2009 Case Study: Health & Safety Improvements made possible by R&D group

Alcoa’s global refining research and development group, based at Kwinana, achieved a significant breakthrough in 2009, in both health and safety and production technology.

The Technology Delivery Group (TDG) created one of the most complex chemical processing robots in the world which is helping to optimise the performance of Alcoa’s alumina refineries worldwide - including our operations in Kwinana, Pinjarra and Wagerup.

The new robotic system, known as ROXAN, was custom built by our in-house scientists in collaboration with local industry. The system eliminates a number of potential occupational risks - including exposure to fumes and repetitive strain injuries.

“This has best practise safety systems and removes any human and machine interaction,” said Kim-Louise Burke, TDG Project Officer.

The robot carries out the complex chemical preparation required for the analysis of oxalate.  Oxalate is an impurity in the alumina refining process.   TDG has in-depth knowledge of the behaviour of oxalate in all of our refineries derived from the ability to carry out thousands of oxalate analyses per year.  The oxalate analysis is used to optimise refinery performance. 

“We simply could not afford to do the number of analyses we currently do if we didn’t have the new robot - it saves many millions of dollars,” said Dr Michael Nunes, TDG Program Manager.

“The robot can work overnight and therefore has the ability to prepare 500 samples in any 24 hour period which significantly helps us to meet project needs. This is important because it frees up our scientists to be working on other new discoveries,” Ms Burke said.

“It took us about two years to design and build the robotic system and it provides very fast, precise and safe oxalate analysis at very low operating cost,” Dr Nunes said.

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