John Richards, Chairman, The Bloomfield Group: Write Up
On Thursday 4th May, Austmine was delighted to welcome John Richards, Chairman of The Bloomfield Group to our Smart Mining Networking Event.
The Bloomfield Group is an Australian owned company with a long history in the Hunter Valley region. Right from the beginning the company started with a strong focus on innovation with William Cant had a focus and a drive for innovation, purchasing the first electric shovel in 1977 in the East Coast of Australia.
Over the next 20 years the company continued this drive for innovation, finding new and unique ways to improve on existing solutions.
In 2015, The Bloomfield Group purchased the Integra Mine and renamed it Rix Creek North which the coupled with their existing Rix Creek South to be run as one mine which is now responsible for 75% of The Bloomfield Groups coal.
John emphasised that innovation has been integral to the success and growth for The Bloomfield Group. As John said “Never be afraid to shamelessly adapt, modify and improve someone else’s good idea. This is what innovation is. It is how you make great ideas.”
John looked at how innovation doesn’t always have an obvious financial return. However, The Bloomfield group attempts to take a long-term view based on how innovation can have a greater affect over time. Some of the best changes come from incremental changes over time and not the newest shiny widget. Fine tuning a process so that it works best can in itself, be innovation.
Innovation doesn’t have to be high risk, with John and his team taking many different projects and breaking them down into small parts. In taking this cautious approach they have could take small sensible steps, stop and take stock before moving onto the next phase.
Great ideas don’t always come from within the company, but are often solutions that are bought in by new staff, contractors or networking with like-minded people. The trick for successful implementation is for mining companies to be open minded and give it a go, but most importantly, stick with it through the trail period.
To achieve this John stressed that strong relationships are the key to success. Relationships with not just OEMs and suppliers but also with research teams and universities. Being near the University of Newcastle and other research centres has been a great advantage for the privately-owned company.
Examples of how The Bloomfield Group have implemented new and innovative technologies through their thirst for continuous improvement:
- Reflux classifier was implemented in 1991 at their pilot plant. Many problems were encountered in the first six months of the study, but were solved through constant collaboration with the supplier. In 2003 a full version installed in, but in scaling up, new issues arose, which lead to further collaboration and testing with the supplier. The whole process was greatly successful because at the end they had learnt a lot about how to improve their plant performance and coal classification.
- Solid bowl centrifuge was another innovative implementation for The Bloomfield Group. Capping the dams at Rix's Creek has been difficult as there weren’t many locations in the Hunter region for tailings dams. Questions were asked, could the tailings be dried and the overburden stored? Several solutions were tested to reduce and get rid of the tailings such as, belt press and filter press. Finally, after several tests they decided on an SBC (Alfa Laval) installation, though only implemented one to begin with. After the testing was complete it was implemented fully and was the first of this scale to use SBC for coal tails in Australia.
- New concept flotation/froth flotation. The process was smaller than product stream, not tailings stream. In doing it this way there was limited risk by doing it in two stages. This project led to reduced usage of frothed and collector, better circuit control and higher recovery of coal. After several changes made to cell configuration, resulted in some permanent changes to how The Bloomfield Group runs the plant. Knock on benefit from trying to improve one part of the plant – which is part of continuous improvement through innovation. Further, through a partnership with Noel at Clean ProTech they have developed a slurry density meter, first in world that didn't use nucleonic.
- Noise monitoring is very important in open cut, especially in urbanised areas such as the Hunter Valley. Working closely with their supplier, they could enable the product/model to monitor noise from the mines. This product was previously used for other applications outside of the mining industry. It checks forecast start of day and identifies likely impact of noise over the coming shift. It is uses a mathematical algorithm where is noise being reinforced within mine. This was a vital step change for noise management in the mining industry.
John finished up by saying “If it's new, if it's interesting: we'll give it a go”. He reiterated that there is a natural selection process in innovation through tried and tested. Innovation works best if you find good partners to collaborate with, and keep a look out for what ideas you can borrow from other industries and parts of the world.