From a nondescript warehouse in Thebarton in Adelaide’s western fringes is a global company that has quietly worked away on spectacular flame effects watched by millions worldwide.
FCT Flames has been behind the man-made flame effects on show at every Olympic Games ceremony since 2000, and despite the international reach and presence of the company, Adelaide has always been home.
“With the way communications and travel have changed in the last decade or two, you can do business from almost anywhere, Adelaide is a good place to be located,” says FCT International managing director Con Manias.
“We generate quite a bit of revenue for the state, everything we do is export and it’s certainly significant. Our technologies are good, they’re homegrown and we’re able to offer them around the world.”
FCT Flames falls under the FCT International group of companies which also include FCT Combustion and FCT ACTech. While developing the flame technology for major sporting events around the world is certainly the talking point of FCT International, the industrial combustion side of the business generates the most revenue.
FCT was born in 1984, engineering industrial burners for the cement industry and has since grown to become a leading global supplier of burner systems for the cement, iron ore pelletising and lime industries.
FCT holds a competitive spot in the iron ore pelletising market for burner systems, dominating about 70% of world sales of systems with rotary kilns and indurating furnaces.
“People who manufacture cement, lime or iron ore pellets need burners to operate their plant because they are high temperature processors. We design and supply the burner systems they use,” Con says.
“A lot of the design happens here (in Adelaide) and some are manufactured here, but some are also manufactured in other parts of the world depending on where the project is.”
Con says exports make up the majority of its market, with 95% of FCT Combustion products and services heading offshore, with the company’s reach extending to all continents of the world except Antarctica. FCT Combustion has operating offices in Canada, the US, South America, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
“It’s always been an international business, we have always done a lot of our work in other countries,” says Con, who has been involved with FCT for 23 years.
“What’s happened more recently is that we’ve grown quite a lot and we’ve been able to better access our markets in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.”
FCT International has a workforce of about 45 people, the majority of which are highly skilled and educated engineering, mechanical and technical employees, some of which hold PhDs.
The Adelaide base employs 28 staff, but Con says the supply chain also highly benefits as “for every one person we employ, there’s probably another three or four people employed by businesses we work with”.
FCT started out as an English company that was bought by Adelaide Brighton Cement in 1995. In 1999 it became independently owned and has since been under the same ownership and management.
A year later, in 2000, FCT Flames burst into the international spotlight when it was chosen to design and construct the relay torches and cauldrons used at the Sydney Olympic Games, with star athlete Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony remaining one of the most iconic sporting moments in Australian history.
Since 2000, FCT has been involved in supplying the flame equipment and effects in every summer and winter Olympic games, including the Olympic rings of fire at Athens in 2004 and the spectacular ‘burning man’ for the European Games in Azerbaijan in 2015.
“The flame is key because it carries the spirit of the Olympics,” Con says.
“The flame comes from the sun, it’s lit in Greece in Olympia which is where the Olympics were held 2500 years ago, and then that spirit in the flame gets transferred through relay torches to the Games venue. The climax is then the opening ceremony and lighting of the cauldron.”
For Olympic flames, FCT Flames usually has 12 months – sometimes fewer – to undertake research and development, testing and construction at the Thebarton workshop.
“In Athens we had flames burning on water, really spectacular stuff, but to work out how to do that it took a lot of testing and R&D and making sure it was stable under all conditions,” Con says.
“It was all quite technical and a very nifty project to ensure all that happened faultlessly.”
Con Manias is Brand South Australia’s most recent I Choose SA ambassador for the trade and investment sector.
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