Major Maintenance on the Anode Baking Furnaces at Arvida

An important project involving major maintenance to the anode baking furnaces is underway at Arvida Works. Unlike a regular refurbishment in which the entire furnace is disassembled and reconstructed, all the work is being done without suspending operations so that there is minimal impact on the smelter’s production capacity—a huge challenge in terms of logistics and safety.

The major maintenance, which represents an investment of nearly $20 million, will span a two-year period, as all 52 chambers of the two anode baking furnaces must be rebuilt to ensure that this key asset in the smelter remains operational. Audrey Bergeron, Manager, Coke Calciners and Anode Baking Furnaces, explained, “We’ve already planned out the work sequence by prioritising the chambers most in need of repair, thereby ensuring the safety of our people and assets. I look at this as a marathon; as the work progresses, we will significantly reduce the risks associated with the condition of our furnaces. I’m very proud of the engagement and creativity of our teams, which are working tirelessly on this ambitious project.”

To facilitate the work, the team has equipped itself with several tools, some of them custom-made, to be safer and more productive.. As Engineering project manager Nancy Plante explained:

“We added several tools to the arsenal to increase efficiency, including an excavator, which speeds up the demolition process. Initially, we estimated that we could rebuild one chamber per month, but we quickly reached a rate of 2.5 chambers per month.”

According to Yves Tremblay, Refractory Technician, Technical Services, the engagement of the employees and partners made all the difference. To him, it is clear as day that the employees care a lot about the health of their facility. He also remarked that the synergy of everyone involved provided the momentum that was needed to achieve the objectives.

Denis Bouchard, Refractory Technician at Arvida Works, said, “In addition to managing the complex logistics of performing maintenance on this scale while operating at full capacity, the team has shown great flexibility in overcoming the challenges that arose as the work progressed. Everyone has been in problem-solving mode and has been extremely agile in dealing with unforeseen hiccups and adjusting the work plan.”

In addition to the employees assigned to this maintenance, the team can count on the company Refracto, a long-standing Rio Tinto partner with experience in this type of work. “We have established a very effective communication system with the team that allows us to make adjustments quickly,” said the superintendent of the furnace refurbishment project at Refracto, Maxim Gagnon. “As we are constantly working side by side with Operations, we have to be on the same page at all times to maintain the pace of work and ensure the safety of the operators and employees assigned to this maintenance work.”

In total, over 30 people are working on this major maintenance project every day, and thanks to everyone’s efforts and excellent communication, Arvida Works is on track to complete this marathon by fall 2022, as planned.