Brazil launch pad for TMT robots

24/06/2014 - 12:30

FEATURE: A WA company has proved its detractors among the local manufacturing sector wrong with its calculated growth plans.

Brazil launch pad for TMT robots
PERSISTENT: Paul Colley says taking a long-term view is key for those seeking to be successful in manufacturing. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A WA company has proved its detractors among the local manufacturing sector wrong with its calculated growth plans.

Paul Colley is adamant Australia’s manufacturing industry still has plenty of life in it.

“When people say it’s impossible to manufacture in Australia, that is bulldust,” the chief executive and co-founder of Bibra Lake-based Total Marine Technology said.

TMT, which designs and builds remote-operated underwater robots for the oil and gas industry, is in the midst of expansion with an eye on the Brazilian and Nigerian markets.

The company recently won a contract worth more than $54 million to build 12 underwater remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) for a Brazilian-based company.

On the back of that deal, TMT has decided to establish an office in Brazil to provide training and support services for its newest customer.

The office will also provide a launching pad into Brazil’s lucrative deepwater oil and gas industry.

“The cash flow that will come in from the sale and support of the ROV (contract) will allow us to look for other opportunities in that market,” Mr Colley said.

TMT’s entrance into Brazil comes two years after the company opened its first international office when it established a Malaysian support centre to service South-East Asia.

Mr Colley said that market had grown to become the company’s largest with contracts in Vietnam and Indonesia, as well as Malaysia.

Mr Colley co-founded TMT in 1999, but the company made its break as a legitimate ROV manufacturer after winning work on Chevron’s $US54 billion Gorgon LNG project off the coast of Western Australia.

Mr Colley said the work on Gorgon had given the company credibility and helped it win more work in Australia, including on Chevron’s Wheatstone LNG project.

Despite the opportunities that Australia’s booming oil and gas sector has presented, Mr Colley said TMT still needed more work.

“Australia was never going to sustain the type of growth we needed to be viable,” Mr Colley told Business News.

As well as realising the need for an international presence to remain successful, Mr Colley said the company had also focused on the deepwater oil and gas markets.

“To be a viable ROV manufacturer, we needed to produce deepwater products,” he said.

“The advantage of deepwater is that people (companies) are willing to pay for innovation, more so than shallow water.”

He explained that if a company experienced a problem with an ROV on a deepwater project, generally considered about three kilometres underwater, it would mean at least one hour of downtime just winching the equipment back to surface.

“If a rig is down for an hour, that would be very costly,” Mr Colley said.

Given the high cost of downtime, oil and gas companies tend to seek more reliable, efficient and innovative products.

He said the company reinvested much of its profits back into research and development to ensure its ROVs were continually being improved.

“Ever since we started we have had a strong technical ability and innovation has been one of our core strengths,” Mr Colley said.

The company has about 130 staff in its Perth workshop, including 45 engineers for ROV tooling and development. There are a further 100 employees who work on site, operating ROVs for various clients.

“The ROV technology is becoming more mainstream, but where the innovation is now focused is on the tools that we can give the ROV to use underwater,” Mr Colley said.

“You can’t do that unless you have a strong engineering background. Because we operate ROVs, we know the types of challenges that operators face down at depth.”

The deepwater focus has also led the company to Nigeria, which is another large market in this segment.

TMT signed a partnership agreement with a local company earlier this year and plans to use the deep-water experience from Brazil to make a foothold in Nigeria.

“Manufacturing is not dead in WA, you just have to choose your product carefully,” Mr Colley said.

“If you take a strategic longer-term view and you are willing to keep ploughing in and be persistent with innovation, then you can succeed and you will succeed.”


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