BHP is trialing drones to inspect its ocean freight operations, building on the successful integration of the technology at mine sites.
The major miner uses drones at coal mines in Queensland such as Goonyella to check areas during blasting setups and to document the fumes that are generated.
Fitting drones with high-quality cameras at these sites saves BHP around $5 million a year when compared with equivalent plane costs.
The company also uses drones at the Olympic Dam operation in South Australia for the inspection of tall areas such as cranes and towers.
Marine drones can be used for a multitude of tasks in an ocean freight capacity, including hold inspections, checking the water position of rudders and draft readings.
BHP vice president of marketing freight Rashpal Bhatti said that drones could cut hold inspection times — which are generally performed while ships are berthed — by 75 per cent to 15 minutes.
“The hold inspection process involves ships which have five to nine holds which a person checks by climbing down ladders,” he explained.
“The inspector has to be physically fit, use fall protection, and carry a parrot (oxygen meter) to make sure there is enough air in the hold. And it takes a lot of time.
“With drones, we can fly them into a hold and capture 4K images, but also infra-red, and other types of cameras that can show cracks or other specific parameters that cannot be seen with the naked eye.’’
Bhatti also suggested that the use of tablet-compatible drones could provide safety benefits for chartered ships, especially for tension readings of ship mooring line.
BHP hopes its use of drones for freight inspections will create a “holistic technological package” to deliver several types of information to the same table.
“It’s all a bit futuristic but that is the direction we are going,” concluded Bhatti.