Innovation in welding and commissioning of water pipelines for Queensland's coal seam gas (CSG) industry has opened the door to a diverse range of new business opportunities in the agriculture and civil sectors for Dalby-based firm, Australian Fusion Welding.
Australian Fusion Welding (AFW) was established just over two years ago as a wholly owned subsidiary of Murphy Pipe and Civil (MPC), one of the major contractors operating in the Surat Basin.
AFW Field Operations Manager, Josh Ballinger came to the Surat Basin more than seven years ago and has worked for a number of companies before joining MPC and now the specialist pipeline welder.
"With the major CSG construction phase winding down, MPC decided to create this offshoot (AFW) to try and target some of the smaller jobs of up to $10 million in the gas industry as well as tap into other potential sectors we have identified for this technology," Josh says.
"Our core business is high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipelines ranging from 90 to 900 millimetres in diameter designed to transport mainly water from point A to point B, such as from water collection points to holding ponds or other storages.
"We provide a turnkey solution including welding, installing, testing and commissioning pipelines."
Josh says, HDPE hadn't been widely used in Australia until the CSG industry kicked off in Queensland.
"We've been at the forefront of introducing this technology with the CSG industry here. It was a bit of a learning experience to start with, and with the huge (pipe) network that was required to be put in the ground we needed to be innovative and find some cost savings and do it a lot quicker.
"We invested in some fast fusion machines - it was a new way to weld the HDPE pipe that was quicker, safer and more user friendly and allowed the guys to get through a lot more work in one day in the field," he says.
"At the peak of the gas construction phase we were welding up to 300 kilometres of pipe per month and that figure now is probably closer to 60 to 80 kilometres per month. While there is ongoing gas construction and maintenance work we really needed to find new markets for this technology.
AFW is diversifying its customer base both in terms of industry sectors and location.
"Part of our diversification strategy is to work for Councils directly doing some installs on sewer lines and other facilities," Josh says.
"We're seeing a lot of Councils start to use HDPE as opposed to the older style PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) that are more susceptible to breaking. The HDPE might be a bit more expensive up-front, but it has got up to a 100-year lifespan.
"It's the perfect product for black soil country like around Dalby where the ground does readily expand and contract," he says.
In addition to the civil sector, AFW also see good opportunities in the agricultural sector and while they've done a couple of local farm jobs their biggest success to date has been in Victoria.
"The Victorian Government has spent a lot of money via their water buy-back scheme getting landholders to replace all the open channel irrigation with pipelines to try and save water.
"They're giving money to the farmers in areas like around Echuca to invest in better water infrastructure and we've managed to pick up some of that work as subcontractors down there.
"There's also a lot of pivot irrigation being installed down there on the back of their water buy-back so we are working with some of the local guys down there to bring our technology and expertise from the CSG fields to make things more streamlined in irrigated farming," he says.
In addition to Victoria, AFW has been undertaking and pitching for jobs as far afield as the north west of Western Australia to Tasmania using a range of new and existing relationships.
Local buy and capability
Josh says, over 90 percent of the HDPE pipe used by AFW is purchased from two local manufacturers based in Toowoomba.
"We also use a number of different fitting suppliers mostly based in Brisbane for connectors, T-junctions, elbows, valves and all those sort of things.
"We've only had to bring in some very specialist valves from Germany from time to time to meet customer specifications, otherwise its 100 percent Australian based suppliers.
AFW currently employ between 20 and 40 employees including a field crew.
"We try to employ locals where we can. Those that aren't have very specialist skills and we rent a couple of houses in town so that the guys can stay out here during the week and weekends if they want. We have local guys who live in Chinchilla and commute down here to Dalby too.
AFW also work closely with other local firms when pitching for business.
"We've just let a major subcontract to another local business around the corner who specialise in designing and fabricating steel pipes who we have a very good relationship with.
"They do carbon steel spooling and work hand in hand with a local spray painting business.
"You need subcontractors that are experienced and meet industry standards, and I think Dalby is well set up for that where there is a bit more maturity in businesses that have worked in the gas industry," he says.
AFW have their heart set on staying in Dalby and building their business beyond the region.
"The facilities in Dalby have been fantastic working here with the White Group who have been very good with this place which we've expanded next door over the last few months.
"We see no reason to leave Dalby, even if the CSG continues to wind down and our role in that isn't as big as it is now … we're happy with the location we have here; we're happy with the facilities that we have; and we've proven that we can run a job in WA or Victoria from this central location.
"Being in Dalby, we're not too far from the action whether gas or other sectors," Josh says.
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