What is manufacturing?
It could be said to be a series of discrete often automated operations, co-ordinated and linked by sensors and data, to create an efficient and seamless production and logistics process from raw material to product.
Rio has for many years been pursuing a vision of mining as just such a thing – a factory if you like, just a very de-centralised one.
Thus drill hole creation at its Pilbara mines are an automated process, the drilling begun or ‘pulled’ through the system by the requirements of specific ships approaching Port Hedlend to pick up blended iron ores for individual customers. Just as cars are built for specific customers, ore is only mined when sold.
The company has been automating key elements of the iron ore production chain – automated mine trucks, ore crushers, ore blenders, ship loaders etc…..and now the company has run its first driverless train. (see story) All this is controlled from a single centre located from Perth.
Ultimately the company sees its Port Hedland operation working like a well oiled Toyota factory – a series of standardised operations, linked by logistics, centrally controlled and making only product that customers have already bought.
An exciting concept – maybe our definitions are more out of date than we think.