BHP relies on tech for growth in market slump

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BHP relies on tech for growth in market slump

Plots more drone use, Queensland remote ops centre.

Miner BHP Billiton has identified technology as one of five strategic enablers of growth as the business struggles through an ongoing commodities price slump.

In a speech to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Metals, Mining and Steel Conference in the US yesterday, BHP chief Andrew Mackenzie outlined his plan for boosting the value of the company as global commodity prices remain uncertain.

Mackenzie's roadmap included five strategic areas intended to grow the base value of BHP by more than 70 percent.

Alongside improving productivity, unlocking the latent capacity of its assets, growth projects in oil and copper, and an increase in exploration activity to take advantage of falling costs, Mackenzie identified technology as a way to "unlock resources and lower costs".

After establishing a global IT support function in February this year, the miner is using technology to identify opportunities at several of its major assets.

While investments in technology were "harder to explicitly quantify" than some of BHP's other initiatives, Mackenzie said technology had the potential to add significant value to the business.

".. investments in technology can improve our safety, further lower our cost base and increase volumes leading to long-term value creation," Mackenzie said.

The technology team is currently working in conjunction with BHP's assets team on "prioritised initiatives focused on high-value opportunities" such as unmanned aerial vehicles at its Queensland coal mines.

BHP deployed a group of UAVs last year at the Queensland Goonyella coal mine to improve worker safety and performance and monitor the mine's operations.

The UAVs weigh 2.5kg, can fly up to 80km/h, and boast a flight time of 40 minutes, meaning they can cover 80ha of the mine site in one flight, the miner told the Weekend Australian in March.

BHP said it expects to additionally introduce an integrated remote operations centre - similar to what it has had in Perth for iron ore since 2013 - by FY18 at the Queensland coal mine.

The miner is also deploying around 30 autonomous blasthole drills (used in surface mining operations) at its Western Australia iron ore operations.

BHP's technology initiatives are supported by a newly globalised technology support function headed by Diane Jurgens following an organisational restructure in February.

A US$5.7 billion (A$7.8 billion) loss in the first half of its financial year prompted the miner to implement structural changes in a bid to become more agile.

A regionally-focused approach supported by globalised support functions - like technology - was introduced, with Jurgens promoted to global chief technology officer reporting directly to Mackenzie.

The rejigged technology function combines the IT division with the technology unit that previously sat with geosciences and engineering, and which was responsible for the group's technology strategy and areas like automated trucks.

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