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BHP has flagged the start of a new travel arrangement called remote-in, remote-out, which emerged in response to the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19.

The company used wearable mixed reality devices such as Microsoft’s HoloLens to allow its Perth-based teams to assist auto electricians and mechanical fitters on site from 1300 kilometres away.

With RiRo, teams can provide remote assistance via live point-of-view video calls to BHP personnel on site.

The company says the technology helps overcome limitations associated with phone calls and video conferences, while avoiding the high cost and time investment involved in flying people to site when unexpected breakdowns and equipment downtime occur.

“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,” BHP manager for digital transformation in Western Australian Iron Ore (WAIO) Alex Bertram said.

RiRo would also allow BHP engineers, integrated planning and remote operations (IPRO) operators and technical experts in Perth, in site offices or anywhere in the world to see exactly what people in the field see, in real time.

“They can then provide step by step guidance directly to the operator wearing the mixed reality headset device, even sending schematics or technical manuals straight to our technicians,” BHP stated.

BHP Minerals Australia vice president of technology, Pat Bourke said that the company was using standard platforms and hardware that already existed.

“… I can see the RiRo way of working being a real game changer,” he said.

“During COVID-19, we’ve needed to think of innovative ways to have minimal amount of people on the group while still maintaining a safe operating workplace.

“Remote work using technology was always an option for us; however COVID-19 has pushed us to really harness innovative technology and we will only continue to improve our productivity as we make it widely available and perfect its use.”

BHP manager decision automation in technology, Cristina Perbellini Silva said the technology was being trialled with the rails team at the company’s iron ore car maintenance facility in Mooka, Western Australia.

“During COVID-19, we have been able to move at an amazing velocity because we all have a clear goal and are empowered to make the right decisions – this helped us cut through the bureaucracy and red tape and implement solutions faster than we thought possible,” she said.