Flat world created from a range of angles
By Mike Bishara
Don’t tell the guys at Mt Maunganui Engineering that things were a little slow to get going when the Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef near Tauranga last year.
Within a few days of the October 5 grounding they were asked to help by Tauranga Engineering Industries – the local contact point for Maritime New Zealand appointed salvage company Svitzer.
“From then on we were working round the clock from October until Christmas.”
Tauranga Engineering Industries only did machining so it fell to the Mt Maunganui Engineering team to build platforms on site and in the workshop to provide a level playing field from which the salver Svitzer could complete its tasks.
”We just got rung up to see if we were keen to do some work – and they need it done tonight – this is like 4pm. We were back here at 7pm and went through until 8am in the morning,” says owner and managing director of Mt Maunganui Engineering Rick Leach.
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good certainly held true for the company.
“It was right at the time we’d finished the project up at Waihi for Newmont Waihi Gold, we were back here for about a month or two looking at each other thinking ‘oh shoot, it has gone a bit quiet – and then bang – off we went.”
Mt Maunganui Engineering made all the platforms hanging off the Rena which held Svitzer’s generators and bits and pieces – including the portaloo, which needed a lifting frame because nothing was level.
“We had just enough time to catch our breath after Waihi before we went full on for three months working on the Rena,” says projects supervisor Karl Simmons.
“It was design/build – and some of it was build/design,” he laughs.
Specs often came via “chicken scratchings” on a bit of paper.
“The first night we had one of their guys from Svitzers here on CAD who said ‘Look, l’ll draw it up for you as you go. We just said don’t worry about it, our guys will do it.
“He started drawing up this platform and I said our guys had already build it out there in the workshop – they’d already finished,” says Mr Leach.
“We had a lot of of our guys cutting the lugs by hand, we had some lugs that just clipped over the edge of the boat and probably made 50 of them there if not more, at various times.”
Only a couple of days elapsed from the time the Rena ran aground to the knock on the door at Mt Maunganui Engineering – and work was well underway within a week.
“It did seem a long time when everything was happening – but you look back at it now and think they did pretty good getting the oil pumping from the ship in the timeframe that they did,” says Mr Leach.
“It’s not like we have that happen every month or every week – the conditions were pretty horrendous out there at times, it wasn’t easy walking around on it. Some of the platforms were tested in the shop to make sure they fit on to the container and then they were flown out.
“Others we had half of the platform that would clip in and half we had to weld into place on site. The last landing platform we actually built on the side of the ship.
“We shortened up a section here, then made the rest on board because you just couldn’t measure it because of the angles.
“You have to give it to those guys out there, just walking out on the deck was 22 degrees,” says Mr Simmons.
A reputation for service lead to success
Mt Maunganui Engineering was begun in 1984 by Ron Spence with just two staff.
“It just progressed through the years into a company that at one stage had 40 employees – at the moment we have got 20,” says owner and managing director Rick Leach.
“I was fortunate enough to buy the company eight years ago in 2004 – and that was coming from doing my apprenticeship here as well right from the start.
“We don’t specialise in one item but in general engineering – we cover mild steel, stainless steel and a little bit of aluminium."
Mt Maunganui Enginering has a lot of experience in tanks and piping.
The company is covered for a lot of pipe work – 15 different weld procedures for various metals.
Welding equipment is mostly BOC, with three mobile welders, a few Lincolns and $20,000 worth of STT (surface tension transfer) electron beam welder which is capable of a fair bit of variety.
“It’s just a matter of getting the right operator for that,” says Mr Leach.
In the workshop itself there are both vertical and horizontal rollers.
“We can pretty much build a tank from scratch ourselves – from the sheet coming in the door to rolling it,’ says Mr Leach.
“The majority of the company’s work out of town is on larger projects with key customers like Newmont and its gold mine in Waihi.
“Newmont kept us busy for the first six months of the year and last year we had two separate projects upgrading the piping and tanks plus some stainless steel piping.
“Last year we’ve had two different projects up there, replacing tanks and a bit of piping work with general maintenance as well," says Mr Leach.
Recently Mt Maunganui Engineering has been making safety guarding for the Huntly coal mines.
Around the Mount itself, the company finds most of its work with Bulk Storage Terminals and in general maintenance work at the port.
“The port’s quite big for everybody – they’re out there, they don’t just go to one local company,” says Mr Leach.
"We’ve certainly been lucky in the past two years, the first six months of each year, we’ve had these projects up at Waihi."
You get the feeling that a big part of Mt Maunganui Engineering’s “luck” comes from its understated role as part of the Mount community.
Most of the staff have been with the company for years or have left to try different pastures and come back.
“I would imagine if we totaled it all up we would get an average of probably 8-10 years,” says Mr Leach.
”There’s still four or five of us who have been around from the time I started my apprenticeship here. Projects supervisor Karl Simmons was one of those who went away and came back.
“I did my apprenticeship here for about eight years, left for a couple of years then came back. The variety of work is a factor.
“One moment we are working underground at Huntly, then working on the Rena.
“Then up in the gold mine or working on a chemical plant, you just don’t know where you going to be,” says Mr Simmons.
The company gets a lot of youngsters through the local school and they come one day a week to get some job experience.
Everything from sweeping the shop floor to working on Orica Chemnet’s trailers which have come in for maintenance work.
“I was born and bred here anyway and went to the Mount college, so when they came in and approached me about it, I said: “Look if you’ve got guys there who are keen to learn the engineering trade, I’ll be available for them to do it – I don’t want anyone who’s just going to turn up to have a day off school.
“There are no decent tradesmen around now because of what happened with the apprenticeships a few years back.
“I’m a believer that you cant knock it if you haven’t got any apprentices – we always try to have at least one,” says Mr Leach.