Bright Sparks

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-By John Boley

Located on the eastern shore of Spencer Gulf, some 230 km north of Adelaide, Port Pirie has an economy primarily driven by the massive silver, lead and zinc smelters which process raw ore brought from Broken Hill, and the large port which provides transport for both the metal and rural industries which dominate the town.

Port Pirie proudly announces itself as ‘the City of Friendly People’ and so it turned out when we spoke to Grant Dempsey, managing director of Total Electrical Construction. A quick glance at the Total Electrical website leaves the visitor in no doubt there is a lot more than ‘electrician’ to this company. So do Grant and his team concentrate on ‘electrical’ or ‘construction’?

“Most of our business is in the construction industry,” he explains, “but more heavy industry, starting with civil through to mechanical, steel fabrication and, obviously, electrical. But it started off as an electrical company.”

He says there is a need for more clarification of the company’s scope of services. “Existing clients know our abilities but there is a real perception out there that Total is an electrical contractor. Yes, we do electrical contracting work but it’s not all we do. We add a fair bit of value to a project by being able to start at the ground and take it right through to where we switch on the power.”

Total Electrical Construction is able to manage and supervise projects from conception through to final delivery including preparation of operation manuals. The company has been the principal contractor for numerous multi-discipline contracts.

Total Electrical Construction was formed in 1998 by Grant and a friend with whom he had done his trade (Grant subsequently bought him out and has been sole director ever since) and now has 37 employees including three apprentices. The company prides itself on implementing extensive in-house training programmes to develop the skills of its employees, which, combined with recruitment and retention programmes has provided the company with a committed and capable workforce. “We have a good apprentice programme, but you can only take so many. We find it hard to recruit” though this is hardly unique to this company and he believes it is “the biggest issue we are going to face going forward in country South Australia.”

Total provides a complete range of services from design to manufacture, installation, commissioning and maintenance of industrial, electrical, mechanical and civil services. Key areas of expertise include the mining, mineral processing and water treatment industries. The company has developed and implemented an integrated management system to ensure the ongoing monitoring of its projects.

Total has its own water management section which used to be “kind of separate” but has since become more integrated into the overall service offerings. It’s more effective, says Grant, to pull all the resources together rather than having separate divisions. “It also utilises our resources better; with the issue of finding resources at times, we can use our guys to their full extent.”

The mining sector is “fairly tough. In recent years we have seen a lot of companies that were not traditionally in the mining industry really jump on board, bringing people on board who were not renowned for working in that industry, which has made it a bit more competitive. However, we have been in that sector for a longer time and we have the experience to be in that industry and know the requirements so we’re in good shape for that reason, because we are familiar and experienced with that industry.”

In line with the water management division, Total Electrical Construction has built a reputation for high quality and competitive works in the field of heavy construction. Employees, from management through to supervisors and trades staff have many years of experience in the mining industry and offer services from the design phase through the full construction phase including submission to the client of “as-built” documentation.

In terms of significant projects completed (please see sidebar), Grant chooses to talk about a subdivision called the Port Pirie Lifestyle village. “It’s a 91-lot subdivision. We started with a paddock full of weeds and rubbish and turned it into a subdivision with roads and houses and all the services in between. We were principal contractor for bulk earthworks, services and roads.

“One project we are working on at the moment is the EAF dust washing facility (for Nyrstar) which has turned into a reasonable project for us. We have won about four or five tenders on it, which has seen us as main player on that, starting with some civil work and then building switchrooms and pouring concrete, pipework and now we are doing the electrical work,” (Grant was speaking a day after a high-voltage shutdown prior to connection and getting the plant ready to power up).

There is restructuring in the air for Total as Grant prepares to gear it up for the next phase of expansion. “We have been making more people a bit more accountable and rewarding them for it.” Grant says the potential over the next five years or so regionally is “quite good” and there is a case for more growth in the company to take account of the opportunities. “We are looking to expand. Some of the bigger mining projects that are posted for regional South Australia are very promising and I think we need to be expanding our administration and our management capabilities.”

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 25, 2020, 9:43 PM AEST