Finding a Niche

Quadrant Mechanical Services

“We are now in our sixth year of operation,” says Darren. “Three of us (the other two being Darryl Mason and John Palumbo) decided we wanted to work for ourselves and we started Quadrant Mechanical Services with the idea that we would specialise in pharmaceuticals, laboratories and similar work. But once we started it just opened up more doors for us. It has become our specialty – we are not doing the traditional work that a standard HVAC company does.”

Growth has been good. “Yes, it has been a hectic time for such a new company.” It’s all very well to run your own company, but is it fun being busy? “Definitely. We actually enjoy what we do. No matter what your job is, you need to find what you enjoy waking up to do and enjoy going to work each day. Like any job, this one has its days and its moments but generally it’s a pleasure for us and our employees to come into work each day.”

Times are tough at the moment in the industry, “but we have had some pretty good times so I guess you just have to prepare yourself for it,” because peaks and troughs are inevitable at some stage. “All you can do is prepare yourself as best as you can for the downturns. I think it’s even an opportunity – to find one’s niche markets and where to specialise.”

Certainly the niche as far as Quadrant Mechanical Services is concerned is ventilation and air conditioning systems that require greater than normal performance and quality standards. Some of the jobs the company has done involve terms like nano-fabrication and neuro-science. “If any job comes up with technical terms that the guys don’t quite recognise or know about, it means they will investigate straight away because it sounds like our sort of project. They generally need special mechanical systems or ventilations systems.”

It isn’t that Quadrant will not handle ‘normal’ work. “We will go and do a tenancy fit out in a multi-storey building or move some ceiling diffusers in small partition alterations. Yes, we like to concentrate on our niche area but that doesn’t limit us by any means. We will work in any type of office or other facility,” and always to the same high standards of design and finish.

Quite a lot of Quadrant’s work is commissioned by state authorities or institutions such as universities and budgets are tight. Pharmaceutical projects in the private sector, however, tend to bolster the turnover and the company has a long string of famous names in its ‘completed projects’ file. An in-house team of engineers can provide any design input required.

“But now we have the expertise to work with architects to come up with designs right from the beginning. We decided when we started that it would take some time to get that far, first we should make a bit of a name for ourselves and earn some respect in the industry. Now we have achieved that we have been able to get people to work for us who can help us grow the design and construct side of the business. In the last year or so a full design-and-construct service has been available and we are already seeing new opportunities arise when we can provide this service.”

There is an appreciable difference between the sort of system that can keep the air conditioned in an apartment block and what is required in a nano-technology plant to ventilate filter air and provide cooling and air-conditioning systems. Precise temperature and humidity control are paramount, far better than what would be required in a standard office environment.

Quadrant’s niche can be seen in terms of size as well as specialisation and Darren acknowledges that there are some serious national players in the market for big specialty projects. However, Quadrant sits rather happily in the scale of project a little lower than what those big names prefer.

“Being a medium company we are unable to take on the very large multi-million dollar jobs. At present we have been working to a ceiling of approximately five million dollars. Although that figure is growing each year as the business grows and we are able to tackle larger projects. It is known by many of our clients that we can do the work to a standard at least as good as those large companies but we have our limits in terms of size of project. Within our range though, there are a lot of companies that now know we are the company to come to.”

Ninety per cent of Quadrant’s work is in the capacity of subcontractor to builders. “We do some work as direct head contractor, especially in the area of plant change-over such as new chillers and pump systems, but on new installations virtually all of our work is to builders.” For installation of all ductwork and piping systems Quadrant employs its own plumbers but, “we use a small number of specialist contractors for things like air conditioning control systems (DDC/BMS), fume cupboards and laboratory and medical gases,” explains Darren.

“We don’t do any manufacturing – we outsource it to smaller sheet metal workshops, of which there are many.” Darren points out that even several of the major mechanical contractors have pooled their resources into a joint fabrication facility. “However, we do our own pre-fabrication of pipework systems.”

Quadrant is currently commencing one of its biggest project to date, the Dandenong Municipal Building, for Watpac Construction (Vic) Pty Ltd (architect: Lyons Architecture), a community centre in this suburban Melbourne area that is subject to a regeneration effort. The value of the mechanical services is around $5.5 million. The new building will include a regional library, customer services facility, Council offices, chambers and community meeting rooms and an open air civic plaza and events space. Darren says his team took over the project and completely redesigned it from the original documentation, working hand in hand with the current consultants to come up with a final design. Dandenong is a relatively conventional HVAC project but it is a Green Star site which makes it “a little bit different.” When Quadrant was starting up, Green Star projects were thin on the ground, although by now most greenfield sites, especially in the central business district, carry the designation.

Another project under way is at the Northern Hospital, where a special-care nursery is under construction, to include an expansion of the number of paediatric beds available as well as a new emergency department. Quadrant’s $1.5 million contract (for construction managers Kane Constructions Pty Ltd, architect: Billard Leece Partnership Pty Ltd) is to put in an extension of the existing chilled and heated water systems, “but at the same time we are doing all the medical gas systems too.”

Other projects on the go include: the CSL Biotherapies Warehouse Expansion, worth $1 million, for Monaco Hickey (Mechanical Consultant – Irwinconsult, Architect – CSL Biotherapies); the 21-storey Australian Institute of Architects at 41 Exhibition St (Green Star), worth $3.3 million (Builder – Hickory Developments, Mechanical Consultant – AECOM, Architect – Lyons Architecture, a development intended to be the new home of the Australian Institute of Architects, where Quadrant is responsible for supply and installation of water cooled chillers, cooling towers and water sourced heat pumps; and further down Exhibition Street, the recently completed 20-storey Origin Energy building (value – $3.3 million, Builder – Cockram, Mechanical Consultant – Norman Disney & Young, Architect – Group GSA), where Quadrant completed the fit out of the entire building for Origin Energy.

Quadrant works in and around Melbourne and its suburbs and rarely travels further. “We don’t venture too far out and it’s not something we have plans for at this stage, although you never quite know where things will lead. At the moment we are quite content doing our work within the central business district area.” This, however, is not to be read as complacency and Darren says he would listen if someone wanted specialised work carried out elsewhere.

Overall, he says, the best air conditioning and ventilation systems are the least obtrusive – if you don’t notice the temperature or remark on the humidity, then the Contractor has got it right. So next time you visit somewhere and fail to take note of the air in the building, check it out – it may well be a Quadrant Mechanical Services installation.

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’?

June 2, 2020, 2:15 PM AEST