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Modern modular mine built from bigger blocks

Western Australia is one of the world’s key producers of iron ore – a critical raw material in steelmaking. But such resources are in remote locations, even by Australia’s vast standards. BHP’s US $3.6 billion South Flank project, located in the Pilbara region, uses digital connectivity and autonomous-ready fleets, and is one of the most advanced of its kind in Australia.

To build this facility, over 1,000 components needed to be transported to site safely, on schedule and in the right sequence. These items – with a cumulative weight in excess of 29,500t – needed to be transported 340km across the state’s barren interior. This had to be done within a demanding timeframe to keep the construction schedule on track.

The cargo would be taken from the ship’s hook at Port Hedland and across a route largely consisting of public highways. Transporting these modules in the largest possible pieces would reduce the time spent integrating them on site – but the maximum transport size is always limited by the width and condition of the route.

The possibilities for what could be transported on this stretch of tarmac were pushed to new limits as Mammoet delivered a 349t module comprising the train load out bin gate and HPU module. This was the heaviest load ever carried along this stretch of Western Australia’s Great Northern Highway.

Early planning creates new possibilities

Restrictions were also placed on when modules could be transported, which varied depending on their size: those wider than 8.5m needed to travel at night, so that the transport had the lowest economic impact on the surrounding community, and public road users. A rolling roadblock was set up to shut down the highway in sections, minimizing the transport’s impact further still.

To achieve this required skilled logistics planning and early engagement with the project’s Construction Contractors – to identify precisely what could be transported and how.

Pete O’Connell, Senior Project Manager at Mammoet explains:

“Engagement at the planning stage with EPCs can help to optimize how our package of work integrates with other workflows. It was particularly critical in this case – given the size and volume of components that needed to be on site in a specific order and timeframe for construction to proceed smoothly.

We were able to advise the modularization engineers on how to get maximum benefit from the load sizes possible on the route, in terms of their overall dimensions and the maximum weights to cross structures such as bridges. We were then able to plan from the very start the equipment and expertise we would need to best carry out the work.”

Mammoet utilized a specially-built trailer type to minimize the weight of the transport equipment itself and therefore increase the size of module that could be carried. Overall weight limitations on Australian highways meant a lighter alternative to the traditionally utilized 4-file platform trailer was needed to avoid reducing the size of the modules themselves.

Smaller module sizes, of course, mean more transportations – and in turn additional transport and integration costs. Mammoet’s extensive equipment inventory was put to good use in devising a 3-file trailer solution. This allowed the desired size of module to be transported within local regulations.

Tightening timeframe

Delivery of such a large scale of transport work was already a significant challenge within the planned 15-month timescale, but due to delays earlier in the project schedule this cargo needed to be transported in a shorter timeframe.

This meant that resources needed to double – and fast. A tough task in this desolate and sparsely-populated part of the world, but with its global reach and standardized learning systems Mammoet was able to source and train more operatives from within Australia to quickly step up the pace.

Despite ongoing travel restrictions due to coronavirus, Mammoet was able to mobilize a team of over 90 people – half of whom came from outside the state or abroad. Before long, crews were working across day and night shifts at Port Hedland, keeping things on schedule.

Another important part of this solution was to increase the number of trailers being used, avoiding the need for them to be reconfigured between journeys, hence achieving a faster turnaround. With the industry’s biggest equipment fleet, Mammoet was able to redeploy trailers from across Australia and the wider region. O’Connell continues:

“Flexibility is always key in large projects such as this, as changes in project schedules are to be expected. As the largest supplier in our industry, the talent pool, training capabilities and equipment inventory that we have access to prove invaluable in making sure we can react quickly and adapt to client requirements – avoiding delays even if there is a change to the plan.

A productive new asset

A key development in driving economic growth for the Pilbara region and the State of Western Australia, BHP’s $3.6 billion South Flank mine has created more than 2,500 construction jobs and 600 ongoing operational roles. It is set to provide a profitable asset for BHP and secure employment for the Pilbara population for decades to come.

Wouter Mink, Managing Director of Mammoet Australia:

“We are delighted that South Flank delivered first ore during May 2021. This project helps to continue our commitment to the Pilbara region. The transport package was always going to play a key role in achieving this, and we were extremely pleased to have delivered this successfully despite the challenges we faced – including a global pandemic impacting on how, when and where we could source our team.”

Construction of this 21st century facility using modern modularized techniques was aided significantly by Mammoet’s expertise in getting over 1,000 oversized items to site safely and on time; and also by providing critical guidance to optimize the size of cargo and ensure the most efficient project. It is a sentiment echoed by Heath Tyler, BHP South Flank Area Project Manager:

“The South Flank project represents a major investment by BHP and a key element in our strategy for the region. With the transport package playing such a critical part in achieving a successful build, we needed a partner that had the proven expertise, equipment and boots on the ground to deliver. Mammoet has proven a great fit for these criteria.”

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