Businesses big and small embraced technology to overcome social distancing and travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meetings and conferences continued using video conference platforms, and data was uploaded and analysed courtesy of the cloud when site visits were impossible.
And FIFO sometimes gave way to RIRO — Remote In, Remote Out.
At BHP, teams could provide remote assistance via live point of view video calls to personnel on site rather than being there in person.
BHP said this ability to provide support from more than 1,300 km away was possible thanks to Microsoft’s HoloLens.
WA Iron Ore Digital Transformation Manager Alex Bertram said: “Utilising cloud services and a mixed reality headset device, our technicians on the frontline can call for help and technical support when they need it most – during critical breakdowns and when undertaking new or complex tasks.
“Remote assist using mixed reality is the start of a promising journey – as we learn and adapt, we expect our teams will find new and novel ways to use the technology to improve safety and productivity.”
BHP Minerals Australia Vice President of Technology Pat Bourke said the strength of this technology is its simplicity.
“We are using standard platforms and hardware that already exist,” he said.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has developed automation technology to allow workers to operate underground mines remotely.
“The mining industry continues to improve conditions for miner workers, striving for zero harm, however innovation in processes and technologies are still needed,” CSIRO said.
The CSIRO saw the opportunity to automate underground coal mining as it developed the longwall mining automation system.
“The system uses specialised remote guidance technology to continuously steer the longwall equipment by plotting its position in three dimensions, removing personnel directly from hazards and thereby increasing the safety of the process,” CSIRO said.
Australian resources firms have been at the forefront of developing innovative ways of mining.
The Australian Trade Commission said the main driver of Australian innovation is the need to mine smarter to remain globally competitive in some of the most remote and harsh conditions in the world.
Some of the innovations the Commission listed as being derived from Australian companies are the autonomous and near-autonomous load haul dump and truck haulage systems, autonomous train loading and transportation systems, automated underground mining systems, automated drilling control technology, and intelligent software that autonomously or semi-autonomously interprets disparate data.
“These innovative solutions are enabling Australian and global mining firms to successfully explore, extract, process and transport minerals – and to do so while minimising operating costs, increasing productivity, optimising plant and equipment use, and providing a safe working environment for mine employees,” the Commission said.