BHP’s BOS program empowers 80,000 problem solvers across the organization.

by steve fiscor, editor-in-chief

Professionals learn from collaboration. Sharing their experience and bouncing ideas off one another allows them to think through problems with like-minded individuals. New approaches to work are allowing front-line managers to share notes (and photos) about breakdowns and repairs with colleagues halfway around the world either in real-time or saved as reference material for when anyone in the company encounters similar problems.

With the constant pursuit of continuous improvement, maintenance practices always garner attention. The costs and knock-on effects on availability and productivity can be profound. Extending the life of equipment or improving availability by a few percentage points can save a mining operation or a mill tens of millions of dollars.

For years now, mining companies have been collecting and analyzing a wealth of data and using digital twins to consider different operating parameters. Maintenance has benefited immensely from this practice, and data analysis is now being used to improve operational performance.

The Benefits of Standardization and Digitization

Speaking at the Bank of America SmartMine conference at the end of June, BHP’s Chief Technical Officer Laura Tyler explained how innovation at the world’s largest mining company, coupled with digital data, has driven improvement and changed the way BHP works every day. This practice has been a major contributor to the company’s consistent operational performance over the last few years, Tyler explained. “We have been working on the BHP Operating System (BOS) since 2017,” Tyler said. “Our goal was to create a way of working that makes improvement central to everyone’s role in the pursuit of operational excellence, taking inspiration from the leading carmakers such as Toyota and the Toyota method.”

The BOS methodology builds on foundations that BHP has built over the previous decades, including 1SAP implementation, increasing digitization, implementation of centers of excellence and its more recent move to the cloud, Tyler explained. “It marks a fundamental shift in leadership, organizational capability and employee empowerment, and it is our most important lever to build organizational resilience and grow value,” Tyler said.

Together with the power of data and technology, BOS is making BHP safer, more reliable and more productive, and it helped BHP carve out about $1.3 billion in cost savings and revenue uplift in the last year alone. “This is a result of the BOS principles and practices, focused on our target to deliver our production commitments and increase margins on every single ton,” Tyler said. “This includes more efficient maintenance practices and higher productivity across the business.”

These improvements were owned by an empowered front line across our Minerals Americas and Minerals Australia assets through the BOS routines that BHP put in place, Tyler explained. “The company approached the practice in two ways,” Tyler said. “We look at it top-down, where we build a digital twin for each of our assets to model improvement along the value chain and identify bottlenecks. And, bottom-up, where the BOS effectively creates 80,000 problem solvers across BHP’s business globally to improve safety and productivity, but it is underwritten by in-house innovations and applications that provide the interface for people on the ground to execute and improve their work.

Many ideas start on the front line with people who operate BHP’s assets every day. “They are the ones that are often best-placed to determine how to standardize the work processes and how to share the innovative ways of working,” Tyler said. “A great example is the standardized work tools that we rolled out on any repetitive tasks across all of our Australian and South American operations. We started with maintenance because of the sheer significant spend there and the opportunity to put it into the already structured nature of work that maintenance is. This benefits equipment availability and reliability, or mean time between failures, both of which are material factors to achieve our production targets.”

To build a fully integrated BOS, Tyler said BHP deployed a global toolkit that leverages innovative market solutions and builds on those existing pockets of digital maturity across the business. “This app then provides the frontline maintainers and operators with an interface to follow the work instructions on how to do the activity, for example, a truck maintenance activity, where they can upload the detailed equipment information as they execute the work, including examples such as photos or notes or whatever would be required for future work,” Tyler said. “They can raise a maintenance notification for follow-up and, importantly, input improvement and suggestions in real-time, while they are doing the task. These are fed back to site improvement teams, which accelerates the velocity of continuous improvement across BHP’s operations.”

BHP asset data is wired together through its 1SAP system. The company can directly compare data and process improvement between the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance coal mines in Queensland, Australia, the Escondida copper mine in Chile and the Western Australia iron ore fleets in real-time. “Best practices can be analyzed and spread quickly between the assets,” Tyler said. “Through the in-field app, about 12,000 maintenance activities are completed every month and more than 2,000 improvement ideas are raised. The standardized work app picks up those ideas and those ways of working, and improves the future ways of working. This approach, we believe, all wired through 1SAP, is a competitive advantage for BHP, driven by technology, making our frontline work safer and more productive.”

Through standardizing processes enabled by digital solutions, Tyler said that standardized work activities have yielded a significant reduction in effort by driving consistent, quality outcomes. “We have also delivered about $200 million in value to BHP over the past two years, through reductions in maintenance costs and increases in production brought by increased equipment availability and mean time between failures,” Tyler said. “For example, the introduction of standardized work on one of our Hitachi excavators has reduced labor hours allocated to a 16-week service by over 25%, from 90 hours to 65 hours.”

Redesigning and improving how the work is done allows BHP to be more flexible and diverse in hiring for these operational maintainer roles. “As we eliminate or redesign tasks that have historically relied upon physical strength, we can change the way that we work,” Tyler said. “Given the safety, diversity and productivity benefits delivered so far, we are deploying the standardized work apps across all maintenance areas and we are trialing it at our iron ore rail operations to see how we can implement it through production as well.”

BHP is also using innovation with its data and systems in what it calls Total Equipment Strategies for its critical operating systems,” Tyler explained. “Initially applied to mobile fleets, we have now successfully extended it to our fixed plants,” Tyler said. “Total Equipment Strategies revisit the maintenance and asset integrity strategies for the critical pieces of equipment in our operations. Based on a mathematical analysis of the breakdowns, the maintenance patterns, and OEM recommendations, it delivers a recalibration of the maintenance strategies, resets the work orders in the systems and assesses the critical parts listing with the intent to increase availability and reliability, and reduce maintenance and inventory holding costs.”

At BHP’s Newman iron operation in Western Australia, the mobile Total Equipment Strategies project for excavators helped to extend the average equipment life by 40% and delivered an availability uplift of 2%. “The outcome was 3.5 years of extra life for the equipment, which may not actually seem like a lot but helped to achieve capital productivity by deferral of $80 million over five years,” Tyler said.

BHP plans to roll out these innovations and learnings at all of its new assets and major projects soon, capturing benefits from day one of production.

This article was excerpted from an article that was originally published in the October 2022 edition of Engineering & Mining Journal (E&MJ).