Future of mining set on automatic according to BHP Billiton

BHP Billiton's top brass has painted a vision of the miner's future - one featuring unmanned machinery and a plan to force suppliers to cut prices.

BHP coal group executive Marcus Randolph revealed two elements crucial to the future of its coal mines in Queensland - Next Generation Mining and Project Reset.

Next Generation Mining

The Next Generation Mining project is a group-wide focus on restructuring with an aim to bring down costs with emerging technology.

Mr Randolph described this as "a lot of the really sexy stuff about technology", which would bring in automatic vehicles.

He said the days of changing plans late in the afternoon would soon be gone, with advanced planning needed to ensure the automated machines run predictably.

The BHP system is built around knowing in advance what vehicles would be mining where and the quality of the coal being mined

"It means that we're ready for autonomous equipment," Mr Randolph said.

Already automated drill rigs are operated within BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance - a BHP coal arm - with vehicles in its Western Australian operations controlled from a Perth command centre.

Earlier this year, APN reported vehicle builder Sandvik had a deal with BMA to test autonomous machines at Norwich Park prior to its mothballing.

A spokeswoman for BHP Billiton said while the automated equipment in WA was designed to be brought to its coal mines eventually, there was no indication of when that would happen.

Project Reset

As part of BHP's ongoing struggle against costs, the multi-national will launch Project Reset - a company-wide plan to force suppliers to offer better deals.

For the past decade, as miners rushed to dig and dispatch tonnes of coal, their desire to exploit higher prices meant they had little choice but to take whatever was offered.

Mr Randolph said Project Reset would change that, putting BHP in a tug-of-war with contractors and suppliers.

"The purpose of Project Reset is to redo the relationship with our suppliers and contractors to where we're getting prices that are more reflective of the current markets," he said.

"So prices have come off, we would expect supplier and contractor margins to have come down.

"We are renegotiating each of those agreements.

"We're seeking to do that in Met Coal (including BMA) as well, as the existing contract for fleets and contractor agreements expire."

Mr Randolph spelled out its coal mines largely in the Bowen Basin but also in New South Wales, would increase their exports by 50% before the end of 2014.

It would be an increase from 44 million tonnes for this year to 66 million tonnes by 2014, with most of that coming with the development of the new Caval Ridge and Daunia projects near Moranbah in Central Queensland.

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