Since its beginnings in Wollongong in 1978, materials handling equipment supplier ESS Engineering has maintained a strong presence in Australia’s mining industry.
From initially marketing bulk flow aid devices manufactured by United States-based Martin Engineering, ESS became the exclusive licensed manufacturer of Martin products for Australia and the Asia Pacific, developing air cannons, conveyor belt cleaners, skirting systems and track mount idlers.
ESS this year appointed Peter Thorpe as its new general manager to help guide the company through its next phase of growth.
Thorpe spent 15 years in the Royal Australian Airforce before moving to the mining industry, where he has remained for the past 17 years.
“In 2000, I left the defence force and went into petrochemical, non-destructive testing. I then migrated into mining and where I used some of my non-destructive testing experience,” Thorpe told Australian Mining.
In 2004, Thorpe started his own business, which he later sold to conveyor developer Fenner Dunlop. He then replicated the business model he had at Fenner Dunlop and set up businesses in America, Chile, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Thorpe then left the company in 2013 and served as managing director of manufacturing and supply company Shaw Almex for three-and-a-half years.
But a call from ESS chief executive Bob Law about a position that had opened up at the company changed Thorpe’s career direction once more.
ESS was seeking someone who could take the company to the next level, and had Thorpe in its sights for the role.
Thorpe described ESS as a well-recognised business with good people and said he would bring a fresh perspective to its operating style.
“What they needed was a fresh person to come in and look how the business is structured and where they can add value and a different perspective than what they had been doing,” he said. “They just wanted fresh eyes to look at the business and give it a new direction.”
Addressing customer needs
An ESS speciality is conveyor belts and Thorpe said one of the main things operators were looking for in this area was a better return on investment (ROI).
“They want products with a longer life and that have increased maintenance windows,” he said.
“There are a lot of Chinese belts coming into the market and that’s neither good nor bad. We’re also seeing Indian belts coming into the market and these are driving the industry to make a better product at a lower cost. We’ve got have that diversity of product to show our customers that return of investment is better when using our products.”
Thorpe said customers were looking for value more than lowered costs, which is what he hoped to continue delivering as the new GM.
“We’ve got to show value to our customers, not just a product that competes with someone else’s product that is exactly the same. With the mining sector turning around, I think operators are willing to spend a lot of money to see the value,” he said.
Taking ESS forward
Although he is still fairly new to the role, Thorpe believes some of the company’s key challenges are to further increase its visibility among customers, product development and providing solution-driven programs.
Looking ahead, Thorpe wants to use his knowledge in the automation space to strengthen ESS’ products.
“My background is automation and condition monitoring systems, and automation is very much the flavour of the month,” he said.
“ESS has several products that have a lot of contact with the belts and a lot of the automation processes for belt thicknesses and testing need that belt contact. If we can add these processes to a current system and without creating any more problems, then we’ve got the potential for a new product range.
“I think we have an opportunity to work with our customers and decrease the maintenance shut downs while increasing the reliability of products like the belt itself.”
The company is also building its training capabilities, offering a new program for the next generation.
Thorpe said he was excited about his new role at ESS.
“I like the challenge and it comes down to the people I’ve been introduced to and the good reputation ESS has in the market. I think just little things need to be tweaked so we can steer this ship in the right direction,” he said.