Formwork Specialists

BKH Group

According to Business Development Manager Ben Geisker, one of the company’s secrets of success is that, “we are a young company in our contracting area. We are a new kid on the block but recently we have been getting a good share of the market.”

BKH is Sydney based but looking around in other capitals too. “We are trying to branch out where we can,” Ben explains. “Because we are in different sectors – the commercial side as well as mining and infrastructure, which is the one that has been growing for us recently – we are somewhat at the mercy of government spending and budgets. We used to be mainly commercial but in the last five years we have tended to concentrate on growing the infrastructure side of the business and at present we are around 50-50 between the two sectors.

“One benefit is that when one industry goes quiet we try to concentrate on the other. It has been quiet in the commercial sector and I would say that in the last six months or so Canberra has gone quiet but Sydney has become busy again and we picked up a lot of work late last year in Sydney so we are concentrating here in the next twelve months. We are still growing, which is good in this market where I think a number of competitors have been quiet.”

One of the key advantages of BKH is that it offers a combined service in-house; for example, with formwork and concrete, the company can offer both trades and does not have to subcontractthe work out. “There really isn’t a competitor that does that on large-scale projects,” says Ben. “Usually they end up taking on a structure package and subcontract out the bits and pieces. We try to do most of the work in-house so we have our own concreters and formworkers, scaffolders, systems, equipment and pumps. We are able to control things better and I think this gives us an advantage; I think we provide a pretty good service and that is why we keep growing. Most of our work is repeat work because we are performing and we meet the client’s programmes and generally put on a good show for them. So they keep coming back to us.”

Does this ‘good show’ extend to cost? To some extent it increases the cost-effectiveness of BKH’s input, Ben agrees. “It is a benefit, but more for the builder who doesn’t have to manage three contractors. The actual cost of the formwork and the concrete is probably similar; I just think we manage it better by bringing it all in-house.” Overall the BKH advantage is more about operational efficiency rather than simply cost.

Formwork represents around 70 per cent of the work done by BKH and most of the 200-odd staff are engaged in this field. Is it difficult to find and keep good people? “You can find staff but finding good guys is hard,” says Ben. “It has taken many years to build up good teams and they are very hard to find. Good formworkers and concreters are something of a dying trade, as with a lot of trades right now. But because we have grown suddenly – rather than doubling our size in a year – we have been able to grab and hang on to people as we grow. Many of the key staff have been with us more than five years, which helps a lot.”

BKH developed its own formwork system, called Wexdek. “We looked at all the formwork systems out there. Then we made what is basically an aluminium table system, similar to other systems except that ours works on a shoring frame instead of a prop.” A key point of difference is that Wexdek can do high-strutting which many other table systems cannot manage, “and in that area we do a secondary deck system which is basically like a scaffold. We developed it because builders wanted a safer formwork system and we thought there was a better way to do it. We could see five years ago where the industry was going, designed our own system to suit the new requirements and it has worked really well. It was designed in-house and we are still developing components for it. Tier one contractors like Lend Lease see a big benefit of Wexdek over other systems.”

There are other table systems, especially big ones as used in Europe, but Ben says they do not necessarily suit what engineers design and use here. Of course, people are starting to copy Wexdek. “They have certainly copied our intermediate-deck system, the planking system. But the table itself is probably unique to us.” Another key aspect of Wexdek is that as skilled labour is so hard to get, the table system requires less skilled labour on site and promises greater productivity. “Formwork has been and still is a dangerous sort of trade – working at heights is the biggest danger we have, so it is important to reduce the risk as much as possible.”

The safety advantage is a job winner, Ben says. “We may not be the cheapest but we provide perhaps a safer system and that is a big advantage for a builder because he does not want any LTIs, any accidents or major incidents, on site.”

Away from formwork, BKH can provide complete concrete placement services for a wide variety of project types and sizes throughout NSW. The company has the in-house resources and equipment to meet the concrete placement requirements of projects of any size including high rise, retail, schools, hospitals, bridges, car parks, mining and industrial work. “We will look at just about anything, including bridges and RTA work, that may have different specifications to commercial work. We have guys who are well trained in the B80, the RTA concrete specification. There has been a lot of hospital work recently too.” Size is no barrier in the concrete placement sector and BKH will not shy away from the biggest job. “Once you have a certain crew size and the equipment set up, there are not many projects we could not do.”

The company is active and growing in the civil works area as well. “Recently we have been working on two key rail projects, the southern freight line for Leighton and the Levington project for John Holland. They are mainly bridge structures. We worked on the M2 project with Leighton, two bridge structures that were packages of scaffold, formwork, concrete, reinforcement; we are still doing a lot of substations; maybe 30-40 per cent of our work is starting to come from this sector. We can see a lot more such projects coming up in the next couple of years as government puts money into rail projects and road.”

Currently BKH has a number of key projects on the go. Among them is the Sydney Cricket Ground (for AW Edwards), which is a formwork package. “That is a big push for everyone because of the tight deadlines,” Ben explains. There is the West Keira shopping centre in Wollongong for Hansen Yuncken, a new extension to the centre for GPT which will run for another eight months; and Wet ‘n’ Wild, the new water park in Sydney that will mirror the one on the Gold Coast, which is a full FRP aimed for completion by the end of this year. Another standout project is the Dr Chau Chauk Wing building at UTS Ultimo, designed by Frank Gehry and being built by Lend Lease. This is the formwork package for a building without form which Ben calls “unique. It’s certainly a challenge with its complexity.”

As business development manager, how does Ben develop business? No special tricks, he admits. “Generally, our jobs are tendered, although we do a lot of repeat business for satisfied clients. As we are growing, I think people are more aware of us in the market.”

The company also aims to be an ally to clients. “We always work with the client rather than butt heads,” Ben assures. Issues should be resolved in a civil manner. “Whatever the contractual issues or variations, we always try to come up with resolutions without clashing contractually, which is what has assured us of so much repeat business.”

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October 23, 2021, 12:21 PM AEDT