, these will be operated from IROC,” Craig said.

Editor of industrial titles and mastheads with Prime Creative Media. Publications include Rail Express and Australian Mining (web content).
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