New BHP miners give tunnels the shaft
These workers sit more than 1000 kilometres away from BHP's iron ore mines in the Pilbara, but they are increasingly on the front line of the company's most lucrative business.
The rise of technology means much of the logistics and mining work on BHP's seven Pilbara mines can now be conducted by the 70 people that staff its "Integrated Remote Operations Centre" in Perth.
The centre, which will operate 24 hours a day, was officially launched on Tuesday by West Australian Premier Colin Barnett and BHP iron ore boss Jimmy Wilson.
The concept is borrowed from BHP's old rival Rio Tinto, which has been controlling its iron ore mines from a remote operations centre in Perth for several years.
While the centres do not remove all jobs from the mine site, they do create significant productivity gains by allowing a complete view of things like train scheduling and mine fleet management.
While BHP's centre is located in Perth's central business district, Rio's version is sited next to Perth Airport, where it can take advantage of the higher than usual electricity connections in the airport precinct.
Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill Holdings is joining the trend, and also plans to locate its centre next to the airport.
Mr Wilson said he wasn't bothered that the concept had been adopted from a rival company.
"I concede that Rio's ahead of us in this particular space," he told reporters at the launch of the centre on Tuesday.
"But at the end of the day, I'm not sure that this is the only differentiator in the business."
The new centre will help BHP increase exports from Port Hedland to 220 million tonnes in the 2014 financial year.
A record amount of iron ore was exported from Port Hedland in the year to June 30, with companies such as BHP, Atlas Iron, Fortescue Metals Group and BC Iron exporting 288 million tonnes, about 17 per cent more than the previous year.
But the 28.2 million tonnes shipped in June was slightly less than the May export result.