Specialised Solutions to Complex Problems

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-By Aleisha Parr

When Wilkore Construction was approached in October of 2010 to commence fitout work on the Biosciences Research Centre at LaTrobe University, it was clear that the company needed to be efficient, purposeful and precise in its work. Under contract to Grocon – the company responsible for providing all construction and design of the facility – Wilkore Construction was brought in on this complicated project to provide “necessary systems and personnel to construct the specialist facilities for the BRC Project, to the exacting standards required for accreditation.”

As a well-established construction company, with specialist expertise in cleanrooms, laboratories and containment facilities, Wilkore was up to the task, diving in and taking the reins as it coordinated the complete process with Grocon. The $288 million project required Wilkore to build the PC2 and PC3 areas, installing walls, ceilings, flooring, and joinery across over 15,000 square metres of floor area. A major focus of the highly technical project was in ensuring that the necessary AQIS (Australian Quarantine Inspection Service) accreditation would be achieved in numerous critical areas. In a recent interview with us, Andrew Watson, Business Development Manager for Wilkore, reports on the company’s progress on the project to date. He says, “With these sorts of projects where the facility is either accreditable or not accreditable at the end of the day… you have absolute right or wrong, so there have been a lot of challenges that Grocon and Wilkore have faced together during the build process and we”˜ve still got a few months to go, but it’s all happening.”

Such technically challenging projects are exactly what the Victoria-based company thrives on, with internal systems backed by extensive in-house R&D to meet the most demanding project requirements. Wilkore is certified to AS4801 and ISO18001, and is code compliant to National Code of Practice for the Construction Industry and is FSC accredited. Currently, a major area of focus for Wilkore is high containment facilities, such as the Prime Containment areas involved in the BRC project at LaTrobe. Such facilities are used as quarantine areas for research into infectious diseases or noxious weeds or pests. Reports Mr Watson, “They’re built to a fairly exacting standard. We build them using a specialised panel system. The ultimate test is that you do need to pump each room up to 200 Pascals of pressure and have no more than 120 litres a minute of leakage, so it is essentially airtight.”

Wilkore also specialises in cleanroom work, especially within the pharmaceutical industry. The company utilises its own profiles and design structures and also imports a panel system from French company Dagard.

As an example of such work, in 2005 Wilkore worked with Sigma Pharmaceuticals to consolidate two external sites into a single pre-existing site, a $65 million project covering approximately 25,000 square metres, of which nearly 10,000 was dedicated cleanroom space. The project was required to be completed within an incredibly tight timeframe, and to a guaranteed maximum price. Wilkore had already established a strong rapport with Sigma Pharmaceuticals, having worked together on numerous projects since the early 1990s, so both companies were confident that the project could be completed on time, under budget and – most importantly – to technical requirements. Wilkore took on the entire process of construction management, fast-tracking the project so that it was completing design and construction in parallel. All equipment for the project had to be procured by Wilkore from Europe, India, New Zealand, and across Australia to deliver a complete turn-key facility.

At the same time, Wilkore had to be cautious in its delivery, as it was working on an operational pharmaceutical site. “We had massive challenges in making sure that we didn’t disrupt the processes and the operations that were going on in the existing facilities,” reports Mr Watson, “as well as making sure that we met their deadlines for production. And again, all these facilities have an accreditation requirement; the facility is either accreditable or it’s not. So again, there is a set of exacting standards as well as an absolute mountain of paperwork. We’re talking probably a room full of folders associated with this project for building this sort of facility.”

After being introduced to the field through a number of initial speciality projects, Wilkore found that the expertise its teams gained throughout the process was amassing rapidly, and the company quickly gained a strong reputation for quality outcomes. While more than half of all of its work includes some level of technical specialty, Wilkore also continues to provide traditional design and construction solutions in offices and warehouses. Essentially, two teams of staff are kept on, although all workers receive in-depth training in all techniques. Says Mr Watson, “It works very well for us in down times because we’ve got a broad range of industries that we can target.”

This is particularly important at present, with the industry experiencing a slight downturn despite the recent upward trend in high containment facilities. The pharmaceutical industry is suffering not only due to competition out of China and India, but also from the high dollar.

Andrew Watson explains that the company maintains its strong focus on sharing knowledge with its staff through in-house training opportunities as well as on-site on every project. “We do a lot of active training with our guys,” he explains. “I’m a huge believer in the fact that if you’re going into a sensitive or dangerous area, the guys need to know why we’re putting them through all these hoops, why it’s important. It’s also good for being able to discuss issues with the client… and it assists with our innovation in the fact that if our guys know the regulations and they know the specifications and then if we have a problem we’ve come up against, an issue that’s a technical difficulty issues that’s got to be overcome… if they know the boundaries they can work within then they can respond rather than having to shrug their shoulders.”

The Wilkore workforce is able to provide such a high level of expertise due to this focus on group excellence and personal responsibility. Furthermore, Andrew Watson says that Wilkore workers are more likely to stay with the company and evolve with it, for an average duration of seven to eight years. “One of the main reasons why we’re able to keep our technical edge,” he says, “is because our staff get a degree of technical acumen that they take to every project. I think the main thing is that we can keep our projects interesting. Our guys get a lot of stimulation from the projects. We give them the ability to search for solutions. They’re not just showing up, doing their bit then heading off, we’re actively involving them.”

Mr Watson sees the future as an opportunity for continued success through expansion into other highly technical areas, especially in the health industry.

“We learn from each job and we apply what we do from each previous job onto the next one, which is something I think a lot of building companies don’t actually do. But it’s essentially the fact that we have a lot of guys who have a lot of experience and… we like to find solutions to difficult problems and make people’s problems and jobs easy.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

May 26, 2020, 7:50 AM AEST