Bis Industries deal with Israel’s largest aerospace and defence company
Australian Business Review | September 22, 2020
Resources contractor Bis Industries, controlled by private equity firm Carlyle and hedge fund Varde Partners, is targeting the rollout of a new low-cost mining automation venture after striking a tech deal with Israel’s largest aerospace and defence company.
The West Australian company’s 50:50 joint venture with Israel Aerospace Industries — dubbed “Auto-mate” — is aimed at tapping into an estimated $50bn global automation market by connecting existing trucks, road trains and pit haulage into an integrated system.
The tie-up was sparked after Bis, chaired by AGL Energy chairman Graeme Hunt, embarked on a global tour looking for a tech partner that could help develop a product to disrupt traditional suppliers like Caterpillar and Komatsu.
While Big Australian players including BHP and Rio Tinto have been among early adopters of automation at the mine site, Bis looked overseas for opportunities given decades of tech innovation in other industries.
“Our view was there are already some players in the market who have done a good job in getting a foothold, so we went searching for an alternative play,” Bis chief executive Brad Rogers told The Australian.
“We wanted to find an advanced and established technology and we want looking outside of mining for that in the aviation, defence, agriculture industries that have been automating assets for longer than mining have. In the course of that we came across Israel Aerospace Industries who have been leading the way in robotics and automation for aviation and off-road vehicles for decades now.”
The Israeli company was also on the hunt for partners to expand into new industries, with Bis able to pitch its contracts providing logistic support solutions to the resources sector such as road trains and pit haulage.
“They were looking to adapt their technology into civilian applications,” Mr Rogers said. “It’s adaptable to any asset type, any age of asset and any level of automation.
“What you get from providers currently is fully automated dump-trucks and that makes sense as a high volume, high value category on mine sites. We can do that but equally we can adapt and automate fleets of bulldozers, water carts or road trains and it could span from remote control to platooning semi automation and through to full automation.”
Bis abandoned an ASX float in late 2013 after being lumbered with debt following the resources industry downturn, followed by a longwinded recapitalisation which saw Carlyle and Varde replace private equity giant KKR as its owners in 2017.
Speculation continues to bubble over the long-term intentions of the private equity group owners. Mr Rogers said they will consider their options with both a trade sale or IPO potential avenues for an exit although no changes are expected in the short-term.
“There will be an exit at some point but there is nothing planned right now. We’re focused on growth and at the right time, when there is better clarity around the COVID-19 situation as a starter, we’ll be looking at that. But they’re supportive of continuing to support our strategy of growth and initiatives.”