BHP deploys drones for chartered fleet

Drone services are being considered as an extension to BHP's tablet-based technology package for chartered ships (credit: BHP) Drone services are being considered as an extension to BHP's tablet-based technology package for chartered ships (credit: BHP)

Multinational mining company BHP Billiton is running a trial that deploys drones to conduct tasks including hold inspections and draft readings across its chartered fleet while at berth.

The mining company, one of the world’s biggest dry bulk charterers, already provides tablets to all its chartered ships at berth, from which they can read the tension of the mooring line. BHP is investigating upgrading the tablet package with drone services.

Hold inspections are demanding, time-consuming and potentially dangerous for inspectors. Using drones avoids potential hazards and offers further advantages, including the ability to enhance inspections with specialised cameras that can show cracks or measure other parameters that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

“There are three or four types of ships with hold sizes about the same." said Rashpal Bhatti, vice president of marketing freight, BHP. "Once you programme a drone to go in to a certain ship, it can become an autonomous process."

The use of drones promises to cut inspection time per hold from an hour to 15 minutes. The technology could also help in advising the ship’s bridge on the water position of the rudder. Along with draft readings, this information is usually performed from a boat when the ship is berthed and ready for a cargo.

The company noted that getting drones to ships at anchorage offshore remains a logistical challenge. “We are working with ship owners on this and other ways to use technology to improve safety and productivity,’’ Bhatti said.

BHP ships more than 300 million tonnes of iron ore, coal and copper annually, making more than 1,500 voyages a year.

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