A Tomago Aluminium employee's innovation leads to excellence award

(Article from the Newcastle Herald)

NATHAN Bevear is a fitter and welder with a man-cave in the backyard and a talent for seeing things he thinks could work better.

When he walked into a new job as a potline operator at Tomago Aluminium several years ago, the heavy hinged tapping doors on the 860 pots used to extract the metal caught his eye.

They weighed 9kg each, were magnetically sealed, were unwieldy to open, sometimes difficult to manage, and their 1980s technology seemed out of synch with 21st century industrial requirements.

“I just looked at them and thought, there could be a better way we could go about this,” Mr Bevear, 33, thought.  

So he started drawing. The lightweight, unhinged, removable aluminium door he designed to replace the original was so successful that the company adopted it for the plant, and placed an ordered for at least 150 of them.

At the Tomago Aluminium innovation awards night last week Mr Bevear thought he was in with a chance to win his category. But he didn’t even get nominated.

“I was starting to think, come on. I thought I would at least have got into the top three, but they tricked me on the night,” he said.

“Right at the end Matt Howell (Tomago Aluminium chief executive) started telling my story and I was speechless.”

He was named overall excellence in innovation winner, with a prize of two business class tickets to anywhere in the world and two weeks’ accommodation.

“I didn’t know what to say. I think I swore into the microphone when I got up there. I don’t do speeches. I didn’t even do a speech at my wedding,” he said.

Mr Howell said Mr Bevear’s innovation increased safety for employees, reduced emissions, cut down on maintenance costs and showed Mr Bevear as “an extremely competent designer and engineer”.

“As well as the safety and health benefits that are an obvious part of the design, Nathan’s re-done doors are cheaper to manufacture than the previous doors and require less maintenance,” Mr Howell said.

“The innovation awards are not just lip service. When we launched them we said ‘If you come up with a decent innovation we’ll come back with a decent reward’.”

Winners in five categories won trips for two to anywhere in Australia.

Mr Bevear worked on a prototype door in his cousin’s metalwork shop in Bathurst. Tomago Aluminium’s fitters were his chief backers on the awards night.

“They had the job of fixing the old heavy doors. It’s not easy work,” he said.

His winning trip will likely include Disneyland, and his two children, aged 3 and 5, because “we couldn’t be away from them for two weeks”.

Related Articles

  • Sky-high generosity

    The Westpac Rescue Helicopter made our site its landing pad for a lunch with a twist recently.

  • Electrical distribution model safe guards TAC site

    Over the past year, TAC’s Senior Electrical Engineer, Antonie Jacobs has had the pleasure of watching Newcastle University student, Mat Barton develop his skills by bringing an electrical distribution model to fruition.

  • New pot design could deliver $10m in annual savings

    One of the most significant costs in the manufacture of aluminium is power. Reducing use of electricity in the production of aluminium remains a key challenge at TAC.