A sound vision has enabled the Newlands underground operation in the Bowen Basin to map out a clear path forward.
Once a struggling operation, the Newlands coal mine in central Queensland is the new record-holder of the highest tonnage produced in a year by an Australian underground coal mine. In calendar 1999, it churned out 5.55 million run-of-mine (ROM) tonnes, including 5.16Mt of longwall coal. Newlands also won the Australian minerals export award for 1999 after generating export sales revenue of more than $300 million.
It is an extraordinary turnaround for a mine senior MIM Holdings management once viewed as an embarrassment.
Newlands is part of the Newlands-Collinsville-Abbot Point operations (NCA), owned by MIM (75%) and Itochu Corporation (25%), which produced a combined 10.8Mt of saleable coal during the same period.
The operation’s excellent output performance was achieved through careful planning and good equipment, but mentioned first and foremost by many spoken to on site is the perception that it is the people who were behind Newlands’ success.
While it has become fashionable for many mines to pay lip service to their people, one sometimes gets the impression that managers would prefer not to have them there at all. This is not the case at Newlands. Management and the workforce have worked hard to cultivate a sense of common purpose and genuine teamwork. Mine workers such as Ray Smith describe a sense of empowerment and ownership of responsibility that have come from reduced job demarcation. Communication, in both directions, is given a high priority.
While some of this may sound like the jargon and concepts that bristle like echidna quills from any number of change-management consultants, there is a major difference at Newlands — these principles are actually in practice and clearly delivering results.
“We took the view that before we would commit any capital we had to get the management right,” said MIM executive general manager, Mike Menzies, who oversees the group’s mining operations from its Brisbane head office. “The Newlands results prove what you can achieve with a workforce once you gain their support is limitless,” he said.
Staffing the mine with people with the right profile received the highest priority from day one and as a greenfields operation Newlands was able to employ “clean skins” along with a core of experienced operators, said NCA general manager, Mike Ryan.
“We chose people for their attitudes,” said human resources adviser, Melinda Thomas. “We looked for people who would contribute to a discussion and not just sit back and say nothing.”
While its employees enjoy relatively more autonomy than many other operations, Newlands does not have self-directed work teams. “We have teams of high calibre people led by strong and respected leaders,” Ryan said. The mine treated its statutory deputies as “genuine front line supervisors, who are involved in a lot of decision making and are true supervisors and leaders of their teams”
And because the statutory positions are not merely showcase positions, shift under-managers have been done away with, making the management structure remarkably flat. Face deputies report to superintendents who report to management. Related to this is the overwhelming perception of many of the 150 employees that problems at the mine are expediently handled.
The involvement of all levels of employees in the day-to-day functioning of the mine is most apparent in development performance. Newlands continues to hold the record for the highest development rate at an Australian mine (82.7m) in an eight-hour shift, achieved in November 1998. Other impressive records are 80m in a 10-hour shift and 106.2m in a 12-hour shift, both in December last year.
The development method is relatively simple. Coal seam extraction height in the roadways is 35m high by 5.2m wide. Joy 12CM12 continuous miners and shuttle cars develop a twin entry gate road system for longwall panels, installing four 2.1m roofbolts and W-strap every 1.5m of advance with one rib bolt per strap on each side.