BHP plots massive automation roll out across Australia

BMA operations. Image: BHP.

BHP will potentially introduce up to 500 autonomous trucks at its Australian open cut operations, a tenfold increase on the company’s existing fleet at the Jimblebar mine in the Pilbara.

The hundreds of autonomous trucks would operate across BHP Mitsubishi Alliance’s (BMA) coal sites and BHP’s iron ore business.

BMA asset president James Palmer, speaking at the annual Bowen Basin luncheon, said BHP would prepare its workforce for the arrival of the autonomous haulage fleet.

“Over time as we progress – yes, let’s be transparent – this will likely mean our business has fewer operators physically on the equipment,” Palmer said.

“But it will mean more controllers, more builders and more technicians. It will mean less physical and less routine jobs. But it will mean more dynamic, fulfilling careers.”

BHP has reported a reduction of 90 per cent in significant incidents involving trucks at the Jimblebar mine, where it operates a fully autonomous haulage fleet.

The company has also created training and upskilling opportunities for its workforce through the development of its integrated remote operations centre (IROC) in Brisbane.

More than half of IROC’s mine control team were heavy vehicles operators, according to Palmer.

BHP, meanwhile, plans to add 400 permanent jobs across its BMA sites – half of which will be recruited from regional communities – on top of the 400 full-time jobs already generated within the coal division.

“We’ve heard the strong calls from our workforce – and indeed the communities where we operate – to reduce long-term labour hire and create more permanent employment,” Palmer said.

“As the world continues to change – and so too does our industry and indeed BMA itself – we must not lose sight of our position within a larger ecosystem.”

BMA is also taking part in Queensland’s safety reset in light of three fatalities in the past five years at its sites, the latest of which led to the death of a dozer and dragline operator on the 2018/19 New Year’s Eve.

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