While BIM has yet to emerge as a buzzword within the Australian mining sector, its impact is already highly evident – particularly when it comes to capital projects.

Speaking at the sidelines of Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure Conference in London, Bentley solution executive for roads and bridges Dave Body said the use of BIM methodologies is already spreading rapidly through the resource sector, even though the term “BIM” itself has yet to emerge an industry buzzword.

“BIM is not a widely used or adopted term within the mining industry at this point in time, but the process that BIM is referring to is something that is obviously evident within the Australian resources sector – on capital projects for sure,” he said.

“Information modeling and BIM levels 1, 2 and 3 – information flows from design and that project delivery phase into operations and maintenance,  we’re seeing evidence of that occurring within the mining industry just as we are in all industries.”

“They just don’t refer to it as BIM – within the industry the term just hasn’t really appeared to the same extent that it has within the building sector and now within the civil.”

Irrespective of nomenclature, Body said the adoption of BIM methodologies promises to bring critical benefits to the Australian mining operations, particularly in light of the country’s high operating costs and ongoing efforts to shore up efficiency.

While BIM is more conventionally associated with the design and construction of buildings and infrastructure assets, the technology can also tremendously enhance the full life cycle performance of large-scale mining concerns.

This is particularly the case given the increasing focus upon the benefits of BIM during the operations and maintenance (O&M) phase of projects, and the highly critical and complex nature of this period for productive mining operations.

“A mining operation is essentially one big, continuous construction project which can run for 50 to 100 years,” said Body. “It all needs to maintained throughout the course of that life cycle, and that’s where BIM can be of immense benefit.”

He added that the data and information amassed by BIM during the construction phase can play a pivotal role in improving the O&M phase over the long-term operation of a mine.

“All the information you’ve got now that you’ve designed and constructed a project can now go through into the O&M phase, where it can further complement other information during the decades-long life cycle to improve maintenance and performance,” he said. “This can include areas such as when it was inspected, who inspected it and what were the issues.”

Body added that improving the efficiency and performance of mines during the O&M phase is of particular importance to the Australian resources sector, given the recent shift in the industry’s overall development from building to production, and the country’s high operating costs.

“We’ve hit a bit of a trough in the mining industry from the highs of a couple of years ago,” he said. “A couple of years ago the mining industry was all about accelerated production, but efficiency is what it’s all about right now.

“Today there’s still increased production, but it’s got to be achieved through improved efficiencies whilst reducing costs – that’s the mantra within the mining industry today.”

Body said this drive towards heightened efficiency and reduced costs promises to further expedite the uptake of BIM methodologies amongst miners.

“Miners are looking to cut costs by means of innovative technology – you only have to look at the term intelligent mine or mine of the future, which Rio Tinto is adopting,” he noted. “They’re looking for technology to improve their efficiencies and be a more sustainable business. And this is where BIM can play a pivotal role.”