Developments in the Pipeline

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-By John Boley

Cooke Precast Concrete (CPC) is a family business, started in 1996 by Harley Cooke, who had previously worked in the transport and drainage industries. Simon Cooke, general manager of Cooke Precast and Harley’s cousin, told us that business has been growing steadily ever since, but there are more dramatic developments that will soon see the light of day and enable the company to step up a gear and provide all the services its major clients need.

The company is located in Edinburgh North, in the northern suburbs of Adelaide (confusingly, it was formerly called Elizabeth West and has just changed its name). CPC can produce from an extensive range of slip moulds for precast production in the drainage field, numerous moulds for sumps, side entry pits, inspection openings and cable pits.

The company also provides a large range of access cover products in addition to septic tanks, car park and domestic products. With its own large concrete batching facility, Cooke Precast can produce consistent mixes as well as the special design batches like calcareous aggregate, fondag, coloured and high strength concrete.

In 2000 the company started making glass-reinforced concrete (GRC), which centres around the electrical business. “We make series isolation transformers for airports, down the sides of runways,” explains Simon. “We don’t get involved in just the average lump of concrete – we are not really involved in the construction industry where in situ concrete is employed. We make concrete precast products for just about everything else, mainly roadways and suburbs being developed, water treatment plants, hospitals, defence facilities and car parks.” The latter include a lot of drainage features and all of the infrastructure that goes under the ground like pipes, pits and sumps.

“We are national,” says Simon, “and also supply overseas. We have recently sent a product to Komo airfield in Papua New Guinea.” Komo, which is located approximately 10 kilometres southeast of the Hydes Gas Conditioning Plant and the future Juha developments, was selected as the site for the airport to support the PNG LNG project which will develop gas and liquid hydrocarbon resources located in the southern highlands of the territory.

“We are suppliers for a national distribution network through the Global Pumps Group (formerly known as All Pumps Supplies), to whom we supply pump stations that we manufacture in Adelaide. We have customers in every state in Australia for these pump stations, plus New Zealand.”

Cooke Precast can manufacture to an external design, “and we can also produce our own designs. We have some very substantial experience in our office – our workforce has a combined 200 years of experience in precast concrete and civil drainage, so we are able to look at customers’ requirements and specifically manufacture to those needs, which is our essential competitive advantage – being able to tailor our business for our larger customers and give them exactly what they need.”

Typically what will happen, says Simon, is that a builder will ask the company for a type of product. “We can give some advice as to how it needs to be made. But we don’t engineer the products and structures – we leave the engineering input to the consultant to say, ‘this is the type of strength you need here.’ We can in turn tell them what sorts of things are possible and how to produce a concrete casting, and give advice about what will work and what won’t – that includes how to transport and how to lift the item.”

This aspect is relatively unusual in this field, and Simon agrees that many buyers are not sufficiently aware of the depth of service that Cooke Precast can provide. “We are trying to get across greater awareness and we recently expanded our business with a new product development manager so we can talk more to the consultancies and the larger customers and make them more aware of what we can do for them.” Generally, he says, customers are very receptive to this approach.

Simon cites an example in the form of wind farms. These are generally built on the tops of hills, with a kiosk which houses all the electrical wiring and systems once the power gets to the ground, and which is conventionally built with form work and using wet-mix concrete trucks to produce footings and the floors. Taking a slightly different approach, CPC can “cast the kiosk base so it’s a lift straight off the truck and into position. That provides the complete foundation for the kiosks and it is a more efficient way of doing things; it solves a lot of problems with logistics and speeds up the project.”

Is this expertise and service expensive? “No. We believe we have probably the lowest cost structure of any precaster in South Australia, which is another competitive advantage for us.”

Business is growing, says Simon. “It’s quite a tough environment to be in but it has improved compared to last year. We are expanding our workforce and we see plenty of opportunities coming up with mining,” including what is happening at Olympic Dam, which is what is currently building confidence in the industry. Cooke Precast has about 50 staff and expansion is in Simon’s and Harley’s minds. “We have just purchased a large gantry crane that we are building. It’s currently under construction in our yard and that will give us an extra 1,200 square metres of production area and enable us to move 25 tonne castings around without the need to hire in cranes. It’s a substantial investment and it will pay off.” This development will enable Cooke Precast to meet predicted demand, Simon forecasts. “We are establishing our ability to better service some of the larger culvert and headwall jobs that are available and which are coming up for quotation, together with custom-sized large pits – we will be able to handle these easily and in greater volumes.”

In addition, the company is an SA Water approved manufacturer and produces products for stock. “As such,” Simon says, “we have a full range of their sewer components. We are also introducing the capability of producing HDPE lined pits, where the membrane is cast into the wall of the pit and then sealed by plastic welding. This provides a way of dealing with severe-environment liquids and we are providing those for installation in pump stations. There is also a project we have at present for an oil refinery.”

Another unusual aspect of the Cooke Precast service is its in-house crane truck transport fleet. This relates to Harley’s background – he owns a transport company and has a particular understanding of the needs of customers in remote sites and the need to get products to them safely and on time.

The company is also the South Australian agent for East Jordan (EJ) Castings, which designs, manufactures and distributes access solutions for water, sewer, drainage, telecommunications and utility networks worldwide. This US-based group comprises East Jordan Iron Works, Cavanagh, Norinco, McCoy and Havestock and services the civil, commercial plumbing, council, electrical and landscaping industries. Cooke Precast provides cast-iron covers and grates with the EJ brand as well as its own brand (Cooke Precast Concrete Pty Ltd owns the brand name of WASA COVERS – meaning Water And Sewer Access Covers – uniquely designed products that suit the local market.) All WASA products are designed and manufactured to the world’s highest standard of quality and cast-iron production.

The cast iron is integral to the product range, says Simon. “Take a new suburb, for example; we would want to pick up all the work that goes with the drainage there that is focussed on water and sewer, so from the point that the water enters the system we can provide all of the products – grates and covers and inspection openings come as part of a sub-contract package and so it is important for us to have a full range of cast iron covers.” If CPC didn’t have it then the company would not be able to provide the full package and would not have an advantage over other businesses, he adds.

With all the hard work and the developments in the pipeline, there is still time for a bit of fun. “This is a very easy going workplace; we value hard work and honesty and enjoying the fruits of our labour. We are always up for a challenge and we also acknowledge that our success is not possible without the major builders and developers in South Australia. We look forward to continuing to provide the best possible service to them and develop our capacities and capabilities to come up with what they ask for.”

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’?

January 27, 2021, 2:06 AM AEDT