By Nicholas Paul Griffin
South Australia-based Basetec Services, a leading manufacturer of composite pipelines for major projects in Queensland and across the country, is well known amongst the oil & gas, mining, energy and water industries for producing innovative composite materials which have greater corrosion resistance and durability than similar steel pipelines. Basetec has forged a reputation as a leader in composite technologies thanks largely to its commitment
to research and development activities, which has resulted in expansion and innovation of its Novafast product range.
As the company’s founder and Managing Director, Charles Figallo is well acquainted with the industry within which they work. Primarily self-taught in his area of expertise, Mr. Figallo describes his introduction to the business as something of a grasped opportunity: “I got involved in this industry simply because I was working on a project and I overheard some engineers talking about a problem they were facing. I told them even though they were a bit unfamiliar with how to take on the problem, I made it very clear to them that I could fix it for them.”
This simple intervention soon led to Mr. Figallo being approached to provide assistance on the project, and subsequently offered a contract for his services. From that moment a business began to grow. This initial contract was followed by approaches from other companies facing similar problems, and further opportunities for work soon presented themselves. More recently, major projects in affiliation with Olympic Dam and BP in Brisbane, has propelled him into an entirely new sphere of business opportunity.
With his ongoing work in the Middle East, Mr. Figallo was also approached to become a member of the Australian-Arab Chamber of Commerce. For several years he has been taking his industry knowledge to Iraq, Abu Dhabi and Jordan, where a number of high profile contacts have been secured. Just recently he has begun to receive offers from countries in Africa to visit and undertake new projects. Mr. Figallo’s two sons are also a part of his business, having worked with Basetec for over ten years, and are heavily involved in the Middle East connections. Working in conjunction with the Australian-Arab Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Figallo and his sons have made great technical input into the region, utilising Basetec’s solid relationship with a number of Australian universities to adopt testing and technical facilities to provide a high technological advantage.
When the New Guinea government requested his help with a project on a water plant in West New Britain, a failing plant that was tainting the town’s water, Mr. Figallo won a large contract with the company to fix the problem, and from there the Basetec business grew into the company it has become today. Basetec was officially formed eighteen years ago, and at its height was home to around 75 employees and several contractors. Today the number employed is 25, as a lot of the mining and energy work has scaled down since the company’s inception. But Basetec has embraced a slightly different model in expanding its business, realising the benefits of working overseas and initiating in response the technical arm of the business, NovaFast, through which it has developed its own products and technologies. It is the NovaFast arm which works closest with Australia’s universities, providing equipment for students and forming valuable working partnerships.
These two separate parts of the company work effectively along side each other to deliver the company’s core vision. The Basetec arm of the business continues to oversee the mechanical engineering and civil work, putting together plants and pipes, trenching, digging, laying and assembly work, before commissioning and handing over to the client. NovaFast takes care of the design and high-pressure work, building and designing some of the highest-pressure pipes in the world, an endeavour which has produced an influx of enquires from all over the globe.
Development in Tonsley
In the coming months, Basetec will be investing $9 million to establish facilities at Tonsley, located just 10km south of Adelaide CBD, including a Centre of Excellence in Composites Research and Development. The project represents a union with other National companies, a relationship promising to greatly increase the export potential for Basetec’s products and services, as well as offering a chance to increase the scale and scope of their investment in South Australia companies.
With the assistance of $1.5 million in funding from the State Government, the proposed Centre of Excellence will be used for research discoveries, postgraduate education, national and international linkages and commercial outputs. The Centre will allow Basetec to pursue opportunities to apply its composite technologies to the defense and marine sectors, particularly the locally built Air Warfare Destroyers.
Many industry leading organisations such as BHP Billiton, Santos and SA Water have already pledged support to the Tonsley development, but the major players at this stage of the project are Australia’s universities. “Tonsley has become a much needed opportunity for South Australia to showcase our young engineers and our Centre of Excellence in this region of work,” Mr. Figallo says. “We believe it’s very important in this business to be in close relations with our universities, and it is being recognised this way through the Middle East, through Europe, through Asia, and I’ve had some great support from other parts of the world.”
The completed Centre of Excellence will allow university students to develop hands- on engineering skills with composite materials, as well as assisting local and international companies with complex composite design and engineering excellence. It will provide help for engineers in selecting the right material for their critical processes and gain a better understanding of composite products, as well as providing engineered solutions for industry through research and development collaborations.
Tonsley offers students a chance to develop into blue-collar workers with high technical training skills behind them. This means opening up a wealth of opportunities for success in the industry, and providing them with the necessary training to be forefront leaders.
The global appeal of Tonsley is already evident, with governments across the world— including Asia , Russia, Poland and several Middle Eastern countries—already showing increased interest in the project, opening even more international doors for Basetec. There is significant value in Basetec being a part of the Tonsley project, as it will create huge opportunities for the future of the industry, not just in terms of creating jobs, but also in terms of encouraging the flow of young people from the country’s universities into the future of the sector. Mr. Figallo admits that it is worth investing an extra few hundred million dollars in order to keep these kinds of opportunities in Australia. “We need the technology, if we lose the technology, we lose our edge in business. And so the Tonsley project is a must for this country, and especially for the state just as the submarines are.”
Operating in conjunction with a wide portfolio of clients, Basetec is currently involved in a number of key projects, across Australia and further afield, that have helped build the company’s national and international profile. One such project is the Santos Gladstone liquefied natural gas project in South East Queensland, involving the design and supply of approximately 75km of high-pressure NovaFlo Glass Reinforced Epoxy (GRE) composite pipes, facilitating oil production flow lines between wells in the outback. Basetec’s position as the leading Australian company working with composite piping, coupled with the international recognition garnered from continuing work in Africa and the Middle East, made them the perfect choice for the contract.
Further NovoFlo composite piping was used in the process at the Ichthys gas project in Darwin, NT. This project fell into Basetec’s hands after the failure of an existing overseas company to meet procurement requirements, highlighting the company’s reputation for providing reliable and highly skilled work. Likewise, NovaFlo will be utilised on the current project for Origin Energy in Port Campbell, at the Otway Basin gas plant, involving refurbishment work on production lines and pipeline.
Over the years the company has fostered a good working relationship with local service providers SA Water, having worked together several times in the past, on multiple projects. Currently, Basetec is involved in work at the Bolivar water treatment plant, initiating an upgrade. Basetec has for many years maintained a good relationship with the SA Water, regularly receiving representatives at its offices, and commissioning work on mainly material related problems. The company’s expertise in materials technology and continuing positive presence in the region has helped this relationship to stay strong and produce impressive results.
In addition to important national and state projects, Basetec’s expanding overseas business has led to recent work with Petronas in East Malaysia. Regular visits to the country over the last six months, incorporating meetings and presentations in the stunning Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, have led to the company’s involvement in a project for an Eastern oil and gas plant. Once more, NovaFlo piping will be installed to process transfer lines. The relationship with Petronas was developed through the oil and gas giants’ involvement in the Santos project, representing a huge advantage for Basetec, since gaining references and winning contracts in this business, especially overseas, are by no means easy tasks.
One of the company’s major contracts has been with key South Australia mining centre, Olympic Dam. The relationship began several years ago, when Mr. Figallo was contacted by a company in Perth, requiring assistance in fixing a problem with piping carrying sulphuric acid. On approaching the company, Basetec discovered that the wrong information and components had been supplied, and stepped in to take over the remainder of the project. Through this company’s existing association with Olympic Dam, Basetec’s affiliation began. From then on, Basetec began to receive bigger orders, commissioned to design and build anything from chemical settler tanks through to storage pressure vessels, all for chemicals and water. Since then the company has nurtured a long and fruitful relationship with Olympic Dam, and is currently engaged in talks over several new projects, with the projects parent company BHP Billiton.
Mr. Figallo concludes the interview by explaining what it is that makes his job so special. “The technical side of this work is massive,” he says. “Every day is a challenge. It’s not a nine to five job, it’s a 25-hour a day job, to work around the clock. And the team love it, they love the fact that they get to use their own skills and their own head, and they have to make a lot of their own decisions. It’s like going to outer space, where the technology is just immense. And that’s the same as our industry.”
With its continuing work across Southern Australia, and expansion opportunities within higher education and overseas development, it looks like Basetec Services will be utilising this immense technology for many years to come. Pushing the industry towards the future and ensuring sustained local and worldwide success.
To read our full editorial profile as it appeared in The Australian Business Executive magazine, click on the cover image below: