RioTinto – Re-imagining Safety in Asset Management with IoT Technology

Section 1 – Summary

Building on a strong history in safety and asset management, Rio Tinto has delivered an IoT (Internet
of Things) technology solution to reduce the number of asset inspection tasks performed by its workers
in hazardous environments such as confined spaces, heights, electrical and mechanical related
hazards and minimise travel to remote locations. By combining real-time IoT data with advanced data
analytics, valuable insights have kept workers informed about the asset conditions along with any
hazards that may be present. In turn, it has also created a positive workplace culture that embraces
innovation in safety and asset management whilst empowering employees to act and stand up as
everyday safety leaders.
AM Council Asset Management Awards 2022 (Submission)

Section 2 – Background

2.1 Overview of RTIO Utilities
Rio Tinto Iron Ore (RTIO) Utilities provides essential power, water, telecommunication, and fuel
services to support its mining operations and five townships in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The business manages and maintains a diverse portfolio of assets over a vast geographical area as
shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Pilbara Region Geographical Map

RTIO Utilities is responsible for:

  • Operation and maintenance of over 950 km of high voltage transmission and 2,500 km of
    distribution power line network with a maximum peak demand of > 270 MW;
  • Treatment and supply of more than 55GL of water and maintenance of approximately 550 km
    of water pipelines and associated water assets.
  • Managing the Pilbara operations communications network, including 1000 km of optic fibre
    cables and 180 repeater stations.
  • Management and maintenance of four major gas laterals/pipelines supplying 55 TJ of natural
    gas per day.
  • Operation and maintenance of three gas-fired power stations with a capacity of > 400 MW.
  • Operation and maintenance of 950km of high-voltage transmission lines and distribution
    systems with a maximum demand of 260MW.
  • Storage and delivery of more than 950ML of diesel fuel.

2.2 Safety Journey

In 2012, RTIO Utilities adopted condition-based maintenance (CBM) as the fundamental strategy for the safe management of their diverse portfolio of non-process infrastructure (NPI) assets. This methodology acknowledges that the life cycle of an asset can be maximised if the asset decision making process is governed by its condition rather than time in-service. Since the deployment of this strategy, RTIO Utilities has transitioned from the planned domain to the reliability domain and subsequently reached and sustained world-class level asset performance from
2020 and beyond as shown in Figure 2.

2.3 Safety Challenges

When it comes to managing a diverse portfolio of assets over a vast geographical area, one of the most significant safety exposure risks is around asset inspection. Maintenance workers are at risk not only when an asset fails or breaks, but also when exposed to dangerous environments during asset inspection. There are many processes, assets, and systems that require both internal and external inspections to continue safe operations, and these must be scheduled regularly to comply with health and safety regulations. These inspections often involve assets that are installed in hazardous or difficult to access environments including confined spaces, heights, electrical and mechanical related hazards in remote locations.

Furthermore, RTIO Utilities workers are required to drive hundreds of kilometres away from their normal work locations to perform asset inspections. Sending workers into these environments regularly involves significant vehicles and driving risks which is dangerous and costly as it can lead to potential injuries, fatalities and more. An innovative ‘Safety in Asset Management’ initiative is required to reduce the number of asset inspection tasks and minimise travel to remote locations.

Section 3 – IoT Technology Solution

The exploding phenomenon of the Internet of Things (IoT) technology provides many opportunities to manage asset inspections in a new prescriptive way. In 2019, RTIO Utilities initiated an innovative solution to leverage IoT technology to reduce safety exposure risks for its workers.
A series of targeted trials that spans over 36 months were conducted across hundreds of kilometres in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. Subsequently, RTIO Utilities has successfully deployed an IoT technology solution that covers a wide range of NPI power, water and hydrocarbons assets that requires regular inspections. Through the deployment of this innovative solution, RTIO Utilities has;

  • reduced the need to send workers into hazardous or difficult to access environments;
  • enhanced preventative maintenance in the field;
  • leveraged IoT technology to reduce human inspection;
  • mitigated future safety exposure risks for their workers; and
  • demonstrated effective use of asset management principles to manage safety better.

The Internet of things (IoT) is the extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with electronics, Internet connectivity, and other forms of hardware (such as sensors), these devices can communicate and interact with others over the Internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled. IoT isn’t just about connected devices, it’s about information and how connecting devices to the cloud
provides powerful, immediate insights that can transform business by lowering costs, reducing loss or materials, improving operational and mechanical processes that are possible with reliable real-time data.

Figure 3 shows the IoT technology Solution that has been successfully delivered by RTIO Utilities in
partnership with

Figure 3: IoT Technology Solution

3.2 Evaluation and Implementation

RTIO Utilities has taken advantage of the IoT technology and successfully trialled and deployed the solution across a range of NPI power, water and hydrocarbons assets in the Pilbara. As part of the evaluation, IoT sensors are connected to existing assets and when potential abnormalities or intermittent issue occurs, the sensor detects an event and wirelessly reports the failure in real-time to a cloud platform, which in turn automatically sends a notification to maintenance workers via SMS and email for further investigation. The IoT sensor gathers data whilst keeping workers informed about the asset conditions along with any hazards that may be present without the need for human inspection. It also avoids the need to send workers out to gather a single data point and removes the possibility of human error whilst enabling workers to only react if the IoT sensor measurement exceeds a pre-set minimum or maximum alarm level. Demonstrated the use of the IoT technology to manage safety better, RTIO Utilities has also utilised 3D visualisation techniques by integrating the IoT sensor data in real-time to provide workers visual graphics that are easier to understand, easier to remember and help communicate asset conditions more simply. It also puts the most accurate information in the hands of workers that need it when they need it and where they need it. By correlating 3D visualisation graphics as shown in Figure 4, IoT sensors and environmental data over time, new insights have been identified to better understand past events and mitigate future safety exposure risks.

Figure 4: Correlating 3D visualisation graphics with IoT sensors

The successful implementation of an IoT technology solution has enacted the health and well-being of
operational work activities whilst allowing RTIO Utilities to:

  • mitigate safety, reliability, and environmental risks of asset failure;
  • reduce the need to routinely drive hundreds of kilometres away from workers’ normal work
    locations to perform an inspection;
  • monitor asset conditions in real-time when it’s impossible to do so remotely; and
  • optimise maintenance resources to respond to potential asset failure events promptly.

3.3 Transferability

The IoT sensors’ industrial ratings and long-range are an ideal solution in challenging conditions in the mining industry. Combined with their ease of installation, RTIO Utilities has successfully transferred the IoT technology solution to a wide range of asset classes as shown in Figures 5 to 12 including waste water pumps, overflow pits, fuel tanks, generator batteries, diesel fuel motors/pumps, streetlights, streetlights, power line and utility meters for predictive maintenance whilst creating a safer and more productive workplace.

Figure 5: Waste Water Pump

Figure 6: Overflow Pits

Figure 7: Fuel Tanks

Figure 8: Generator Batteries

Figure 9: Diesel Fuel Pumps/Motors

Figure 10: Streetlights

Figure 11: Power Line

Figure 12: Utility Meters

Section 4 – Benefit and Contribution

The safety commitment of leaders within RTIO Utilities has been fundamentally important to employees on site. The continued leadership support has empowered employees to want to make changes when they see deficiencies to reduce safety exposure risks. An innovative mentality and leadership support to initiate an IoT technology solution drove the transformation, resulting in proactive employees that strive to identify safety exposure risks and rectify them without fear.
As shown in Figure 13, the development of IoT technology solutions has enabled people, assets, and the environment to become intelligent and connected. This has delivered enormous benefits for Rio Tinto Utilities as, the more information that is gathered and monitored, the easier and safer work becomes. The main benefit of the IoT solution has been the reduction of safety exposure risks for workers when inspecting assets that are installed in hazardous or difficult to access environments e.g.,
confined spaces, heights, electrical and mechanical hazards. The secondary benefit has been the reduction for workers to drive hundreds of kilometres away from
their normal work locations to perform asset inspections. The culminating benefit has been the creation of a positive workplace culture that embraces innovation whilst empowering employees to act and stand up as everyday safety leaders.

Figure 13: IoT Connecting People, Assets, and the Environment

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