Coates has redefined itself over the last few decades from an equipment hire company to an all-in-one solutions provider serving multiple industry segments. In temporary works engineering, Coates is a perpetual player.
General manager of Coates Engineering Solutions Rafi Tchopourian explains why Coates is well-positioned to support Australia’s growing infrastructure sector and deliver on its promise of “equipped for anything” with customers.
When Tchopourian moved from the finance department into an operations role that included Coates’ temporary works projects, the new millennium had just begun. There were two engineers at that time. Now, there are close to 40, spanning all disciplines including mechanical, structural, civil, chemical, and geotechnical.
“Several years ago, we identified a gap in the market – our customers were looking for a solutions partner that provided more than specialised products. They wanted the engineering design, certification, project management and installation all in one,” Tchopourian explains. “Instead of having to go to various suppliers for different services, they were looking for an all-inclusive, end-to-end solution. Importantly, they wanted this under the one purchase order.”
It might seem like an unusual decision, to transfer someone with a finance background across to operations and sales, but Tchopourian hasn’t looked back since he was promoted to a managerial position over 21 years ago.
“When I was approached for the role – which was around the time of the Sydney Olympics when the city had experienced huge growth in infrastructure projects – it was a surprise, but they believed I would bring more value to the company in an operations role,” Tchopourian says.
“It was a steep learning curve and I had to work hard to get a strong understanding in what we did and what we could provide. I spent time with our truck drivers, gaining an understanding of how equipment was delivered, I also spent time with customers learning about their requirements, and I performed installation work with the team so I could grasp how it all came together.”
That practical approach not only paid off, but amplified Tchopourian’s passion for the job.
“It gave me the opportunity to build a rapport with the team but also to listen and learn from our customers about their challenges,” Tchopourian elaborates.
“And this is what drives me in my job today. I’m passionate about addressing those challenges – I love connecting with customers, gaining an understanding of their problems on a job site, then taking that information and together with our collective skills and expertise as a team, propose and deliver a temporary works solution.”
While Coates only recently dropped the ‘Hire’ from its name, the company has been building up its Engineering Solutions arm for numerous years. Tchopourian has been both witness and instrumental to that growth.
“We now have over 35 full-time engineers on board, the majority fully chartered by Engineers Australia, and from different disciplines and backgrounds,” he says.
“Coates has also muscled up significantly in the last decade, building on our project management team which comprises a large group of full-time installation personnel to provide installation services in all Australian cities.
“We’ve developed these services, along with our products, so we can now supply the product, the engineering services, and the skillsets all together in a bundle to go out to customer’s sites and provide a holistic solution.”
Today, the Coates Engineering Solutions product offering and value proposition encompasses structural propping, ground shoring, hydraulic shoring, heavy duty shoring, slide rail, water management and treatment, sheet and brace, specialised synchronous jacking and lifting, and traffic management.
Propping up industry with innovation
Tchopourian cites Coates’ commitment to innovation as a key ingredient to the company’s continued success and progress.
“We believe in innovation in the true sense of the word – that we have to constantly challenge ourselves to make new products or think about new ways of doing things,” Tchopourian says. “And we strongly feel that universities play a significant role in forging the way forward with innovation, which is why we partner with universities on research projects.”
A prime example of this can be seen in Coates’ unveiling of Quadshore 150 in May 2021 – the world’s lightest heavy-duty structural support solution – which came as the result of a research partnership with Monash University.
Prior to the partnership, which commenced in 2018, Monash University’s Civil Engineering Department had been developing the concept of lightweight, heavy-duty structural elements for 12 years. The partnership brought it into the real world.
“Quadshore 150 exemplifies our endeavour to bring innovation to the fore and also represents why we need to constantly challenge ourselves – as well as the industry at large – to design and create structures that are safer, stronger, lighter, more efficient, and more sustainable,” Tchopourian says.
“We were able to achieve this with Quadshore 150 by combining over 30 years’ in-house experience with the passion, knowledge and fresh ideas of PhD students with a wide breadth of engineering capability.”
The design of Quadshore 150 as a structural prop is considered revolutionary. Features such as its lightweight but high-strength structural elements as well as boltless connections combine to create significant benefits. Among those are reduced labour, handling, storage, installation and de-installation costs – which also means less safety issues among workers – as well as decreased transportation and handling, and a lower carbon footprint.
“From the outset we wanted to produce a stronger, lighter product that would drastically lessen the carbon footprint,” Tchopourian says.
“Because less product is used, there is less manufacturing required, which has downstream effect – less handling, less transport, less weight – a whole lot of ‘less’ – which translates to ‘more’ in terms of benefits, particularly on the safety, sustainability and financial fronts.”
While this project has come to completion, Tchopourian says it marks the beginning of many more to come.
“Quadshore 150 (Q150) is just the first cab off the rank, we are also working with Monash University to develop the Quadshore 50, which is a smaller version of the Q150 as well as a heavy-duty light weight shoring box system and lightweight tilt props which are due for release in the near future,” he says.
“These are only the first projects of several our investment with Monash will fund, with a number of projects planned within the next two years.”
Managing the impacts downstream
Besides working with Monash, Coates is also looking to partner with the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS) to work on challenges in water management and treatment.
“Coates Engineering fundamentally plays a huge role in the temporary works market in Australia around water management,” Tchopourian explains.
“In densely populated cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, water management is becoming more of a challenge. Customers want to maximise the capacity of a water treatment system but with a minimal footprint onsite.”
Similar to Coates’ partnership with Monash, the goal would be to develop student engineering projects that specifically address water treatment challenges.
“How do we increase the capacity of equipment but reduce our physical footprint onsite?” Tchopourian asks. “That’s an ongoing question and problem that we will be looking to work with universities to tackle.”
However, Coates has already made great strides in the water management space.
“There’s a lot to consider around water management on job sites and ensuring that you’re meeting the regulations set out by the Environmental Protection Authority as well as the discharge criteria from council can prove especially challenging – which is the case with many of our customers,” Tchopourian says.
“Whereas we take the pain away from our customers. We have the highly sophisticated equipment and engineering expertise to extract, treat, store and discharge the water back into various discharge points in line with the appropriate regulation and criteria.”
A sustainable future
While a primary point of difference in Coates’ offering is the company’s ability to provide end-to-end solutions, the two pillars that ensure that capability are sustainability and innovation. According to Tchopourian, the two go hand in hand and are fundamental to the company’s future.
“We’re constantly looking at R&D around new products and how we can make customer projects go more smoothly, not just in terms of being on time and on budget, but how we can make them safer and more sustainable,” he says.
“Sustainability is an important focus for us at Coates. It’s not just a buzzword that we’re leveraging on, we’re genuinely committed to reducing the impact that we and our customers have on the environment. All our R&D and innovation is centred around that mindset: to reduce carbon footprint.”
And the future is bright, Tchopourian believes.
“There’s so much opportunity. With strong demand for infrastructure projects in the pipeline, the market is buoyant,” he concludes. “More importantly, we know how important it is to challenge ourselves, which is largely why innovation is so vital to our progress. It’s about inventing and creating new ways of doing things that will make our products and processes more efficient and more productive. And ultimately, that enables us to provide better solutions to our customers.”
For more information about Coates Engineering Solutions please click here.