The Australian pump industry is a significant one. More than 3000 people are directly employed by businesses supplying product and services to the pump marketplace, and the market for pumping equipment is estimated to exceed one billion dollars annually. Pump Industry Australia (PIA) is an active and vibrant organisation that represents the members of the industry and aims to promote their growth as well as gain recognition for their technical capability, skill and product quality.
When it was founded in 1964, the organisation was known as the Australian Pump Manufacturers Association and was largely dominated by the major Australian pump manufacturers, like Kelly & Lewis, Thompsons, Indeng and Mono Pumps. When manufacturing suffered a sharp decline throughout the 90s, and imported pumps gained a foothold in the marketplace, the group shifted from a manufacturers association to an industry one. In 2003, the Association was renamed as Pump Industry Australia Inc. According to Keith Sanders, PIA’s President through 2011, the organisation has evolved significantly in the past five years.
“What we’ve tried to do is introduce more professionalism,” he says. “We have much more active Council; we now have subcommittees that actually have specific targets to achieve. The Council prepares a business plan every year, which is approved by our Members at the AGM – we try to make PIA run like a successful business, with all the tools you need to do that. I’m very optimistic that we will continue to achieve that.”
Sanders first became involved with PIA in 1983, when he was made a councillor. Between then and now, he has observed a significant amount of industry rationalisation; larger brands absorbing smaller ones, resulting in fewer but bigger companies and ownership changes through foreign investment. This evolution was the reason why PIA underwent the name change in 2003, and has resulted in a restructuring of the membership profile in order to better represent the industry. The association used to have three categories of membership that depended on employee count – they now have five. One of the additions is a small-end category for people in the distribution business. The other is an associate member category for suppliers to the industry.
The association’s total membership, among the five categories, is roughly 55. Three years ago that number was closer to 30. In recent years, PIA has undertaken an extensive membership drive. “We’ve added quite a number of members in those two new categories,” explains Sanders. “It gives the industry a more powerful voice when we’re talking to government departments and other instrumentalities. It’s also meant we’ve been able to put on a much broader spectrum of seminar material, because we’re getting people from diverse companies that are adding to the richness of the seminars we present.”
The most valuable service PIA has to offer is the influence they have with both government and major pump users. Sanders – who participates in a number of government run seminars – recalls doing a survey of their member companies to ask what they most wanted out of the association.
“Number one was to be a voice for them in government areas of legislation,” he says. In recent years, PIA has focused heavily on developing their service in that arena. “We, in fact, have been reasonably successful in getting our opinions heard. We’re starting to have a voice in those areas where it can influence what our members actually market in Australia.”
Other valuable services include the association’s quarterly general meetings and their consistent monitoring of industry statistics. “All these things help the senior management of our members make decisions about where they want to invest,” Sanders explains.
The general meetings are also open to non-members who have an interest in the industry. “We’re trying to develop relationships with similar associations where there are synergies between what they do and what we do and where communication may be helpful in the future,” he says. “We do try to be a promoter of social contact and business contact where it makes sense.”
PIA has several ongoing initiatives that address the concern of environmental sustainability. “We see the pump industry can make a major contribution, particularly in terms of energy efficiency and product reliability,” Sanders says. “There are figures that show that roughly 20 per cent of the energy in developed countries goes into driving pumps, so if you can improve the efficiency of a pumping system by five or 10 per cent that makes a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” PIA have been working with Sustainability Victoria to develop a program that will create a minimum efficiency standard for pump performance, and are also in discussions with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency regarding how products can be registered and have their energy efficiency standards verified.
When it comes to challenges facing the pumps industry, Sanders says the main concern would be the local resource sector passing over Australian companies in favour of offshore suppliers of pump equipment. The government’s Enhanced Project By-law Scheme (EPBS) was designed to encourage investors to give opportunities to Australian companies, however Sanders says the plan is not working as well as they would like. Beyond that, he says the challenges are simply the normal ones for a country where wage rates and expectations are high, and where they have to compete with manufacturing in low cost countries.
Moving forward, PIA will continue to improve, and continue to seek out new members. “Obviously if you want to get the ear of government and decision makers you have to represent a substantial body of opinion and that really means having more members,” Sanders says. “If you represent an industry of 3000 participants compared with 1000, people are going to take more notice of you.”
Though their member count will change, Sanders adds that PIA’s position most likely will not. “In the next 10 to 15 years Australia will continue to have a demand for sophisticated pumping equipment,” he says. “What will change will be of a technical and project management orientation of major projects, which may lead to less local content and more imported content. I can’t see the demand for pumps diminishing. If you look at the figures, the size of the market has been growing in dollar terms, and I don’t see any reason that will change.”