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BHP unleashes the power of digital at world’s largest copper mine

Microsoft partnership will enable BHP to increase copper recovery at its Escondida mine using AI and machine learning

BHP and Microsoft have today announced a first-of-its-kind partnership to improve copper recovery at the global resources company’s Escondida mine.

BHP predicts the world will need to double the amount of copper produced over the next 30 years, relative to the past 30, to keep pace with the development of decarbonisation technology such as electric vehicles, offshore wind and solar farms.

As a response, the company launched the Copper Concentrator Challenge in September 2022 to increase copper recovery at its Escondida mine. Located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Escondida produces over one million metric tons of copper per annum.

The Escondida operations team has partnered with Microsoft on the project to leverage BHP’s newly deployed Azure Machine Learning operations platform and other Azure services such as Azure Synapse Analytics and Azure Data Lake Storage.

Alongside adopting modern development practices and new working methods, these technologies have enabled BHP to optimise the mine’s concentrator circuit, which is responsible for extracting, floating and collecting the copper mineral from crushed and milled ore deposits. The mine is now expanding the technology to a second concentrator at Escondida.

BHP Chief Technical Officer Laura Tyler

BHP Chief Technical Officer Laura Tyler said by augmenting new digital technology capabilities with new ways of working, the team at Escondida had been able to generate more value from an existing resource.

“We expect the next big wave in mining to come from the advanced use of digital technologies.”

As grade declines at existing mines and fewer new copper deposit discoveries are made, next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics will be used to unlock more production and value from our existing mines.

Accelerating time to value using Microsoft solutions

BHP uses real-time plant data from the copper concentrators and Azure Machine Learning to make hourly predictions. These predictions are then used to create machine learning–assisted recommendations for its Escondida operations team.

The project marks the first time BHP has used Azure Machine Learning for its Americas operations and has led to the creation of a broader program of work, with Microsoft to make continual improvements to BHP’s copper concentrators with AI and new ways of working.

“We are excited to partner with BHP on this transformative project that demonstrates the power of AI, machine learning and cloud technologies,” said John Montgomery, CVP, AI Platform at Microsoft.

This partnership is an example of Microsoft’s commitment to helping our customers maximise the value of their existing investments so they can unlock operational efficiencies and make step changes to their business models.