With infrastructure projects deemed to play a pivotal role in Australia’s economic growth in the coming years, Preston Hire, with over 50 years of hire service experience, is boosting its support for the infrastructure sector.
As the company’s new General Manager, Mike Thomas has played a pivotal role in the increasing involvement of Preston Hire within various infrastructure projects across the country. Prior to his appointment as General Manager, Thomas was Head of Rail at the business, launching the rail division less than two years ago and spearheading Preston Hire’s entry into the rail market.
Since then, Thomas says not only has the company grown its presence in the rail space considerably, but it has also further solidified itself as a specialised equipment and services provider to both construction and infrastructure sectors.
Preston Hire’s signature yellow equipment and their unique SuperDeck retractable loading platform systems have long been a staple on high-rise construction projects across Australia. But, in the past 18 to 24 months, Thomas says the company has also taken some key steps to position itself to better support the country’s infrastructure boom, which has been reflected in its fleet expansion and employee upskilling.
“Preston Hire Australia has adapted and reacted positively to the road and rail infrastructure boom,” Thomas tells Roads & Infrastructure.
The way Preston Hire has done this has two facets; growing its people and growing its fleet, Thomas explains.
“There was no point for us to just add new fleet, without building up the skills to support them. So, internally, our focus has been on our people as a resource and training and upskilling our operators,” he says.
“We now have product category managers as part of the leadership team whose experience has flowed throughout the business, with all our branch operations and business support teams working towards meeting and exceeding the infrastructure demands and expectations within our industry.”
Entering the earthmoving sector
To further break down Preston Hire’s strategic growth roadmap, Thomas starts by introducing the newly launched Preston Hire earthmoving division.
Traditionally, Preston Hire’s rental and hire category included three divisions: SuperCranes, SuperDecks (loading platforms) and SuperElevate (access equipment). This year, the company took a new direction by introducing SuperEarthmoving, a new rental division consisting of a range of mini, small, medium and large excavators.
“We added the earthmoving division because that’s what the market was asking us for. Customers wanted our involvement from the beginning of a project – when sites were being cleared and foundation works commenced. We regularly supply our SuperCrane fleet to projects of this nature. So, by also offering earthmoving equipment, we have streamlined the procurement process for our customers. We were able to quickly grow our fleet by working closely with a trusted original equipment manufacturer allowing us to launch this division in a very efficient way.
“We now have 20 excavators in six different sizes across our branches in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. As we grow this part of the business, we will continue to expand our fleet and our national footprint to add larger sized excavators and more earthmoving equipment in all states. We are also currently working on hi-rail options for excavators, which will enter the market in early 2022,” he adds.
Investing in larger cranes
Concurrently, Thomas says Preston Hire has also responded to demand for larger sized crawler cranes, which has led to the team investing in higher capacity crawler cranes over the past 24 months.
“Our mini crawler crane fleet has historically been a market leader in the construction sector and has seen an increased demand within rail and infrastructure. Our biggest change in requirements has come from our bigger telescopic hydraulic crawler cranes. Building up to 2020, our biggest size crane presented to the sector was a 40 tonne.
Since then, the demand for variation in crane sizes and applications has increased with the 40-tonne group, now considered a mid-size option,” says Thomas.
“Since 2020, we have invested in 50, 60, 70 and 80 tonne hydraulic crawler crane variables across our network and we are looking at potentially adding 100-tonne cranes soon. We are really pushing this side of the business as we see greater demand, especially for bigger piles and foundation construction works in the infrastructure sector.”
Catering to the rail sector
But perhaps the biggest change in direction for Preston Hire has come in expanding its services in the rail industry, a newly established division for Preston Hire that Thomas has been leading since conception.
While the rail services division initially started out as another equipment category for Preston Hire, Thomas says it soon shaped up to be much more than that.
“Preston Hire’s services to the rail industry are broadly categorised into two segments,” he says. “The first one is helping with delivery of greenfield rail infrastructure projects and the second is supporting the rail market with a suit of our equipment packages.”
When Preston Hire first entered the rail category, Thomas says an existing fleet of specialised hi-rail access equipment meant they focussed on the overhead wiring requirements for greenfield projects.
“We gained success with this mainly through the Plant Hire Services arm of Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW. Since 2020, Preston Hire Australia has used this blueprint to extend our supply offering to several other network owners across Australia, enabling a true national offering and footprint within the category,” he says.
In the second segment, he says the team focussed on the rail market more broadly than just another equipment category.
“Many of our equipment categories complement the rail market. From upgrades of station passenger access to construction of new station commuter car parks, installation of lifts and escalators, and civil works around rail stations and precincts, our crawler cranes and our other equipment all find applications within the rail domain.”
In the last 24 months, Thomas says Preston Hire has seen a steady growth within the rail sector, seeing the company move beyond the overhead wiring services and more into specialised equipment hire. These achievements have been accomplished whilst supporting the rail network and the unique complexities it presents.
“Thanks to our experience with hi-rail equipment, we understood the challenges we would face working with different rail networks across Australia. Rail tracks in Australia have different gauge widths, which means we need to adjust our machines to different requirements. Working through that qualification process and being on the panel of suppliers for Sydney Trains means we are well positioned to handle both greenfield and maintenance works for rail projects.”
Supporting clients with productivity
Across all of its structure and infrastructure sector services, Thomas says a number of customer support strategies have enabled Preston Hire to contribute to productivity levels for its customers.
“Preston Hire has a full fleet of installed telematics systems, which allows us to track equipment utilisation and schedule routine maintenance for the rented equipment to reduce our clients’ downtime. Where requested by customers, we can also provide them access to the telematics so that they can manage things like geofences, machine operating times, idle times, and carbon emission output reporting,” he explains.
“In 2021, Preston Hire has also rolled out a QR code project. All our equipment now has a QR code placed on the machine, offering information around service history, risk assessments, operator familiarisations, relevant insurances, and troubleshooting. Additionally, we have also introduced a customer feedback survey, with a link distributed with each invoice we submit. This will provide our customers the opportunity to report on both positive and negative feedback and allow Preston Hire to track the corrective actions accordingly.”
As a key player within the infrastructure development space, Thomas says Preston Hire also has a strong focus on improving safety and quality within the sector.
“Preston Hire holds memberships in several key rental and crane hire industry associations. By contributing to and supporting these associations in their valuable work in developing, promoting, and maintaining safe and effective industry standards and practices, we are actively delivering on our commitment to provide the best for our customers,” he says.
With new competition appearing every day, Thomas says Preston Hire also recognise the increasing importance of quality management. As such, Preston Hire has been third party certified for quality management by meeting the standards of ISO 9001 since 2015.
“ISO 9001 has become one of the most recognisable certifications in the world across all industries with over one million organisations recognised after its establishment over 30 years ago. Achieving ISO 9001 certification is the first step in a process of constant improvement for our company as we develop further skills to continually enhance our working practices in every aspect of the organisation,” he says.
This article was originally published in the November edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.