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A coal executive has outlined the potential for BHP to expand its autonomous haulage operations to up to 500 trucks across its open-cut coal and iron ore mines.

BHP Mitsubishi Alliance Asset President James Palmer addressed the Bowen Basin Mining Club July networking luncheon in Mackay, with a wide-ranging talk including a focus on increased technology and transformation.

“To be frank, at BMA, we know we can still generate a lot more value from our existing operations. In fact we believe the potential is enormous,” he said.

“We have a transformation agenda underway designed to unlock that potential by delivering the next wave of productivity gains, which will in turn further increase capacity across our operations.”

A key element was BHP’s people, and he said the company was committed to investing in skills building and training, developing a better culture at BMA, and empowering people to help find better ways of working.

Mr Palmer also highlighted technology as a major driver in the organisation’s transformation.

He said significant incidents involving trucks had decreased by almost 90 per cent at Jimblebar mine in the Pilbara, where BHP operates a fully autonomous haulage fleet.

Expanding the autonomous fleet to 500 across Australia was an ambitious target, involving about a tenfold increase to BHP’s existing fleet, he said.

“But, like I said earlier, the results from Jimblebar – particularly the safety improvements – continue to make a strong case for change,” Mr Palmer said.

Mr Palmer stressed that BHP was committed to preparing its workforce – and the workforce of tomorrow – for the advent of transformational technology, like autonomous haulage, and maximising opportunities.

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

He also spoke of the ramifications of BHP transformation on the supply chain, including the roll out of the Supply Innovation program.

“In a nutshell, it’s an open platform that’s designed to connect our unique mining challenges with suppliers and innovators,” Mr Palmer said.

“We started this concept at Escondida in South America, it’s now running at Olympic Dam in South Australia and soon we hope to pilot it here in Queensland.

“Very excitingly, at Escondida, the initiative recently delivered a new maintenance robot – the first of its kind – created by a local Chilean business.

“Not only does the robotic arm keep workers out of what can be a dangerous environment, but it also performs the work much faster.

“This a big a win for us – particularly as our people are safer. It’s also a win for local suppliers – and I look forward to keeping you updated on our plans to replicate its success here in Queensland.”

BMA is the largest private employer in Central Queensland – engaging a workforce of about 10,000  people.

Mr Palmer said BHP, through BMA and BMC, spent more than $100 million with local businesses through the Local Buying Program last financial year.

BMA boss provides a glimpse of mining future