Biogas float to test market

Timah Resources is seeking to raise up to $1 million to transition to the ASX, as part of a modest $3 million capital raising that includes a $2 million placement as part of its acquisition of Mistral Engineering.Timah, which was originally established in 2007 to take advantage of the Vietnamese property market, and which has since dabbled in metals exploration, has agreed to purchase 100% of Mistral, which has an operating three megawatt biogas power plant located adjacent to a palm oil mill owned by Malaysia’s Prolific Yield in Sabah state. Mistral is owned by Cash Nexus, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cepatwawasan Group Berhad, a company listed on the Bursa Malaysia.Cash Nexus, which will emerge with about 60% of Timah if the listing is successful, will be issued an initial 85.5 million shares for the purchase.The plant generates electricity by utilising methane gas generated from a by-product of palm oil production called palm oil mill effluent, a material that cannot legally be discharged directly into watercourses due to its high solids concentration and acidity.It is standard palm oil industry practice to treat the effluent in open anaerobic ponds, but that process releases significant quantities of harmful methane gas directly into the atmosphere.Mistral instead takes the POME into a closed anaerobic system that captures all of the methane in a form that can then be utilised as fuel by the plant. The scheme is backed by renewable energy initiatives from the Malaysian government, which aims to achieve the installation of biogas facilities in all palm oil mills in Malaysia by 2020.Malaysia’s renewable energy target of 985 MW by 2015 will contributing just 5.5% of Malaysia’s total electricity generation mix.Timah’s plant is being upgraded to 3.5MW at a cost of $6.7 million, although additional design work is yet to be completed as a result of an earthquake that hit the Sabah region of Malaysia that has lead the company to review and improve its design.The plant works are expected to start in mid-2016.The raising is expected to be complete by August 28.

Super tax hurdles scrapped but policy is key

Last night Swan announced some tax impediments that discourage superannuation funds from investing in infrastructure projects would be scrapped.IPA chief executive Brendan Lyon said the reforms were needed but there was still plenty of heavy lifting to be done.“The government will have to make capital available for the big projects sitting on Infrastructure Australia’s shelf, if we are going to complete ring roads and public transport networks in Australia’s major cities and deal with key export constraints,” Lyon said.“For a range of reasons, most large infrastructure projects are delivered through structures that are disadvantaged by the tax system.“Under existing arrangements, the significant tax losses suffered in the early phase of a project’s life are extinguished when a substantial change in ownership occurs, such as the sale of a project to a superannuation fund.”Lyon said the new arrangements proposed by the Gillard government would protect and conserve the value of losses, creating better incentives to engage superannuation funds in building Australia’s backlog of projects.Lyon sees the superannuation funds as an untapped resource that could provide the capital needed to fund Australia’s mega infrastructure projects where the federal government cannot.“The tax reforms outlined tonight do not solve the entire problem of trapped tax losses, but they are a major step forward and a welcome acceptance of the issue,” he said. “Even if we see substantial increases in the infrastructure investment of the Commonwealth and states in the future, there remains a huge gap that needs to be filled by the private sector and superannuation funds.“Getting superannuation engaged and investing in infrastructure is a key policy outcome and this is an area where much remains to be done.”

Takeuchi tackles tight spots

“The Takeuchi TB28FR came out on top in terms of meeting our requirements. Apart from the competitive price, the machine has an adjustable one-piece offset boom system combined with short tail swing radius. This means the operator is able to slew the arm 360 degrees within the excavator’s track width, allowing fast cycle times even when the boom is in the fully offset position,” Energy Australia’s engineering officer in fleet management Nathan Stuart said.“Our crews often need to work on slopes and difficult grades and the TB28FR’s low centre of gravity provides added stability and craning capacity.“Excellent trench visibility for the operator when the adjustable boom is in the fully offset position was also a winning factor.”Takeuchi distributor Semco said the TB28FR has been popular with contractors who have been looking for an improvement on other machines that have cumbersome, multi-part, two-piece knuckle boom systems that restrict digging depths when operated in the offset position.

Knowledge is power

Steve Ninnes says his company’s fleet maintenance software package can dramatically reduce the cost of maintaining a fleet. “You can halve your running costs; halve your maintenance costs,” said Queenslander Ninnes, who is founder and director of MEX, which markets the Australian-designed FleetMEX package.“I’m an engineer, I worked in mining looking after heavy gear,” Ninnes told Contractor. “I remember at one point I brought a fleet of trucks down from $180 an hour down to $60 an hour in maintenance costs, through applying good principles of maintenance and using software to help you achieve that.”Companies that make the change to a dedicated fleet system are usually switching from either a manual, paper-based system or a simple computerised system using Excel spreadsheets or a database program such as Access. Others may be managing their fleet maintenance as part of their standard accounting system.Ninnes said companies with fleets as small as three or four vehicles would still benefit from replacing their ad hoc arrangements with a computerised maintenance management system.“If you become more organised, if you do the preventative maintenance that’s required to be done, then you don’t get engines blowing up, you don’t get gearboxes seizing, you don’t burn out brakes, because you’re on top of it and you can see where your money is going,” he said.Ankesh Chopra, marketing executive with Sydney-based AusFleet Software, said replacing Excel, paper and manual systems with computerised fleet software saved on administration time, enabled users to track, monitor and analyse costs, and provided an auditable trail of maintenance, safety checks and other important information.“The perfect fleet maintenance system does not exist,” Chopra said. “It is important to purchase from a supplier who covers the majority of your fleet requirements, offers flexibility through further product development and is a trusted source.”Western Australian Andrew Valentine is another firm believer in the benefits of fleet maintenance software. Valentine’s company, Perth Crest, markets the Tranman fleet management system. Valentine spent 12 years working for Civica, the British company that developed Tranman, before relocating to Australia three years ago to introduce Tranman here.“Fleet management systems allow you to build up a complete maintenance history,” Valentine said. “You can feed in fuel and maintenance costs, and other fixed costs such as insurance, and from that obtain a whole-of-life cost of a vehicle. Then you can analyse each vehicle’s cost per kilometre or cost per hour, and compare different vehicle types or vehicles of the same type.”Valentine is in the process of installing a Tranman Series 7 system for a local government authority that runs a fleet of 250 items of plant and equipment. “They have been using a Civica product called Authority,” he said. “The core function of the Authority system is accounting – it has a bolt-on fleet manager package, but it was not providing the information that they wanted.“Using Tranman will allow them to schedule vehicle preventative maintenance effectively. It will give them the ability to capture and analyse their fleet’s maintenance history and produce KPI reports for management.”Valentine said a fleet system can help with juggling multiple service regimes. “You might have a vehicle that has a tail lift which needs an annual service inspection,” he said. “The system will identify that the inspection can be timed to coincide with a regular vehicle service, meaning the vehicle is off the road for one day instead of two. And if you’ve got your own internal workshop the system can schedule vehicle servicing into a forward planner.”Valentine’s client was also looking for a system that would allow them to make more precise usage analysis, so they could accurately compare the actual costs on a vehicle with its allocated cost charge-out rate. “They need to know if they should be charging out more or less,” Valentine said.Another client that Valentine is working with is struggling to get an annualised replacement forecast figure out of their current system. “They want a report to help them forecast the optimal time to replace each vehicle, and whether they should replace the vehicle like-for-like, or if they should upscale or downscale,” he said.The system Valentine has proposed will take into account both the cost of a new vehicle and the estimated book value of the vehicles being replaced, and give the client a simple, visible schedule to follow.Occupational health and safety is a major concern for all employers, and MEX’s Ninnes said fleet maintenance software could help contractors there too. For one thing, the software can be used to document that all required safety inspections have been carried out.“And if there is an accident on the roads or onsite, the first thing a contractor will be asked is ‘where are your maintenance records?’” Ninnes said. “Now, if they have paper records or a spreadsheet, that’s fine, but having proper software will add more credibility. I’ve even had clients reduce their insurance bill by using our software.”Valentine said the Tranman system could track information about the training and endorsements for each driver – and their accident records. “It allows you to run an accident analysis – for example it might tell you how many reversing accidents your drivers have had in the past year, and be a pointer to the need for more training,” he said.Computerised fleet maintenance could to help delay costly rebuilds.“The system will identify that the inspection can be timed to coincide with a regular vehicle service, meaning the vehicle is off the road for one day instead of two.”This article first appeared in the April 2010 edition of Contractor magazine.

Folks flock to sunny Civenex

Semco’s Graham Murphy said yesterday’s first-day crowd was even better than last year’s Civenex.“We’ve had great weather and a great roll-up,” he said.Visitors to the Komatsu stand queued for the chance to meet dual and reigning V8 Supercar champion Jamie Whincup. Some also took the opportunity to take a closer look at Komatsu’s new Dash 5 Vantage grader.Pomaus Earthmoving Sales & Service recently took on distribution of the Thwaites range of site dumpers and displayed a 10-tonne and a 6t model fresh off the boat from the UK.Also newly arrived on our shores were two German-built Weidemanns on the Hewlett Equipment/Wacker Neuson stand.The 8080CX is an 8t wheel loader – Weidemann’s largest yet – while the T4512 is a compact telehandler weighing 2.5t which can carry up to 1.2t and has a maximum working height of 4.5m.Many Sydneysiders got their first look at Haulotte’s Multijob, which combines the attributes of a wheel loader, excavator and backhoe in one machine.Haulotte national operations manager Peter Salmon said the Multijob attracted some healthy attention on the first day, with visitors from local governments appreciating its versatility.Bliss Fox showed its newest lighting tower, which packs three 1000W metal halide globes into a balloon diffuser on top of a tough mine-spec body.Civenex continues today at Eastern Creek Dragway until 5pm.

Westrac merger a step closer

Stokes’ private company Australian Capital Equity has agreed to forego 15 million shares in the merged company worth around $130 million if Westrac does not meet its forecast EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) of $231 million for financial year 2011.Seven has also agreed to fast-track a “board renewal program” in response to investor concerns about the long tenure of the company’s independent directors.Ausbil Dexia and Perennial Value, which own a combined 28.1% of non-Stokes controlled Seven Network shares, have now agreed to vote in favour of the proposed merger at a shareholders’ meeting next week.Perennial Value managing director John Murray said the revised deal followed “many lengthy and frank discussions” with ACE.“We had reservations on the terms in the absence of this ACE commitment, and we also welcome the board renewal process,” Murray said. Stokes said Westrac was a “great company with excellent management” and he was confident about its prospects. “As a result, we are happy to demonstrate our level of confidence by standing behind Westrac’s future earnings,” he said.If Westrac failed to meet the 2011 forecast and Stokes forfeited the 15 million shares, his stake in the merged company would reduce by about 2% to 66.2% – still comfortably above the 60% control that Caterpillar required that Stokes retain before the company would approve the deal.Seven shares were up 4c to $7.72 in morning trade.

Lloyd rejects bias claims

Lloyd said recent comments from the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union that the ABCC persecutes workers were wrong.Lloyd said statistics showed workers are rarely named in ABCC cases.“Only eight per cent of court cases commenced by the ABCC involve workers as respondents,” he said. “The remainder are against unions, union officials and contractors.“The claims about ABCC activities are inaccurate and misrepresent the high-quality work undertaken by inspectors, often in challenging and confronting circumstances.”Lloyd said the laws enforced by the ABCC protected the rights of workers in building and construction workplaces.“The ABCC will continue to investigate complaints without fear or favour. Victims of unlawful conduct have the right to expect the ABCC to thoroughly investigate and prosecute when necessary,” he said.“A significant number of ABCC investigations and cases are concerned with protecting the rights of the industry’s workers. “In discharging its responsibilities the ABCC will take action against those who break the law. This on occasions may involve workers who have contravened the law.”Lloyd concluded that 90% of the ABCC’s prosecutions were successful.

$52M shiploader completed at Abbot Point

The new shiploader, weighing over 1380 tonnes and standing over 54m high, has taken more than 18 months to complete. John Holland said when installed and operational the shiploader would boost coal-loading capacity at the Abbot Point terminal to a peak average rate of 7200t per hour. John Holland energy and resources general manager Brendan Petersen said the project was delivered on time and on budget, and exceeded delivery and safety targets.The shiploader construction contract forms part of a $287 million dual contract awarded to John Holland by North Queensland Bulk Ports in August 2008.In addition to the new shiploader, the Abbot Point X50 expansion marine works contract has resulted in John Holland constructing a second 500m long berth and associated jetty conveyor and transfer tower that will further expand export capacity at the terminal.

Economy tests the ground: Part 1

Admittedly, that inactivity is also a result of a period when many large public infrastructure projects took place simultaneously, and an enormous number of piling rigs came into the country in a short period of time. It is perhaps a forlorn hope that governments will come to understand the problems that they cause through the uneven release of projects to the market, and that some of what they may pass off as the impact of the global recession is as much a result of their poor planning.The foundation industry is, unfortunately, one of the first to see trends such as slowing payments and unsustainable, “take it or leave it” rates from large contractors, as well as other actions that in a normal market might bring swift retribution.Despite these challenges, the market continues to experience a high pace of technical change and innovation. There have also been dramatic shifts in the past few years in ownership of the leading contractors, with many pioneering local businesses now controlled by multinational giants. The increased presence of international foundation companies has brought ground improvement technologies that have been proven in other markets but are new to Australia.An emerging wave of mid-level local companies is providing strong competition in the marketplace. Avopiling is at the forefront of this wave, with a permanent presence in New South Wales and Queensland. Like many of its contemporaries, it offers a wide range of bored, driven and CFA pile options as well as a spread of retaining wall and ground improvement technologies, in addition to having a machine for low-headroom bored piles. Its fleet is filled with brands that would find a place in leading fleets around the world, such as Bauer/RTG, Liebherr and Soilmec.Sydney company Pilequip, which represents Bauer, RTG, Enteco and Junttan, has been instrumental in introducing advanced piling equipment from around the world to Australia. Liebherr equipment came out here indirectly in the past, as some European piling rigs were based on Liebherr crawler cranes, and it has only been relatively recently that Liebherr has sold its piling and drilling rigs and duty cycle cranes directly to the market. In that time, many contractors have made Liebherr their duty cycle crane of choice.CIN will publish part two of this article on Friday.*This article was first published in Contractor magazine.