Managing through the Downturn: Thinking outside the tank
In response to the difficult economic situation in 2008, Alcoa has taken a strong stand to minimise costs and position our business in Australia to address the current challenges and be ready to grow when the time is right.
During 2008, we reviewed our capital expenditure, reviewed all contractors and consultants, put much tighter controls on capital and people requests, frozen salaries, matched production to demand and continually sought opportunities for greater efficiencies.
As part of our strategic response to the financial crisis, we postponed the expansion of our Wagerup alumina refinery in Western Australia until overall market conditions improve and there is greater security in Australian energy supply. We also implemented a small production curtailment at the Portland Aluminium smelter in Victoria due primarily to the fall in the aluminium price and a drop in world demand.
These are extraordinary times and we are looking to our people to help achieve extraordinary things. And it has been a case of every hand to the wheel. All employees have been challenged to think outside the box, suggest ways in which we can save costs, reduce inventory while maintaining our values.
Through the Alcoa Employee Suggestion Scheme there have been a number of great initiatives introduced that are delivering results.
For example Liam Bowden at our Wagerup alumina refinery took the challenge of thinking outside the box to a whole new level and started “thinking outside the tank!”
Liam took a leadership role in providing a solution to improve oxalate removal from the refining circuit to improve caustic usage and alumina production.
His challenge was to reuse existing equipment, reduce risk to fellow employees and save capital expense.
Specifically the problem related to one tank on the plant “47C” which required a whole section of the oxalate removal process to be shut-down regularly for maintenance.  Liam spent hours tracing the pipework and designing a flowpath to solve the problem.

Liam’s innovative solution was to transform another tank into a ‘makeshift’ 47C tank.  His idea required zero capital and zero expense. 

His idea was put forward as part of the Alcoa Employee Suggestion Scheme.
The estimated savings at Wagerup are around $200,000 per year in oxalate spill risk reduction. The 47C Tank can now be taken out of circuit to perform preventative maintenance at any time.

Liam's suggestion has also resulted in the elimination of over $1.5M of capital expenditure to install a spare 47C tank to allow a 47C flat bottom tank inspection.

Initiatives such as these, combined with our strategic approach to managing the economic downturn are aimed at ensuring Alcoa remains strong and will be prepared to grow when economic conditions improve.

Click image to enlarge.

Liam Bowden’s idea to reuse existing equipment resulted in a win in the Alcoa Employee Excellence Awards in 2008 as well as a zero cost, multi-million dollar saving for Alcoa.