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BHP is testing two new automated shiploaders at its export facility in Port Hedland as part of a $50 million project to fully automate eight shiploaders by 2023.

The automation project uses 3D laser scan technology in what BHP described as a “world first”.

Located at BHP’s Nelson Point and Finucane Island operations, the eight shiploaders together load around 1500 bulk ore carriers each year, exporting some 280 million tonnes of iron ore to global customers in 2021.

The project is expected to enable an increase in the production of more than one million tonnes each year with greater precision, reduced spillage, faster load times and equipment optimisation.

Brandon Craig, BHP asset president WA iron ore, said he expects the project to deliver safety, production and cost improvements as well as new job development opportunities.

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“The shiploader automation project shows that our Pilbara teams are at the forefront of innovation, technology and operational excellence,” he said.

“Automating our shiploaders will improve safety for our people and allow us to load our ships more precisely and efficiently, including through automatic adjustments for weather, hazards and other variable port conditions.

“Through targeted investments right along our value chain, BHP continues to deliver productivity gains that will help make our business more resilient and able to create sustainable value for our shareholders, the community and the economy.”   

BHP said the shiploaders will transition toward becoming fully automated later this year.

Once completed, ship loading operations will be operated from the Integrated Remote Operations Centre in Perth.

Twelve jobs were reportedly created through the project, located at the Integrated Remote Operations Centre.

The number of Port Hedland-based roles remains unchanged, with existing staff being deployed across the shiploaders and through a range of other production-based roles. 

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