Australian manufacturing companies are thriving supplying innovative technology, products and services to the mining and resources sector. AMT Magazine spoke to one of them: P&D Lipski Engineering based in Launceston, Tasmania.

Mineral Resources Tasmania reports that the mineral extraction and processing sector is Tasmania’s largest export industry and accounts for more than 50% of mercantile exports. The state exports ores and concentrates of iron, copper, lead, zinc, tin, high-grade silica and tungsten.

Launceston manufacturer P&D Lipski Engineering (P&D L) has been supplying the Tasmanian and Australia-wide mining sector for more than 34 years. On a site tour of the company, P&D L’s quality assurance manager Martin Lipski points to around 30 steel quick release hock assemblies, lined up in the front of the business. Martin explains that these were manufactured at P&D L a few years ago and are now in for refurbishing.

“The assemblies are a docking and berthing mechanism for ships,” he adds. “We make and refurbish them for one of our main clients, and the longest-serving one, Trelleborg Marine Systems Australia. Trelleborg supplies our assemblies to their mining clients like Rio Tinto and other Western Australian mining businesses. These are used to dock their ships, bound for export.”

Phil Lipski, Martin’s father, started Lip Engineering (as it was known then) in 1987, working from a workshop at the back of the family home in Launceston, equipped with one milling machine. Phil trained as a fitter and turner and mechanical engineer in Poland, before emigrating to Australia in 1982. His first big business break came soon after starting the company, winning contracting jobs for several Tasmanian mining companies.

“The main projects that Phil worked on then, was installing pneumatic and hydraulic pumps for air compressors that were running the underground air tools at the Aberfoyle Limited’s Hellyer tin and zinc mine in north-west Tasmania,” says Martin. “Phil employed up to five people at a time and they all mainly worked on-site at the mine’s mill nearby, where the company’s mining operations minerals were processed.”

Martin adds that most mines use air tools such as drills and wrenches driven by compressed air. They are safer to use than electric tools underground, because mines often contain copious amounts of water for operation purposes.

The company has changed a lot since those early days; P&D Lipski Engineering now functions as a large machining and manufacturing site, exporting its products directly or indirectly through its clients to around 30 countries. It employs 11 people, with Phil and his wife Danuta still involved as company directors and owners.

On a factory walkthrough with Martin and the company’s General Manager Paul Morris, the site’s ground floor is abuzz, with several of the machines in action. Among P&D L’s 35 machines are a Toshiba CNC horizontal machining centre and several Okuma and Mazak CNC horizontal and vertical machining centres. There are also boring and milling machines and lathes, coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), and a range of fabrication equipment.

“We have the advantage of having such a wide range of advanced manufacturing equipment here for our client’s work and for local businesses,” says Paul. “Quite often our customers turn up and want a component built on the spot, and we have the machine capacity to do the job promptly. We don’t charge much more than a plumber or electrician’s hourly rate for doing these jobs.”

Paul adds: “We are in the process of doing upgrades on some of the older machines. As we are at capacity with our building space, we may need to build a mezzanine level to expand our manufacturing area and capability.”

Martin points to a batch of black quick-release hock assemblies on the first floor that have just been manufactured for Trelleborg: “We have produced some of these assemblies in vivid yellow too and even made some white ones bound for Trelleborg in Sweden.”

At the moment P&D L is working on a new product range for Trelleborg’s high-end clients in the shipping, gas and oil sectors.

“All product design, materials and quality assurance for these products must be registered with and approved by the world’s oldest shipping registry, DNV GL,” advises Martin.

DNV GL is the world’s leading classification society and a recognised advisor for the maritime industry. It enhances safety, quality, energy efficiency and environmental performance of the global shipping industry across all vessel types and offshore structures.

Paul describes some other recent mining-related projects: “P&D L made steel knuckles for low loader outer pillars for a mining operation near Savage River, Tasmania. We machined ingot moulds for Bell Bay, Tasmania’s largest aluminium smelter, and we have also been making components for smaller Tasmanian subcontractors that supply the mining sector. Another project we are doing is for Haywards steel fabricator and construction company, across the road. This involves developing technology and components for their bridge building contracts.

“Expanding the factory to the mezzanine level, ordering an extra vertical machining centre, exploring new industry sectors, and engaging new employees with real on-the-job experience, are all on the agenda moving forward for P&D L Engineering.”