Meet ABB’s leaders in mining

Resources and energy exports are a linchpin of the Australian economy. Meet some of the people guiding ABB’s integral role in the sector.

Three ABB experts from different but connected roles tell their own stories and share what excites them about working with the Australian mining industry.

Ronaish Nathan, Senior Project Manager, ABB Motion Australia

Ronaish Nathan at BHP’s Mount Whaleback mine.

Ronaish Nathan doesn’t hesitate when asked why she wanted to study mechanical engineering. “I have a hero and it’s my Uncle Mark, a mechanical engineer,” she says. “He spent his life working across Liberia, Nigeria, the UK, the US and Asia. You name it, he’s set up a factory there. He made me see engineering as a degree that would open the world to me the way it did for him.”

Indeed it has. Nathan has worked in Singapore, Indonesia and China and speaks three Asian languages. She’s been working in Australia since 2007 and joined ABB in 2020 to work on the Iron Bridge Magnetite project, a USD2.6 billion development in the Pilbara, Western Australia.

Among other things, ABB is providing water-cooled variable speed drives and high-voltage induction motors, part of a $35.6 million contract for Iron Bridge, a joint venture between Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) and Taiwan’s Formosa Steel, which is scheduled to start production of high-quality iron ore from the project mid-2022.

“From Shanghai, Finland, India, Singapore, Japan to Switzerland – ABB factories and teams have come together to build this project – I wake up everyday and think, wow, this is massive,” says Nathan. “It’s truly fascinating for me working with all the different parts of the business and seeing how they come together. I’m humbled to be the face of ABB on such an interesting project – it’s exactly where I want to be.”

ABB motors and drives will be integral to the grinding equipment at Iron Bridge. ABB will deliver the motors that run the grinders, the drives that power those motors, the chillers that cool the drives and the transformers that supply power to the drives, as well as the switch rooms, the brains of the operations.”

In keeping with FMG’s strong sustainability aims, Iron Bridge is designed to be highly energy efficient and Nathan says the ABB Drives, will be critical to this. “These drives  operate with a separate transformer that is located outside the room. This reduces the heat generated inside, resulting in less energy required to maintain room temperature.”

Nathan sees mine safety as a key area for technology to bolster. “ABB has a product called MineOptimize, which provides a holistic overview of an operation, using automation and controls and augmented reality to provide a solution that gives you visibility of where your team members are, which equipment are in maintenance, require maintenance and which are in operation. MineOptimize helps improve personnel safety by ensuring that equipment is maintained before failure and also replaces error prone processes such as Lock on/Lock off or Permit to Work; the current processes used to manage working on equipment safely.”

MineOptimize has been deployed in Valle, Brazil and ABB is in talks with mining companies on its adoption in Australia.

“Technology brings safer jobs to mining,” says Nathan. “Remote operations centers are an example of how technology is moving jobs into metropolitan areas, making mining jobs safer, more accessible to the community and promoting work life balance”.

Sara Long, Group Vice President, Global Account Executive

Sara Long at BHP’s Leinster Mine, Nickel West.

While studying mechanical engineering at Monash University, Sara Long often went past ABB’s offices in Notting Hill. “It was literally around the corner, so when I joined their graduate engineering program straight out of uni, I thought, well I didn’t move very far,” she jokes. The two-year program took her through all the different parts of ABB, and a couple of years after that she became a project manager in Process Industries.

“That team worked across industries, including oil and gas and pulp and paper, but because mining is such a large primary industry in Australia, it was inevitable I would end up with a few mining projects under my belt,” she says.

Her first was working with two of ABB’s large mining customers in New Caledonia, where local legislation required that a permanent establishment and hence team had to be set up. “It gave me a lot of exposure into other parts of the business, including setting up payroll and IT, things you wouldn’t have to do as a traditional project manager, and it was one of the best experiences of my career,” says Long, who was flying up to New Caledonia for two weeks every month.

Eager to keep varying her experience, Long spent some time working in ABB’s sales teams, which she also enjoyed, and then moved into account management for BHP. “We won quite a large project with BHP and I think that was seen as a milestone for ABB’s relationship with BHP,” she says. She was Strategic Account Manager for the mining giant when it was decided that BHP needed the attention of a Global Account Manager. Long was the obvious choice for the role, which she took on in 2019. “I tell them all the time, you’re my only customer!” says Long.

“ABB is a complex company, so my role is to work across and represent the whole ABB group to BHP, working across different countries and divisions,” she explains. “I encourage the breaking down of silos and collaboration for our people to work outside their teams, for the benefit of the customer. It’s a ‘One ABB’ approach.”

Long says mining companies themselves recognise that they need to collaborate more and, “I know I’m biased but BHP in particular is placing emphasis on having a closer working relationship with suppliers like ABB.”

One of the benefits of that approach is being willing to trial new technologies. “We are always innovating and there are new offerings but they haven’t necessarily been tried and tested,” explains Long. “When you get a large, well-known brand such as BHP willing to work with you on a trial or pilot to test the technology, it becomes a much more interesting conversation. The whole mindset of mining is changing: the need to find their competitive advantage and they can get that from technology, but they realise they can’t do it on their own, as they often did traditionally.”

One of BHP’s top priorities today is reducing carbon emissions across its operations. “ABB has a new solution called Trolley Assist, which enables haulage trucks to switch to electric power when they’re going uphill, which reduces diesel emissions and they actually go faster,” explains Long. So far, Trolley Assist has only been deployed in Sweden, at Boliden’s Aitik open-pit mine. “Usually a mining customer would want to see more proofpoints than that, but we’re in quite serious discussions with BHP about implementing it at one of their sites in Chile.”

Long sees decarbonisation technologies as being vitally important, “not just to the resources sector, but to everyone, globally”. As is widely acknowledged, every industry has to work to reduce its carbon emissions. “ABB has electrification solutions to help,” says Long.

Decarbonisation is a key goal for BHP, so she’s constantly bringing the latest ABB solutions to the table for them. “We have a large portfolio of decarbonisation technologies, so it’s exciting for us.”

Lynnette de Jesus, Tenders Manager

Lynnette de Jesus leads tenders for ABB Motion.

Electrical engineer Lynnette de Jesus says simply “ABB is in my DNA.” Like her colleague Sara Long, de Jesus joined ABB as a graduate engineer.

When she migrated to Australia from the Philippines in 2007, she became a tender engineer with ABB, creating proposals for customers’ commercial and technical requirements. “Most of the projects I was working with were in the mining industry,” she says. “I really got to know which particular products and applications certain companies were after for specific mine sites.”

She had a stint outside ABB for a few years, working with engineering, design and advisory firm Aurecon. “That practical experience in the construction industry helped me understand more about local requirements, and when I returned to ABB in 2019, I used that experience to focus even more on what the mining sector really needs from ABB. It also gave me the experience to speak confidently with engineers from the mining sector.”

My time outside ABB gave me a different perspective and helped me understand more what it is to be a customer and what pains them!” she says.

She brings both her engineering training and that customer-side experience to her role. “I treat each tender as unique – it’s always exciting because even with ongoing projects, there are always little bits and pieces to it that are different.”

She enjoys puzzling over the tender, beginning with the technical selection. “Is it the right fit for that product? Is it in line with the specification? Is it within the budget? And then try to marry all that with the contract. I aim to wrap it all into a cohesive tender where we are technically and commercially a viable solution for the customer.”

De Jesus has also developed her negotiating skills – “in all different levels of ABB as well as externally … it’s all about talking to people and understanding their needs and making sure we deliver that in both the tender and the project.”

De Jesus says that “one of my managers gave me feedback that I speak softly, but I know when to get people in line!” She says that in meetings with stakeholders, one of her skills is bringing focus. “I’ll say, stop, we are getting off topic, and bring it back to a more cohesive discussion to achieve a final goal.”

That laser focus is supported by ABB’s deep domain expertise. “We’re a global organisation, and can tap into knowledge and technical expertise from all around the world if I need help in designing the right solution, or confirming that the technology proposed is the right one.”

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About the author

Joanne Woo

Storyteller & head of communications for ABB Australia. From large global conglomerates to fast growing start-ups, Joanne Woo has led diverse marketing and communications teams across energy, mining, aviation, transportation, healthcare and technology sectors. Joanne is also a mentor for the Superstars of STEM program which aims to smash society’s gender assumptions about scientists and increase the public visibility of women in STEM.
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