Date: 28 Jul 2015
Cat: Design thinking, Infrastructure

Rio Tinto Iron Ore required a substantial increase in its capacity to export iron ore from its ports to meet customer demand. Employing a low-cost, practical approach to reviewing its initial port design, Rio Tinto conceived a far lower risk approach to achieving its business outcomes while also substantially reducing its total cost of ownership.

The challenge. Rio Tinto sought to progressively increase its iron ore export capacity from 80 to 320 million tonnes per annum. Ships waiting to be loaded were costing the company millions of dollars every week. Replicating the existing port facilities seemed the obvious action to take. Yet Rio Tinto had physical site constraints and the expansion would increase already problematic noise levels, water and energy consumption and dust impacts on local communities. Were these just risks to be accepted with the expansion?

Our approach. Over the course of three days we ran an integrated design development workshop involving 25 people from a range of functions including port operations, materials handling, marketing, environmental science and community engagement. Important but overlooked project objectives were identified, with stimulus for generating many potential solutions.

The solution. A promising solution involved the use of ‘excess water’ from the mine site to pre-condition the ore and so reduce water needs at the port site; running ore delivery to the port ‘just in time’ to avoid a massive stockpile and energy intensive double handling. The big reduction in site footprint and resource consumption became big cost savings, allowing reinvestment in low noise idlers thus reducing the overall site noise profile.

The innovation. The systemic, integrated approach which looked outside the port site for design context and solutions was critical to the final solution.

Return on investment. A conservative 10% cost saving on this $1.4 billion project means the client derived a 70,000% return on the investment in the design studies workshop. No new technology required; just better placed effort. “This is an approach we should adopt on every project” concluded the client.

Note: This work was led by Nick Fleming of Innergise with Susanne Cooper while working with SKM.