Building a Reputation Down Under

April 14, 2015 | Kieways 2015 Q1

Kiewit Australia was launched in early 2010 to pursue project opportunities in the resource sector in the western part of the country. Based in Perth, Kiewit Australia’s inaugural job was a $247 million engineer-procure-construct project for Cloudbreak Mine, an iron ore mine processing plant in northwest Australia for Fortescue Metals Group. The success of the project led to additional projects on the continent.

In 2013, Kiewit Australia, in a joint partnership with Ertech, was awarded its biggest job yet — a general services contract for Bechtel on the Chevron-operated Wheatstone Project.

The shape of things to come

Wheatstone involves constructing an onshore LNG facility near the town of Onslow on the northwest coast. Recognized as a clean, safe energy source, LNG is an in-demand commodity in Asia, where there are few naturally occurring gas resources. Australia, with its abundance of offshore methane gas and proximity to key population centers, has become a top supplier of natural gas to the region.

Australia’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics estimates that by 2019, LNG shipments will make the country the world’s largest producer.

The product is made when natural gas is chilled to more than minus 160 degrees C (minus 256 F). In liquid form, LNG isn’t flammable or explosive, and the volume it occupies is reduced by more than 600 times — making it easy to safely transport. Later, the product is reheated into its original form and piped to its destination.

LNG produced by the Wheatstone Project will be shipped via tanker to help fuel the Asia-Pacific region.

Geographic considerations

Kiewit/Ertech was initially awarded a $296 million contract that spans everything from civil and concrete work to piping and electrical.

The contract specifies installation and maintenance of underground and above-ground utilities, construction and maintenance of roads and laydown areas, site support, and other construction scopes found on this type of large-scale LNG project.

“It’s a very large project for us,” said area manager Tom Thorn. “It’s the perfect match for Kiewit’s capabilities and experience. It’s a great training ground for our staff and craft teams.”

One of the biggest hurdles in simple geography, Thorn said.

“In Australia, most of the work is remote. The challenge we face is the additional planning and lead time in getting people, materials and supplies to the site.”

Temperatures in the mid-40s C (110+ degrees F) are common during the summer months. In 2014, temperatures climbed to 49 degrees C (120 degrees F). On top of that, the area is notoriously secluded and dry.

“It’s hot and remote, but this isn’t a whole lot different than working in the middle of nowhere in west Texas,” said Project Manager Cody Jensen, who jumped at the opportunity to take his skills and experience to a new market for Kiewit. “It sounds cliché, but the big part of our success here is just sticking to or reverting back to the Kiewit basics of building and managing our work, people and equipment.”

The Swiss Army knife

Having a core group of employees well-versed in the Kiewit philosophy and culture drives the way this team works, said Thorn.

“This is a fast-track project, with design and procurement happening while construction has started. Because of the size of the project, every piece is magnified. Having a core group of Kiewit people here, combined with the strong, talented local workforce, has been significant in how we differentiate ourselves on the project.”

The team has earned a reputation for adaptability, which has paid dividends as the project has grown.

“Unlike other construction projects for Kiewit, this one didn’t have a specific scope — it was a catch-all contract. It’s a massive job site with 25-plus subs on very large packages of work. Consequently, a lot of jobs tend to pop up in new and different ways.”

Thorn calls the Kiewit team “the Swiss Army knife” of the project. When additional work is needed, the team is flexible and handle the extra tasks for the client.

“We are well-placed to take on additional scope at short notice and our ability to adapt means we can react quickly and help the overall project move forward successfully.”

Kiewit continues to play an integral role in helping complete key components of permanent work on the site.

Gaining a foothold

Well after the Wheatstone Project is completed in the coming years, it will be one that Kiewit Australia will recognize as a key building block in expanding the company’s presence in the country.

“Building on our success and continuing to show our value will mean a lot for our future in Australia,” Jensen said. “The team performance thus far is what’s helping us build our reputation here.”

“It’s fulfilling to be involved in such a large project and to have a team that’s well-respected,” said Thorn. “The Wheatstone Project has some of the best contractors from around the world. We’re able to see and learn some innovative things that other construction companies are doing in this part of the world.”

Jack Cotton, general manager for Kiewit Australia, has seen how far the organization’s Australian operations have come since launching in 2010. He attributes the success to a strong focus on the Kiewit basics.

“In the early days, we had lots to learn so we relied on the Kiewit basics — getting work at the right price, building work at the lowest cost and taking care of our assets.”

Today, those basics have helped Kiewit Australia establish a strong, growing reputation in a country rich with great people and traditions — with many more outstanding opportunities to come.


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