From Ohio to Kalgoorlie: C.H. Robinson delivers

As part of its plan to upgrade its nickel operations in Kalgoorlie, BHP required a new filtration system to be shipped in four 24.4 metric tonne shipments from Ohio to Kalgoorlie. C.H. Robinson was able to deliver the project on time and under budget despite COVID-19 restrictions. MHD reports.

BHP and C.H. Robinson have worked together for nearly 20 years. As the partnership has developed, Andrew Coldrey, Vice President – Oceania at C.H. Robinson says the relationship is mutually beneficial.

“We have learnt from them and they have learnt from us. In their world you really need to be agile and adaptable and when working with us it became apparent that we are a business who can deliver on our promise, particularly for tailored solutions,” Andrew says.

BHP leverage C.H. Robinson’s use of tech and data to make better decisions and the relationship has gone from strength to strength as BHP has come to trust and rely on C.H. Robinson’s logistics and supply chain expertise.

Finding the right logistics partner

C.H. Robinson’s office in Perth is already part of BHP’s daily shipping needs to and from Kalgoorlie. The strength of this existing relationship led BHP to approach the team to explore a well-orchestrated logistics plan for a new filtration system for its smelter upgrade project.

As part of its nickel operations upgrade in Kalgoorlie, BHP needed to replace the filtration system for their main stack. Careful coordination and precise timing were top priorities for BHP during this process to avoid additional shut down time.

The filtration system was manufactured in Ohio, US and would be shipped in four shipments to be assembled and installed on location in Kalgoorlie.

Each unit weighed 24.4 metric tonnes each and even when moving in separate sections, the modules were still considered out of gauge cargo.

“With cargo of this size there are so many considerations. Road weight restrictions across multiple states in the US and Australia, varying weather conditions across the two hemispheres, ramps and lifting equipment and ultimately the value of the cargo. This is no mean feat,” Andrew says.

Initially, BHP asked the manufacturer to handle the logistic of the move. The Ohio-based company proposed shipping from the Port of San Diego, which would require more than 3,700 kilometres of over the road transportation across the US.

From there, each shipment would also need transloading – leading to additional shipping time and the potential for damage from extra handling.

However, Stephen Reynolds, Acid Plant Project Manager at BHP thought there was an opportunity to find a better solution. “One of the reasons for our success is that we find people who know what they’re doing. We’re mining experts. When we started planning this project, we realised we needed to find logistics experts,” he says. 

No two shipments are the same

“At C.H. Robinson, we approach each and every project with a fresh pair of eyes. Our project team take the approach that no two shipments are the same,” Andrew says.

With a global network of experts, C.H. Robinson is able to lean on local expertise, data and technology to come up with the most efficient logistics solution.

“We start from the point of view of simplifying the route as much as possible. The more times you touch it, the more risk there is of delays. Ultimately, we want to speed up the transport to Kalgoorlie and avoid any complexity in transhipping and handling the cargo more times than necessary,” Andrew says.

This philosophy led the team to propose an entirely different route to the initial route proposed by the manufacturer, and with great results.

C.H. Robinson recommended shipping the modules through the Port of Baltimore. While this choice would require the shipments to travel through the Panama Canal, it came with several other benefits for BHP.

This route significantly reduced the road transport in the US to around 800 kilometres, which saved an estimated $100,000 USD from the budget. It also eliminated the need for transloading, with all ocean transit occurring on one vessel. The freight was also stowed under deck, using roll-on/roll-off, which protected it from the elements.

Once in Australia, the freight would travel via flatbed trailer across 600 kilometres from the Port of Fremantle to Kalgoorlie. As the items were out of gauge, C.H. Robinson needed to secure necessary permits and coordinate truck transit times to ensure all laws were followed without foregoing the schedule.

“At first this route may have appeared left of field, but it enabled us to deliver the project ahead of time and save BHP significant costs,” Andrew says.

Delivered despite COVID-19

Two shipments into the project, COVID-19 began to spread and disruptions were felt across the global supply chain.

Kane Dunleavy, Project Logistics Manager at C.H. Robinson was onsite in Ohio, Maryland and Western Australia to oversee the loading and unloading of the freight for the first two shipments. However, when COVID-19 travel restrictions were in place, Kane was not able to travel.

However, as the planning and processes had been carefully mapped out beforehand, the project was not impacted.

Communication accelerated during this time, and Kane kept the project moving with daily updates.

“We increased our communications on all of the touch points. Phone calls, emails and taking photos to make sure that BHP was across everything,” Andrew says.

For Andrew, this kind of approach is beneficial for all parties involved. “Being in direct contact regularly with project managers and engineers is important, as sharing information is beneficial for all of us. Sometimes they have an insight that we don’t have, and by sharing information and making sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute, we can mitigate risk and ensure the entire project runs smoothly,” Andrew says.

Due to quick thinking and fast planning, BHP worked with the manufacturer and their own employees in Kalgoorlie to ship the third section a full seven days early. This small timing shift was significant in that it gave BHP much needed time to receive and install the section prior to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Meticulous planning gets results

The smelter in Kalgoorlie can produce 200 tonnes of nickel concentrate per hour. Each hour the smelter is inoperable, profits are impacted. C.H. Robinson’s meticulous planning meant that the plant only needed to shut down for a total of 16 hours, instead of the initial 100 planned.

C.H. Robinson was able to deliver all four shipments without any delays, despite two of the shipments taking place in an unprecedented global pandemic.

Andrew says he is immensely proud of the result and what the team were able to deliver. “I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. All units arrived, spaced out exactly the right way, so that BHP could install them together in one integrated operation,” Andrew says.

This is echoed by Stephen who says that the solution C.H Robinson delivered saved a large portion of BHP’s initial budget for this part of the plant upgrade. “This in turn allowed us to make other upgrades that would have only happened in the 2021 budget. With C.H. Robinson on our side, the project was everything we could have hoped for and more,” he says.

Andrew says this is logistics performing at its best. “Logistics is one piece, but by us doing our role well, BHP can achieve their broader company goals,” he says.

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