Ultra-class: How BHP drives haul-truck efficiency

Escondida is the world's largest copper mine, representing around 5% of global annual copper output.

BHP Billiton is the operator and owns 57.5% of the mine in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. Rio Tinto owns 30% and a Japanese consortium the rest.

Over the past year the mine produced more than 1.2 million tonnes of copper – a 6% improvement over the year before. The mine also produced 81,500 ounces of gold and 4.8 million ounces of silver.

According to BHP that was thanks to an 11% improvement in truck utilisation and higher grades which more than offset the impact of severe wet weather, water restrictions, industrial action and a power outage throughout northern Chile.

While Rio Tinto has its Mine of the Future project with its remote controlled trucks and trains in Australia's Pilbara, BHP's productivity improvements at Escondida were more conventional, but spectacularly effective.

This is the case study of the project at Escondida as highlighted in BHP's newly released annual report:

Objective: To increase ultra-class haul truck production time

Approach: Escondida benchmarked its truck performance and maintenance activities, both internally and externally, and reviewed how it conducted truck maintenance and shift activities to identify improvement opportunities.

A range of initiatives were implemented to improve haul truck production time. Less frequent and larger blasts were used to reduce interruptions to production. Trucks were only taken out of production for preventative maintenance determined by equipment condition, rather than by time in service. The mine also implemented new crib huts and shift relief, called ‘hot seating’, to keep the trucks moving.

Outcomes: Escondida has set a new internal BHP Billiton benchmark for sustainable ultra-class haul truck performance. In FY2015, truck utilisation of available time increased to 83 per cent from 75 per cent in the previous year. This allowed the operation to move 438 million tonnes of material, an increase of six per cent compared to FY2014.

Productivity results: During FY2015, Escondida decreased its mine production unit costs by 10 per cent through its productivity initiatives.