Small and specialised
Aspec Engineering is a specialized engineering consultancy companyheadquartered in Queensland. Withfour offices including ones in Brisbane, Newcastle, Perth and Wollongong, Aspec Engineering strives to bring their knowledge and expertise to particularly difficult projects in the mining and material handling sectors. The company offers a wide range of services, including operations with life extension projects, risk reduction, and performance improvement initiatives.
Richard Morgan and his colleague Frank Gatto founded Aspec Engineering after working many years for BHP Engineering. When BHP Engineering was acquired by a Canadian company called Hatch, Richard and Frank decided to set up a business that was similar to the structural assets department of BHP pre-acquirement.
“Frank and I had worked running the structural assets and structural engineering group,” recalls Richard. “We were both structural engineers from the University of Queensland, and we worked for BHP for over ten years.”
Going into business for themselves, Richard and Frank knew they needed a mechanical discipline that included mechanical engineers and other engineers, to create an environment similar to what they were accustomed to at BHP.
“Our main focus since starting the company has been on material handling systems and infrastructurefor the mining industry,” says Richard. “But we’ve also done a lot of investigation projects and life extension type of work on existing facilities in addition to things like risk studies and value engineering studies.”
“We work based on identifying criticalissues,” he adds. “Once we have identified them, we can move on to do retrofit designs for existing plants or on machines.”
Richard notes that when he and Frank set up Aspec, there was a strong demand for their services because of the company’s expertise in mobile machines and ship loaders. In the years since, the demand for those services has stayed strong, and Richard says that the company has not changed much.
“We’re still a small specialised company, so we operate differently to the big engineering companies,” says Richard “We are specialized and we are recognized for our expertise. Oftentimes, a client will direct the engineer handling their project to get us involved, specifically onthe design auditing for material handling equipment and the design verification for proposed expansions.”
Over the years, Aspec Engineering has acted as a consultant on numerous high profile projects—for example, BMA’s Hay Point port expansion. Although Aurecon Hatchwas the design engineer on the project, Aspec was approached to do the design verification. The company has also contributed tothe CavalRidge project in Queensland where they were in charge of material handling machine engineering verification, and have been the auditors for Rio Tinto in the Cape Lambert B port facility.
“Because we are small and specialized, we’re not in competition with companies like Aurecon, Hatch, and Bechtel,” says Richard. “So they are usually comfortable with us being in a consultant role because we are not a threat to them. Rather, we get involved with major companies on projects because they recognize our expertise.”
Over time, Richard and Frank have grown the company to meet the demand for services. “We have built up a team by organic growth,” says Richard. “Over time, we have built a confident group of engineers that are highly skilled and have an overall good reputation for what they do.”
The business is structured on a team environment, and according to Richard, everyone in the business is important—from the receptionists, to those in document control, to even the most skilled engineers. “Everyone has a part to play,” he says. “We just try to encourage a team environment with mutual respect for contributions.”
Richard also notes that staff turnover is quite low, which is an indication of job satisfaction within the company. “Technically, people find the work here interesting,” says Richard. “More general companies are a bit bland, but our work varies and is more specific.”
“Engineers even like to travel to sites to see what they are involved with, and we tend to have a fair bit of involvement on site rather than people sitting in the office.”
The company has also found success by promoting students who work with them as part of their hands-on education. Over the course of working, students develop the aptitude for the type of work Aspec is involved with, and it results in fondness for the work, a smooth transition into the organization, and a deeper involvement with on-the-job training.
In order to attract and retain all their employees, Richard says it is up to the company to be an “industry leader” in the area of specialized engineering. That leadership is partially bolstered by their association with the Australian Standards Committee for Bulk Handling Equipment, where Richard is chairman. “We are well known through our involvement with the committee,” says Richard. “We try to keep good relationships with people across the industry.”
“It’s all about knowledge too,” he adds. “Clients come back to us for repeat business is because we know a lot about their plants and equipment, so if they engage us, they know they are not getting a learning curve with someone getting up to speed with all the issues. For us, having the same people involved keeps the knowledge current and it makes it more efficient to solve projects for the client.”
Although the company has steadily grown over the years, Richard says they are in no rush to expand fast. They are however, placing themselves in a position that will benefit them if the company does improve. “We will continue our high quality service, we will continue to be a specialist, and we will continue to carry a good reputation,” Richard says. “If the economy does improve, however, our expansion would occur to meet the demand through organic growth.”
In preparation for upcoming years, Aspec Engineering has considered the important drivers in the mining and material handling industry, and has concluded that efficiency as well as environmental considerations will be of the upmost importance.
“We’re focused on the environment and we are working to get more efficiency out of the current plants,” says Richard. “We will be looking into facilities with a low energy profile and ship loadingconcepts to fillships quicker with minimal delays.”
“These types of things will be important in our future,” he concludes.