Sunday Focus | Minding how it goes on the potline

The Examiner photographer SCOTT GELSTON discovers what goes on behind the looming interface of the Bell Bay Aluminium smelter

THE potlines inside the Bell Bay Aluminium smelter appear to stretch for an eternity.

Inside the reduction cells that make up the potlines, a continuous electric current flows from the anode (carbon blocks), through the alumina/ cryolite mixture to the carbon cathode cell lining.

At about 900 degrees alumina reacts with the anode to form aluminium.

The molten aluminium sinks to the bottom of the cell and is then siphoned out of the cell - a process that is repeated every 36 hours.

Process operator Ray Jones has been on the job for six years, a big change in career for the former disability support worker.

Despite the blue collar reputation of the manufacturing industry, Mr Jones believes that the smelter is staffed by some great minds.

"People tend to stereotype workers at sites such as ours and they shouldn't," he said. "There are a lot of smart and clever people that work here."

The plant runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and has done so since the first ingot was cast in 1955.

Innovation, continual business improvement and increased annual production look to help keep the plant viable, despite tough market conditions.

"You wouldn't necessarily know that some of the best people in the aluminium business in the world are working at Bell Bay Aluminium," Mr Jones said.

After half a shift in the now hot sheds that house the smelters potlines, I'm ready to leave the crew to continue their work in one of Tasmania's truly iconic industries.

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