Project Description

While Rio Tinto grabs headlines with its $5.3 billion Oyu Tolgoi mine expansion, one Australian manufacturer is quietly powering this and other billion-dollar mining, infrastructure and renewables projects at home and around the world.

From its Hunter and Mackay operations, the Ampcontrol Group manufactures specialised power distribution systems and products, delivering safe, efficient power solutions for hazardous environments.

“We are taking a lot of Australian technology into that copper-gold project up in Mongolia. It is all being driven by Rio Tinto and technology coming out of Ampcontrol,” says Chief Executive and Managing Director Rod Henderson.

The Newcastle-based firm employs around 700 and has lent onsite electrical support globally, from Botswana’s largest diamond project to delivering the temporary power equipment to construct Australia’s longest road tunnel, the Brisbane Airport Link.

The firm is nudging 50-years of operation and has 13,000 square metres of manufacturing space across its Tomago operations, featuring a highly specialised manufacturing plant and personnel

“We have a very clear strategy of assisting our Tier 1s wherever we possibly can. We sew up a nice package and take away a lot of the pain for them on the electrical side,” says Mr Henderson.

“Because we have done a good job with them in Australia our reputation carries into other parts. They know they can automatically roll up into another project with us in another part of the world and get the same level of service.”

Annual revenues currently sit at around $170-180 million, around 15 per cent of that from exports, and management has no intention of stalling there.

“Certainly we will be well north of $200 million in the next three years. We are pretty confident that we can grow our business quite comfortably over the next few years,” Mr Henderson says.

“We are in a very nice position that we probably haven’t been in as an economy for four or five years. I think we are going to see some reasonable growth in the resource sectors. Infrastructure thankfully is finally going to take off, and I think really grow for the next three or four years.”

Ampcontrol is excited about at least three of the four market sectors it is working on at the moment and putting its R&D and focus across all of those three markets: infrastructure, renewables, and mining.

The business was started in 1968 by “four guys who saw an opportunity to do import replacement,” says Mr Henderson. In early 2000, Washington Soul Pattinson bought a 43.3% stake in the business however, the business remains majority privately owned.

Ampcontrol was awarded the contract to design and supply the temporary power infrastructure to the WestConnex and North Connex projects in Sydney, and the business continues to develop its technology and service offering to both the coal and hard rock mining markets within Australia, as well as developing its business offering in South East Asia.

Ampcontrol operates internationally in Singapore, China and Hong Kong, India, Botswana and the United Kingdom.

“We avoid the bigger multinational guys where we can and try to find the niche in each of those markets where our technology is applicable,” Mr Henderson explains, adding the firm avoids areas with too many competitors.

Ampcontrol has developed the bulk of its own technology and invests heavily in research and development, “particularly in the technologies where we see that we can differentiate ourselves away from our competitors and position ourselves as high up the value chain as we can,” Mr Henderson says.

He says the ability to continually innovate has enabled Ampcontrol to stay in front of the competition, particularly in its home market of mining for 35 years, and the company’s customers include heavyweights BHP, Rio Tinto, Leighton Contractors, John Holland, Joy Global, Caterpillar and Sandvik Mining.

Ampcontrol has two main innovation prongs, Mr Henderson says: to be customer driven, and drive disruptively into the marketplace.

“We work very closely with our customers. We understand what our customers are looking for so we research with them the problems that they might be having and how our technology might be developed into products or systems that help them solve some of those issues, be it a safety or a production-based issue.

“We also run a strategy of disruption and look at what is going to be disruptive in the marketplace if we put that technology into that market.”

Academic collaboration is also key and the firm has run a joint-venture company for 13 years with the University of Newcastle called Restech, which specializes in advanced power systems engineering, software and mathematical modeling, research and analysis.

Meeting the broader needs of a project is more important than undercutting on price, and Mr Henderson explains it is more about reliability and longevity of product and “making sure we are looking right across the value chain and not just that we are the first and cheapest into the door.”

“It is not just about supplying a product. There is an engineering service, a maintenance service. We try to wrap up that entire value chain for customers so it is not just about the upfront or capital cost, it the ongoing costs. As long as we are competitive we are generally in there with a good chance of winning those projects.”

Looking ahead, Sydney tunnel works, Barangaroo, a number of infrastructure projects in Melbourne and solar and battery storage all present exciting opportunity in coming years.

“We are back in that growth phase again after a couple of years of consolidation. We are now at a stage where we have the right balance between resources, infrastructure and capabilities to put the foot on the accelerator and really start to actively grow the business,” Mr Henderson says.