BHP’s South Flank – creating something BIG and different

BHP’s South Flank – creating something BIG and different

BHP’s South Flank iron ore project represents BHP’s largest investment, with the project expected to account for approximately 28% of Western Australia’s future iron ore production and 8% of overall BHP EDITDA.

In keeping with the BHP brand, it was a BIG crowd that came to hear from BHP South Flank Project Director Simon Thomas at the WA Mining Club’s October luncheon & AGM.

The US$3.6 billion South Flank project will be the single largest annual production iron ore mine that BHP has ever developed. This will be the largest iron ore mining and processing facility built in more than 50 years of iron ore mining in the Pilbara.

Everything about South Flank is BIG, the deposit is 26 kilometres long and two kilometres wide and will require significant mining infrastructure and operations.

“In a nut shell, it’s large, long-life, expandable, low cost and upstream,” says Simon Thomas.

“It’s pretty exciting.”

But it is not the size of the project that has Thomas excited.

“From our deliberate focus on culture, to the way we’ve organised the project and team, to the technology we’re using, to the way we’re attracting and recruiting people – there is no doubt that South Flank is different in many ways,” he says.

Unlike the heady days of the mining boom with rapid growth projects and a focus on tonnes, South Flank is being developed in a vastly different business and mining industry landscape.

“Today we have a platform of sustained opportunity and our challenge is how we prepare ourselves and manage this without going into another boom. How do we, as an industry, support our future generations through significant investments for sustained production.

“South Flank is that sustaining opportunity for BHP.”

To make the most of this sustaining opportunity, Thomas says BHP has changed its model for delivering major iron ore projects and South Flank brings that operating model to life. 

He says at the heart of the new operating model is partnerships and integration.

“We want to work in a more collaborative environment with our contracting partners, where we have truly aligned objectives and values.

“We are in it all together, equally, with shared leadership and a single point of accountability.”

Recruitment and employment is another area of focus, with gender, diversity, inclusion, equality, jobs of the future and the future of works issues of the business and industry, not just HR.

He says BHP has set an aspirational goal for gender balance and while it is early days for the South Flank project has already achieved 30% females in line jobs.

“We see South Flank as an opportunity to accelerate an inclusive and diverse workforce at Western Australia Iron Ore, and it goes beyond gender.”

“We want a workforce mix at South Flank that is more representative of the communities in which we live.”

Technology also has a critical role to play.

He says BHP’s Remote Operations Centre in Perth provides the foundation to introduce more flexibility into plan and schedule, “enabling us to meet the needs of our customers”, which is becoming increasingly important.

“As we move to highly automated operations across the Pilbara, we have an opportunity to more fully integrate our supply chain from resource to market.

“South Flank is our opportunity to create the newest, new mine.”

But Thomas says it is the development of a ‘co-creation’ culture that will be the linchpin for South Flank.

“Our culture vision and plan are built around a series of focus areas that are important to us – our integrated team.”

The co-creation culture will see a high-performance team, delivering high-value, able to adapt, evolve and solve complex challenges.

“By doing so, we’ll have created the sustainable project delivery model for BHP.”