• Eptec blaster and painter Theo Kaldis with Eptec senior project engineer Mitchell Horne at ASC North, in Adelaide. (Russell Millard)
    Eptec blaster and painter Theo Kaldis with Eptec senior project engineer Mitchell Horne at ASC North, in Adelaide. (Russell Millard)

During the Indo-Pacific tradeshow last week, ASC announced that it had signed a $66 million contract with Australian engineering business Eptec Group for blast and paint services to be carried out during Collins Class Full Cycle Dockings in Adelaide as part of a six-year agreement.

The contract designates Eptec Group as the preferred blast and paint supplier for the next two Collins Class Full Cycle Dockings (FCDs) in Adelaide, with the option to extend for a third.

CEO Geoff Knox told ADM at the show that the contract provided valuable longevity for the company’s staff.

“For us it’s about having longevity,” Knox said. “This submarine contract being six and a half years is really important for us. Full cycle docking is normally 24 months.

“In this case we’re able to offer serious value for both the career development of our employees, but also for the Commonwealth by being able to focus over a six plus year term. It makes a huge difference. 

“The value for money is not about price, it’s about efficient delivery over time and it’s about the ability to invest in that. We need that tenure to do it, and then the equation is very self-sustaining and I think it’s good for local sustainment in Australia.”

In addition to the upcoming and existing work on the Collins FCDs, Eptec is also working on HMAS Choules, the second OPV for Luerssen, and the Anzac class frigates. The increased pipeline will see revenue jump from $130 million last financial year to an anticipated $200 million in the next financial year.

For Knox though, growth is not the main goal.

“Growth isn’t the driver. The driver is servicing the key customers we’ve got,” he explained. “In infrastructure most of the state government bureaucracies are all part of our client base. Obviously for Defence, Navy is our key client through the primes.

“There’s more need in both sides of the business. Growth is not the driver, it’s an outcome.”

One of the challenges in that growth profile, of course, is the perennial workforce issue.

“We put a huge amount of time into training and developing our staff and our employees and also putting a lot of time into new technology so that we can extend the amount of work they can do and get more done with less, so to speak, because there is a labour constraint in this market at the moment,” Knox said.

The company is putting specific effort into getting blast and paint work recognised as a trade through investing in new training schools, which would help attract people to the roles Eptec is looking to fill.

“We’re one of the larger subcontracts on the full cycles yet we’re not recognised as a trade. Now it’s easier to attract people into the space if there is an apprenticeship program and it is recognised a trade,” Knox said. “So we’re looking to really develop that.”

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