Bowhill Engineering constructing a strong future for Murray Mallee

A small family business on the banks of the Murray River in the small town of Bowhill has been a major source of employment for the area for decades.

In the past 40 years, Bowhill Engineering, located 65km from Murray Bridge, has grown from a small local steel fabrication and construction business to a leading specialist in heavy and complex structural steel fabrication.

It’s worked on some of the biggest infrastructure projects in South Australia, including the construction of steel bridge girders for the Darlington Upgrade, a stage within Adelaide’s major North-South Corridor road project.

In 2014 and 2016 Bowhill was also contracted by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure to construct a series of steel hull ferries for the River Murray vehicular crossings.

Bowhill constructed steel bridge girders for the Darlington Upgrade.

Managing director Jeremy Hawkes says together these two projects were a turning point for the business, significantly boosting revenue and workforce numbers.

“Within 12 months we doubled our revenue … admittedly, we were coming off a lower base because the industry was so depressed,” he says.

“It was still a massive jump for us to make in a relatively short period of time and it put a lot of pressure on our existing staff.

“We had to try and find new staff, get them onboard, skill them up and also make sure they fit in with our unique culture. Now we have a highly skilled and really engaged workforce of 30-plus that I’m really proud of.”

After winning the contract in 2017 for the Darlington Upgrade, Bowhill Engineering constructed the steelwork for two 3000-tonne bridges, built entirely off their permanent site, in what was an Australian first for civil engineering.

Other past projects include the Wayville Pedestrian Bridge in Adelaide’s inner southern suburbs, a complex, three-dimensional bridge that was met with a tricky design requirements and a tight deadline.

Bowhill Engineering managing director Jeremy Hawkes.

Bowhill’s clients include major players, McConnell Dowell, Lendlease, LEED, and Laing O’Rourke, while the business prides itself on also supporting small local businesses through its supply chain.

“There is a local company at Mannum, TR Male Transport, who we have been using as our supplier loyally for about 40 years,” Jeremy says.

“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to support them for a really long period of time, consistently all the way through. We have drafting people at Monarto who operate with us almost exclusively and that relationship has existed for about 25 years and spans two generations.

“We’re SA-based so 99% of what we purchase is definitely from SA and we’re very proud of that. We also have a very strong focus towards Australian steel and making sure we’re contributing to a sustainable steel industry.”

Bowhill Engineering is renowned for providing significant employment for the town, including young apprentices. It takes on at least one apprentice a year, and at the moment has six metal fabrication apprentices and one business administration trainee.

The Oaklands Crossing is also one of Bowhill Engineering’s big projects.

“We had some research undertaken recently which found that Bowhill Engineering employs the same percentage of people in manufacturing within the Mid Murray Council area as Holden did in Adelaide’s northern suburbs at the time of the closure announcement,” Jeremy says.

“That’s a pretty impressive stat when you think about it because Bowhill is such a tiny place. It doesn’t make logical sense (for the business to be located at Bowhill) because there are no support industries around us and we’re somewhat isolated. But we’ve made it work by focusing on our strengths.”

With Bowhill going from strength to strength in recent years, an expansion is on the horizon. The business is planning to underground powerlines that run through the property to give it the space and capacity for a physical expansion that could spur 20 new jobs.

The undergrounding project is a large and expensive feat costed at about $1 million and will be made possible with a $350,000 grant from the State Government’s Regional Growth Fund, in addition to Federal Government support through the Building Better Regions Fund for a similar amount.

Bowhill Engineering’s future expansion will mark a new chapter for the business which dates back to the 1970s, with Jeremy’s parents Brendon and Averil.

The Bowhill Engineering team.

Brendon was a farmer with a knack for repairing and modifying farm machinery and equipment and so the mechanic workshop Bowhill Motors was born. Brendon turned the focus away from mechanics and towards local steel fabrication and construction in the 1990s, building on strong foundations of community, reputation and a positive attitude.

These values were instilled in his two sons, Jeremy and Simon, who both went on to play instrumental parts in the business’s success as they grew older.

But tragically in 2002, Simon was killed in a car accident at the age of 30. He left behind a legacy of bold thinking, strong work ethic and a dogged determination which has helped shape the business into what it now has become.

Family is still at the core of Bowhill, with Brendon and Averil still involved in the business alongside Jeremy and his wife Jodie, who have four children.

“I am genuinely excited for the future,” Jeremy says.

“The government support both directly through funding assistance and indirectly through a buoyant economy and infrastructure building creates an excellent opportunity for us to continue to foster growth in our people.”

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Blaze of glory: FCT International a glowing success

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 International managing director Con Manias holds the Sydney 2000 Olympic torch. Behind him (on right) is a test rig of the tornado-style flame cauldron used in the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics. Photo by JKTP.

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.

FCT’s Olympic rings of fire.

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.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Adelaide company involved in Aladdin’s magic carpet

As the much-anticipated Aladdin and its magic carpet musical sweeps its performances around Australia, a niche Adelaide engineering company is helping keep the American-designed centrepiece in the air.

Peter Spooner is predictably tight-lipped on revealing any detail about how the intriguing carpet actually flies, saying only that “it’s actually magic, it’s a flying carpet”.

But adds that he’s looking forward to taking family and friends to see the Disney Theatrical performance when Alchemy helps move it into the Adelaide Festival Centre next year.

Photo by Deen van Meer courtesy of Disney.

The talented engineer, who established Alchemy Engineering with his friend Michael Shone in 2011, is only home in Adelaide for a 40-hour stopover after overseeing the show’s current installation in Perth.

Next stop is Indonesia where he’s helping work on some scenery for the opening of the Asian Games as a mechanical technician, but this job’s details are being kept quiet too.

For this creative company, growth has been about building industry contacts and trust in a multitude of confidential projects.

“Our business is all about building a relationship,” Peter says.

The Aladdin work came from Peter first meeting Australian Mark Henstridge from Disney during a job working on The Lion King in South Africa in 2006, and maintaining a connection.

In a tight-knit global industry, Peter and Michael have also worked on making sets for the State Opera and joining forces with Global Creatures, creators of theatrical arena show Walking with the Dinosaurs.

Alchemy Engineering directors Michael Shone, left, and Peter Spooner.

One of Peter’s favourite jobs was providing engineering and site support for Global Creature’s King Kong production in Melbourne, created in collaboration with PRG Scenic Technologies in the United States.

King Kong was amazing, it was a very big eye opener of how big and technically advanced the market is,” Peter says.

It’s these spin offs that prompted the two to start their business – “there’s the prospect of travel, there’s all the people that you meet, they are really interesting, they’re worldly, plus we’re building big contraptions that are doing some crazy things.”

There’s been work at Vivid in Sydney last year to support an award-winning lighting and sound display and building the floor for Annie the musical.

Peter has also worked with artist Craige Andrae creating installations throughout Adelaide including a statement maple leaf for a Mt Barker housing development and the silver rings sculpture on Osmond Terrace in Norwood.

There’s also the Memorial to the Forgotten Australians, four giant stainless steel daisies in the North Adelaide parklands created as a symbol of healing for children who suffered harm in state care.

While in 2014, Alchemy took care of the mechanics for giant fan leaves created for the Myer Centre fashion show in Sydney.

Alchemy was behind the mechanics for these large decorative leaves overhanging the runway at the Sydney Myer Centre fashion show.

Peter says the company runs a highly flexible and stripped back business model, the two control projects with admin support, and call in “a bunch of casual guys who have industry experience” when projects roll in.

There can be up to seven in the workshop at one time, with the company also relying on a valuable local supply chain of mainly South Australian businesses.

It was back in 2005 when the fitter and turner trained directors met working in the Adelaide Festival Centre engineering department to build scenery and props.

Their shared interest in weekend hobbies led to the two renting a workshop together in Wingfield where Peter was refurbishing his 1972 Toyota Celica car and Michael a sailing boat.

“It was our hobby workshop and we had started buying machines and tools, that was where we were on the precipice, and we decided why not have a go?” Peter says.

They moved into a larger Wingfield site and created four sections to the business, stage and theatre, architectural fabrication – “that’s really ramped up in the past two to three years”, industrial design and corporate display.

Alchemy has worked with architects and builders including Space Craft and Damien Chwalisz on one-off projects from staircases to balustrades and fences.

And on more traditional engineering work, producing wheel nuts, laser cutting and a contract with Adelaide company Top Shed making coffee tampers with a specific design brief.

“All of our suppliers are from SA, apart from some of the electrical components, and we try and buy Australian steel,” Peter says.

“Our business is all about building a relationship, to get the best out of everyone and for everyone to get the best out of us, it’s about people being honest with timeframes and their ability to deliver and it’s about having nice people to work with.”

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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