Operating since 1991, Pipeline Plant Hire (PPH) has attained a high reputation for providing reliable services and quality machinery higher to major contractors and government agencies.
Gerard O’Brien is the Director of Pipeline Plant Hire.
“We’ve got 10 employees because we’re a dry hire company,” says O’Brien. “We’ve got 160-odd pieces of machinery, but we don’t need many people because we’re not providing the operator. The team is made up of long-term employees who all pride themselves on helping customers using their industry knowledge and prompt responses.”
Headquartered in Sumner, Brisbane, with a head office and service depot, the company also has a workshop near Melbourne.
“Brisbane is your typical earth-moving yard, where we set up machinery. The engineering, design and manufacture is done in a separate workshop in Sunbury, outside of Melbourne.”
PPH has a fleet of the usual earthmoving machinery such as excavators, graders, loaders, bulldozers, as well as specialised pipeline equipment like padding machines and VacLifts, “which are a big part of our repertoire,” says O’Brien. “We have the largest fleet of VacLifts and associated equipment in the country.”
The PPH fleet is made up of predominately Hitachi, John Deere and Caterpillar equipment, with excavators ranging between 8.5 and 69 t. “The majority of our fleet is Hitachi. We are among their biggest clients in the civil space with a 30 year alliance,” O’Brien says.
Some of the company’s specialised equipment is Australian manufactured and designed, where other industry players are using only imported product in their fleets. This specialised fleet includes PPH’s VacLifts. By designing and manufacturing the equipment in Australia, PPH can assemble the right machine for the job, saving on travel time and import costs.
Most of the company’s work originates from gas infrastructure and water pipelines. PPH is currently embarking on a project in Western Australia for a new iron ore mine to create the largest slurry pipeline in the country.
According to O’Brien, the company’s strength lies in its specialty. “Pipelines are really our space: we don’t do much out in general civil space. Anywhere there’s a pipeline being constructed, we’ll be there,” he says.
“We’re specialists, rather than generalists. The business has stuck to pipelines while other general hire companies that can hire to a pipeline job or road job or rail won’t necessarily have the experience or the combined capacity to service the job.”
O’Brien says the company’s main competitors in most cases are its own customers, who often have their own core fleet. “When they have a big project on in peak demand, we’re their additional fleet.”
“They come to us because we’ve got the right selection of attachments that go with the excavators that will suit a particular pipeline. There’s no use digging a whole bigger than you need: imagine digging a pipeline that’s a couple of hundred kilometres long. If you dug it just a few millimetres wider than it needed to be, that’s a whole lot more earth you’ve got to move.”
O’Brien says the company’s other main attraction is its flexibility.
“Because we work with the main contractors, our equipment tends to be compatible with their own fleet, and that makes a difference. If you’ve got parts that will fit to the customers’, that’s easier on a project than having machines with special parts that can create challenges to the contractor,” he says.
As much of PPH’s work tends to be on remote locations, the universality of the equipment really pays off. Some pipelines will reach hundreds of kilometres in length, and for PPH, distance from the warehouse needn’t pose a threat to the efficiency of the project.
O’Brien says that one of the company’s major highlights to date has been works for Saipem on the GLNG gas pipeline that constituted one of the largest pipelines in the country for its time.
“When Australia constructed the three largest gas pipelines that have ever been constructed in the country, from the back of Roma to Gladstone, we had machines on all three of those projects. On the GLNG specifically, we peaked at about 400 odd machines. We were there for two-and-a-half years, seven days a week, ten hours a day.”
As for the future, O’Brien expects their work will include pipeline infrastructure to support the emerging hydrogen economy as well as carbon capture, but these are is still embryonic.
“At best we will have some small demonstration-type hydrogen generation, putting into the existing gas network,” he says.
“Western Australia will see the majority of our fleet out for most of next year. There will be continuing work out in Roma and remote South Australia, but most of the fleet for 2022 will be living in Western Australia.”
Despite the company’s expertise, O’Brien says there are always challenges to running a business.
“The challenge to any hire company is twofold: firstly, having what your customer is looking for. The other thing is having enough,” he explains. “Our aim is to have the right mix available to help the client, and to deliver something that’s reliable.”
PPH’s ability to come up with innovative solutions to problems has helped it to become a stand-out figure in the pipeline equipment rental space. O’Brien shared an example of a customer that was completing a job for Santos that required disassembling an overground pipeline.
“They wanted to disassemble a couple of these pipelines, requiring the dismantle of something that had been in place for a long time ,” he says. “Between our engineer and the client, they came up with a solution in less than five weeks. Because it was made in Australia, it was much quicker and cheaper than importing something from America. The solution did the job.”
PPH prides itself on its quick and flexible response to clients’ needs, with the company offering custom-designed attachments to suit specific project tasks for clients of varying size and scale.
For more information visit the Pipeline Plant Hire website.
This article appeared in the January 2022 issue of The Australian Pipeliner magazine. Click here to view the digital edition.