On Time, Every Time

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-By Robert Hoshowsky

Many construction firms have solid records for delivering projects to their clients, but it is rare to find a company that has never missed a single deadline in all its years in business. In Australia, one of the few is Gongues Constructions Pty Ltd, a construction firm that has completed every one of its jobs on time for the past 12 years.

“The sector that we work in can be very demanding, but we always perform,” says Carlos Goncalves, Director at Gongues Constructions. “In a dozen years, we haven’t had one single project that went beyond the finish date. We established the benchmark, and the programs are now much tighter than when we started – years ago, we were given twice the amount of time that was needed to do the project.”

For Gongues Constructions – a specialist in high-voltage substations, switchyards, pump stations, bridges, and upgrades – deadlines may have tightened over the years, but the company’s well-earned reputation for quality workmanship, superior service, and respecting the needs and wants of its clients, remains the same. Established by three partners in November of 1999, Gongues Constructions still has the same trio at the helm. Led by Aladino Domingues, Carlos Goncalves, and Herculano Goncalves, Gongues Constructions established itself as a premier builder of Australia’s energy substations from the beginning, taking on a number of high-profile projects from Energy Australia and Transgrid. Even back in those early days, the company quickly built a solid reputation for projects delivered on budget, on time and – in a number of cases – for completing jobs in advance of their construction deadline, much to the delight of the firm’s many clients. “Back then, some clients had bonus clauses,” which the company often earned for finishing projects ahead of schedule.

Substantial Projects
With its reputation for excellence, professionalism, service, quality and deliverables produced on time, word about Gongues spread quickly, earning the company many customers that it retains to this day. Gongues’ projects grew larger and larger, and included such work as the Rainbow Flats Pacific Highway Crossing for Hunter Road Services, involving the construction of a substructure and superstructure and completed in 2004. Gongues Constructions was responsible for the bridge’s concrete piers, abutments, and other features.

Over the coming years, more large-scale projects followed. In 2005, Gongues Constructions took on a substantial job for Transgrid, performing civil works for the replacement of two 66/132kV Transformers at Armidale Substation. To complete the task, the company was required to construct a new transformer bund in the space between the two existing ones. As soon as it was operational, the company removed the old transformer bund, built a new one in its place, then removed the second redundant bund. During construction, Gongues was required to perform for oil containment and drainage, rebuilding the cable trench, footings, structural steel structures, earthing, and more. This job and others soon formed the successful template that Gongues Constructions follows to the present day.

“We started the company from the background of infrastructure building, which was at the time water treatment plants, bridges, roads, that sort of thing,” says Goncalves. “We pretty much started up with the idea of going in the same direction, but we deviated a little bit from it, and we ended up doing a lot of substations – in the last 12 years, we would have done anywhere from 15 to 20 substations.”

Gongues – a privately-owned company with 45 employees – has taken on projects valued at up to $15 million. The majority, according to Goncalves, are in the $3 million to $6 million range, although the company will occasionally take on projects as small as $50,000. “The way our system works is we have three, four, or five major projects at any one time, and we use a lot of the smaller ones to bridge the gaps,” comments Goncalves of the company, which usually completes 15 to 20 projects in a year, and works on anywhere from six to 10 at any one time.

New Argenton Sub-Transmission Substation
Depending on the complexity of the work, projects can take months to complete, sometimes longer. One very large job for the company, the New Argenton Sub-Transmission Substation, commenced in November of 2006, and was completed in February of 2008. It was the second of two contracts for the project. Built for Energy Australia at a cost of approximately $14 million, the New Argenton Sub-Transmission Substation remains Gongues Constructions’s largest project to date. The project was a large and complex one, and to facilitate construction, Gongues’s project management team managed the site with a large number of subcontractors. It was this large-scale project that demonstrated the company’s abilities to coordinate the job, and show its client that it could successfully bring a high level of service and quality to such a demanding project.

The first contract required Gongues to construct an access bridge for what would soon become the new Sub-Transmission Substation at Argenton. The company was able to overcome a number of challenges for the 17-metre span, two-lane concrete bridge providing access to the substation, as it crossed a creek. Following its comprehensive environmental management plan, the company was able to maintain a very high standard of environmental protection.

The second contract for the substation required approximately 8,000m3 of reinforced concrete, a three-level control building, six outdoor transformer buds, an indoor switchroom, sprinkler systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, the export of 30,000 tonnes of contaminated material, and more. The three-storey control building itself measured approximately 60 metres by 75 metres, housing control and switching systems for both electrical levels (132/33kV and 132/11kV), with the exterior surrounded by five active transformer bays plus one spare, all separated by blast walls 10 metres high to protect the transformers in case of failure in an adjacent transformer. Due to the nature of the building, waterproofing was a major concern, and Gongues sealed all buried external walls and the concrete roof slab with epoxy.

“This is the largest substation north from Sydney,” says Goncalves of the large-scale project, which was soon followed by others valued at millions of dollars.

After a dozen years in business, the company has never lost sight of its time-honoured goals: a commitment to managing and constructing all projects on time and on budget, and liaising with clients to produce superior products without compromise for safety or the environment. These considerations, along with others – such as assigning a dedicated project manager to every job – has enabled Gongues Constructions to become the preferred contractor for specific types of construction works.

Complex Water Treatment
Along with creating energy substations, Gongues Constructions has been involved in a wide range of other projects. Based on its past performance for Hunter Water, and a competitive tender for the project, the company was awarded the contract for the Upgrade to the Raymond Terrace Waste Water Treatment Works in early 2009. A complex job, the upgrade considered many factors, requiring a biological reactor extension, the repair of inlet works balance tank and biofilter, a new clarifier and septage receival facility, upgrades to the aeration carousel and UV disinfection, along with the replacement of amenities, the control building, support works and more. The upgrade of the Waste Water Treatment Works at Raymond Terrace demonstrated the company’s abilities to combine its skills working with large structures with its abilities installing mechanical equipment.

The work, says Goncalves, can be complex. Even more challenging is finding the right people to work for the company. “If I was to start my business from scratch again, that’s the first thing I’d try to get on board, would be personnel,” maintains the company’s Director. “We run a company with a pretty young average, especially management. It’s very interesting to see them develop, and they learn very quick. It’s been a great asset, and a great way to fill those positions – a pretty strong and bright future for the company, and they have many years ahead of them. That’s one of the key secrets for the company doing so well.”

Part of the challenge, says Goncalves, is that there aren’t as many apprentices available as in the past. “I don’t see many companies adopting the normal system of putting apprentices through the system, and that I think is a problem at the moment with the industry,” he says. “We put apprentices through every year, but we don’t see many other companies doing the same thing. We have apprentices who started with us, and they became site foremen, and achieved quite a bit for themselves and for the company, worked their way up to a position where they feel quite good about themselves, make a good living, and have a good future.”

For the right people, Gongues Constructions offers a wide range of employment opportunities, ranging from Apprentice Carpenters to Project Managers, Supervisors, Concretors, Formwork Carpenters, and Steel Fixers.

A member of the Master Builders Association, the company won a 2010 award from the prestigious association in the civil engineering and infrastructure category for its Jesmond Substation, created for long-time client Energy Australia. The award served to reinforce the principles adopted by the company when it was formed 12 years ago.

“Quality and performance are two reasons for our repeat business,” says Goncalves. “We have a good line of communication between ourselves and the client, and we serve the client as they want to be served. If they want something extra added on, we go to a great extent to get them what they want, and what they need.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

July 19, 2018, 7:39 PM AEST