The Coal Nine Yards: Moranbah North’s winning streak

Kris Jaryn of SEW-Eurodrive (left) and Moranbah North general manager Paul Stephan.

Anglo American is the second largest Australian producer and third largest global producer of metallurgical coal.

The company has weathered its fair share of ups and downs over the years. Nowhere is this more pronounced than at the Moranbah North coal mine in the Bowen Basin region of Queensland.

Moranbah North opened in 1998 and started longwall operations in 2000, but for its first decade of operations its results were not exemplary.

At the end of 2011, a fall of ground in the conveyor drift was a wake-up call for the mine, halting operations and reducing production considerably.

The mine started to show significant improvements at the start of 2012 following a complete operational restructure by Anglo American.

The restructure introduced longwall cutting methods that contributed to a doubling of output from 3.7 million tonnes (Mt) in 2012 to 6.9Mt in 2013. This period was the start of a turnaround for the mine’s ailing fortunes.

Moranbah North’s production has increased each year since, and the site’s safety record has improved.

Despite these improvements, the mine faced further risk in 2015 when Anglo American announced a potential exit from the Australian coal market to ease building debts. It eventually took the decision to cancel the sale process as the market started to improve.

Buoyed by an operational turnaround and resurgent coal prices — particularly for the high-quality coking coal in which Anglo Coal specialises — Moranbah North and the adjacent Grosvenor mine look set for the long haul.

Anglo American produced a record 5.4Mt at Moranbah North in the 2017 financial year, representing a significant percentage of its 19.7Mt across all operations.

The site then produced 10.14Mt in the year to June 2018, surpassing the previous 12-month Australian met coal record produced by sister operation Grasstree in Bundoora in 2015.

“Our Moranbah North mine is a world-class operation. We’ve embraced longwall bi-directional cutting and longwall automation, which have made significant changes to our safety and production performance,” Anglo American executive head of underground operations Glen Britton says.

“Innovation is also key to our success, and we’re continuously looking for ways to improve processes and enhance safety across our operations.”

Works on planned maintenance and analysis of unplanned downtime have secured Moranbah North a site average of 155 hours of operation a week with minimal online redundancy.

The site’s coal handling and processing plant (CHPP) operates stably at 25 per cent over nameplate capacity due to targeted improvement by the Moranbah North team.

Anglo American has also shined in other areas at Moranbah North this year. In May, it launched a landmark female trainee recruitment drive in association with the Fair Work Commission to develop a female training program that encourages women to join the team and improve inclusivity.

The company received over 1200 applications for its female traineeship program from late September to mid-October.

In recognition of Moranbah North’s success, Anglo American again proved its mettle at the 2018 Australian Mining Prospect Awards in Sydney in October by winning the SEW Eurodrive Coal Mine of the Year Award.

It is not the first time the mine has been honoured — it has won the event’s Coal Mine of the Year Award an impressive four times, also winning this category in 2013, 2015 and 2017 (the same year it also won Australian Mine of the Year).

“Anglo American is extremely proud our Moranbah North mine has been recognised as Coal Mine of the Year for the fourth time, and that our Moranbah Grosvenor coal handling and processing plant won Processing Plant of the Year,” Britton says.

“It’s really the combined contributions of everyone at Moranbah North that have contributed to our success.”

The Moranbah North mine notched a rare double at the 2018 Prospect Awards by also winning the Minerals Processing of the Year Award.