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Branching out

Article published by Australian Bulk Handling Review

With two Fenner Dunlop facilities reaching their one-year milestone, Managers Dan Luther and Ross Vandyke explain how the branches have rapidly and safely expanded.

Fenner Dunlop takes pride in its close proximity to its customers. The conveyor manufacturer’s mission is to keep its resources near those that need them. As such, it began looking at regions across Australia where it could expand.

In 2019, the company’s fast-paced growth strategy saw two new branches set up from scratch, one in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales and one in Karratha, Western Australia.

When Fenner Dunlop first established a branch in Beresfield, NSW, it started with just three employees. Since July 2019, that number has quickly expanded to 44.

The branch offers the local mining companies complete end-to-end services, equipped with the staff and equipment to carry out offsite belt maintenance and repair on any size belt. It also holds stock a number of components, such as belts, rollers and cleaners, to ensure the company can respond quickly if necessary.

According to Ross Vandyke, the Branch Manager, building a solid, customer-focused team was the first priority.

“When we began recruiting, we were looking for people that were passionate about what they were doing and who would create the right culture,” he says.

Almost everyone hired had never worked at Fenner Dunlop before. According to Vandyke, the team was hand-picked to understand the needs of the customers in the region and have a keen focus on safety.

“From our perspective, we want to deliver what the customer wants, which is safe, efficient and effective products and services,” he says.

“Business relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. Our team helps save time and money for the industry in the region, and because of that, we’ve seen eight of the major mine sites become loyal customers.”

Employees who are new to the belting industry undertake two one-month sessions in Perth to learn the basics of belt splicing, belt repair and pulley lagging. After this, they begin learning on the job and applying what they have learned in the field.

In addition, Fenner Dunlop ensures all of the branch’s employees go through the Verification of Competency process to train them in high-risk activities. The service team is evaluated by a nationally accredited assessor and subject matter experts ensuring the quality of their work is above the expected standards and that all equipment is operated safely.

This has resulted in the branch meeting its first anniversary without a single recordable injury.

Vandyke says the achievement reflects on the team’s focus on behaviour-based safety processes and the importance of safety culture.

"This milestone is only possible because of the commitment of our hardworking and dedicated employees, and of course the support of the Fenner Dunlop management team," he says.

Fenner Dunlop takes a decentralised approach in Australia, with its management team in Melbourne providing support to branches around the country. This has helped it address the COVID-19 pandemic, with all of its facilities putting additional safety measures into place.

Throughout the company, temperature testing and a phone-based questionnaire are used to detect if anyone is suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. If someone begins to show signs of the disease, they are moved into an isolated area and cared for to avoid potential transmission. At the time of writing, the company has seen none of its employees infected.

Located around 1500 kilometres from Perth – more than a 15-hour drive away – in WA’s Pilbara region, is Fenner Dunlop’s Karratha facility.

Initially, the branch was established to assist Rio Tinto with a major belt maintenance contract. While Fenner Dunlop had a presence in the town, it aimed to further reduce the logistical challenges and high freight charges that faced iron ore businesses in the region.

Dan Luther, the Branch Manager for Karratha, explains that branch has a full fabrication and mechanical/electrical services workshop, significantly reducing turnaround times.

“Before, if anything needed to be manufactured, maintained or refurbished, it would need to go to Perth to be fixed and transported back. By opening the branch in Karratha, it means we can cut down a month-long turn around to around a week.”

One of the early challenges the branch faced was building the team. Karratha has a population of around 17,000, with many people already employed by major companies in the region. On top of that, Luther says housing restrictions means it can be an expensive place to rent.

To account for this, the company took a two-pronged approach. It focused heavily on building up a team of locals while also encouraging workers from elsewhere in Australia to relocate to the town.

Luther says the company plans to remain in the town permanently, supporting the region and the industry.

“We want to become ingrained as part of the community through things like local sports sponsorships,” he says.

“One of our team members even has his son moving here to join the team.

“We’re really grateful to be up here. The town has been really welcoming and accommodating. We’re looking forward to a long future here.”

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