Friday 18th Sep, 2020

Building the aspects of quality engineering

ABHR speaks to Richard Morgan, Founder of Aspec Engineering, to learn why it has such a high rate of return business.

ABHR speaks to Richard Morgan, Founder of Aspec Engineering, to learn why it has such a high rate of return business.

More than 90 per cent of Aspec Engineering’s workload comes from its existing clients. When asked how the company has managed to foster this level of patronage, Director Richard Morgan says the answer is simple – quality and experience.

Aspec Engineering is a specialist engineering firm, with a particular focus on complex brownfield upgrades, to help extend asset life, reduce risk and increase throughput.

Morgan founded the company in 2003 with business partner Frank Gatto. Both had previously worked as part of BHP’s engineering team.

“Within BHP, we were involved in complex engineering projects to improve the lifespan of the existing assets,” Morgan says.

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“We had a large involvement with the bulk handling machinery, such as the shiploaders, stackers, and reclaimers, which helped us build up a lot of skills when dealing with heavy equipment.

“These massive machines are effectively large moving structures, subject to fatigue loads and corrosion if they’re near the ocean. They take about 10 times more effort to keep them safe when compared with static infrastructure such as conveyors or bins.”

Morgan worked within BHP for around 13 years, before moving to Toronto-based engineering Hatch for three years. When he and Gatto decided to take the risk to start their own business, they started small, but soon grew as the mining boom began in earnest. At its peak, the firm employed 55 staff members, before stabilising to around 40.

One of the biggest challenges facing the firm in its early days was setting up an integrated structural and mechanical engineering group. To do so, the company hired a number of young engineers who worked alongside an experienced engineering mentor.

These engineers are now in key positions in the firm, working in small teams of around four to six. Morgan says these family-sized teams help keep communication strong, even in the midst of a global pandemic, and have allowed the company to be flexible and reactive.

He adds that this focus on people is what allows the company to maintain its high level of quality on every project it is engaged in.

“We have very little turnover in our staff. Our key people have been with use for a very long time and have developed a lot of knowledge about the numerous facilities they have worked on,” he says.

Aspec Engineering has also developed a number of methodologies and a rigorous verification process to further strengthen its quality control. These methodologies, developed over years and using expertise from industry veterans, assist the firm’s auditing, retrofitting, specifying and design auditing services.

When an engineer finishes their calculations, their work is reviewed by an experienced team member. Morgan says there are layers of checking and review, with a dedicated drafting checker that works to ensure everything is accurate.

Building a brand

Initially, Aspec Engineering started off with a focus on coal, but the company saw the need to diversify, not only in material but in location too. The firm spread around the country, setting up offices in Newcastle, Brisbane, Wollongong and Perth.

Morgan says that while there was a significant demand for Aspec’s engineering services, a key factor for the company’s growth was due to the relationships it had developed over time.

“It has taken us many years to build this reputation,” he says. “We had good relationships with the people who used to work at BHP when we set up Aspec, so it was natural for them to start reaching out to us in the beginning.”

“These relationships include people who we knew that moved on to other companies, such as Rio Tinto, creating a number of opportunities for us to expand to new clients.”

A recent project was the Port Kembla Coal Terminal which involved replacement of two large reclaimers, three stackers and refurbishment to two older shiploaders. Aspec assisted the terminal specify the equipment and provided design checks for the upgrade.

Morgan says bulk handlers will often reach out to Aspec to ensure designs are verified as part of industrial best practice.

“Sometimes this will see us checking the work of an independent consultant, other times it will be checking the designs of original equipment manufacturers. These are major investments, so it makes sense to protect that,” he says.

The company plans to continue focusing on its people. Aspec Engineering’s staff are already spread across the country and have access to flexible working environments. This allows them to work from home, limiting the impact COVID-19 has had on the business.

Morgan says the future looks bright for the team, even during the pandemic.

“We’ve been seeing slow organic growth over time and that has really worked well for us,” he says.

“As we do so, we’ll be looking to bring in new, young people into the company and to continue offering our expertise.”