Selling Solutions

Pacific Controls

Pacific Controls ensures that every customer receives the best possible resolution to their unique process control needs. Oil and gas controls, however, are not the company’s only area of expertise. In fact, Managing Director Ian Bennie has a plan to grow into multiple sectors.

Pacific Controls was established in 1987. Four people started the business which began as a company representing US manufacturer Fisher Controls. Since that time, the team has expanded into diverse areas, represented other manufacturers and integrated its control systems and packages, introducing service into new markets. Over the past twenty-seven years, the business has grown into a company that operates in Queensland, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and New South Wales. Sixty-nine employees work for it and a new office recently opened in Sydney.

The company represents some major manufacturers from the US Europe and Asia, selling process control equipment that is engineered and fit for purpose. Ian explains that, “We operate across a number of industries. Our core industry is oil and gas, refining, metals processing, chemical power, and then we drop away to food and beverage and the smaller processing industries. We are in industrial process control engineering.”

A customer will come to Pacific Controls with a set of process conditions and requirements. Based on this, the company selects the equipment and designs a control package to achieve these needs. While it is a sales driven company, to sell, it also needs engineering expertise, the ability to integrate control packages and MRO (the after sales Maintenance Repair Operations or the ability to service the equipment when it is in the field).

Recently, there has been a large surge in producing gas from coal seams; the gas is then treated through LNG (liquefied natural gas) processing. “We have been involved in these projects right from the start and we are involved in the metals processing industry from aluminium bauxite processing through to the alumina,” shares Ian.

There are some hurdles to overcome, particularly with gas projects where the ownership is dominated by overseas companies. What that has done is to bring into play a range of companies that act as intermediaries. Pacific Controls had sold equipment to an end user with major ownership by British Petroleum and was looking to become engaged in the after sales aspect. Direct involvement proved difficult. “We’ve already signed a contract in the UK for a company to do this for us,” says Ian. “While that company is not well known here, we are prepared to wait a while for it to get established.”

Certainly, competition is a factor in the manufacturing of skids. Skids, in the oilfields, are portable metal frameworks that carry self-contained packages of equipment. This may be equipment such as pressure reducing stations or custody transfer equipment. These units are made to be portable in order to be moved from site to site. Pacific Controls was quite strong in that business until large projects opened up skid manufacturing into other parts of the world such as China and India.

“Our cost base is too high to contend on some of these things,” says Ian. “That’s not just for us; it’s a general problem that we encounter across Australia. There are more challenges now. There is more competition than we have ever seen before due to the dominance of overseas ownership in these projects and the competitiveness of the cost base.”

Standards compliance is also a major issue. It used to be based on ISO standards to which everyone could adhere. Now that the scope has expanded further to including workplace health and safety and the environment, it makes becoming accredited much more difficult. No one wants to compromise on safety or the environment, but, across the industry, it can be quite a challenge to meet these requirements.

Documentation is another element of doing business which has changed how the industry does business. Some years ago when a piece of equipment was sold all that was needed was a material certificate. Now there are a host of other requirements to go along with that certificate and often financial payments are tied into compliance. This makes it more complex to complete a project as every piece of documentation needs to be supplied first. The job may be completed, and everything is up and running but the company won’t get paid because the piece of paper is not supplied. “The board compliance issue is more onerous than ever. We have to actually employ people who are focused on that. This makes it even more of a challenge to ensure compliance.”

All of this becomes a storm of hurdles to overcome. The high cost of labour combined with the high cost of compliance and the tax environment drives costs up. Trying to control that cost base and remain competitive is increasingly difficult.

One way of dealing with these challenges is to move into new sectors. Pacific Controls has been looking at current operations in its existing bases in Queensland, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia and realized that the scope was too narrow. The dominance of gas projects has absorbed a lot of time and energy due to compliance and all the other issues. “If you’re not careful, then you become too focused in that one area, and, when it turns down, you are left with nothing else to back it up. That’s why we are driving back into breadth of market.” Its expansion into the irrigation market is an example of this.

In irrigation automation and water controls, first it had to thoroughly understand the industry in order to identify what was needed. It now sells a range of valves and radio telemetry equipment and builds control packages with operator interface equipment to cater to this market. Pump stations between irrigation plants can be separated by a few miles. Pacific Controls’s job is to automate the pump stations, enabling a farmer to turn on his irrigation system from one spot.

“You can have a small control panel in your garage or house or, in fact, you can turn it on automatically,” explains Ian. “That’s the area of opportunity that we are developing right now. We are doing our initial equipment sales and integration into that.”

Company representatives recently went to an irrigation trade show and saw a distinct shift in focus to new technologies. People attending the show wanted to turn on the irrigation system from an iPad or iPhone. This is one of the main directions for Pacific Controls. It has the equipment range to do it and is engaging with customers to develop that market.

Pacific Controls is looking to diversify into other, smaller industries as well. It is going to be expanding its systems integration business into building packages and small processing plants. Bringing breadth into the business will drive increased stability to better weather the upswings and downswings of the various industries.

The manufacturers it represents have signed agreements with Pacific Controls. By doing this, Pacific Controls ends up with baseline operational methodologies for factors such as price structure setting, business growth and market sectors.

“It is interesting that, over the last three to four years, we have been focused on building a strong management team in the business to assist our growth and to engage managers more in the day to day activities. This covers the business from financial and goal setting perspectives.”

The company builds strong relationships with its manufacturers and maintains them through solid communication. It understands what the manufacturer’s business is and how they want to grow. Pacific Controls tries to mirror that and offer what these manufacturers want to see in the market. “We look at their desires for business, growth and their product development. We’re looking at how we work in our market to bring that to market. We are their sole access to this market and we ensure that we reflect that.”

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December 16, 2018, 3:55 PM AEDT