Holland growing markets Down Under
Holland, L.P, a specialty flashbutt welding service provider from North America, is growing its Australian footprint with its new-to-market technology Intelliweld and a culture of service and innovation bringing higher levels of qualification performance and weld quality.
For Holland Rail Services Australia managing director Kevin Piefer, quality results supported by quick delivery is of the essence.
“Generally, we are very quick in delivering change and improved performance,” Piefer said.
“Our process may only take three to four weeks for us to qualify welds for a customer or project. We hear stories of others, who don’t have our top to bottom data analysis, taking months or even longer to qualify as we do. That is if they are even able to qualify.” We are confident in our system and process that we can offer max-time qualification guarantees that sets us apart as well.
As a reminder, Holland is a specialist in flashbutt welding, whose technology is built to facilitate quality welding outcomes with extensive data collection and analysis. The family-owned business from North America entered the Australian market in March 2020, just as the global lockdown was beginning. Since then, it has blazed a trail of success thanks to a continuous effort in working with the mining companies in the Pilbara as well as supporting some local Perth transit work.
So what makes them different? Piefer is keen to elaborate.
“Flashbutt welding is a contracted service, but our differentiation is we really shine on the technical side,” he said.
“It involves science, engineering and data collection, and we really take it to the next level in differentiation from other contractors.
“We are able to close the loop inhouse because of our Intelliweld control system. We collect data from our machines as they’re welding, and we do a lot of predictive analytics with that data.
“Although we are a contractor and have expert operators that perform the service, we surround them with a lot of technical expertise making us a railroad service provider first, followed closely as a technology and data analytics business.
“We are very unique because there aren’t many businesses that can do what we do.”
Despite running, a successful business in North America, Holland, L.P was keen to expand into the Australian market.
Piefer said this was due to myriad opportunities, albeit with mining companies providing “the lion’s share” of business.
“The Australian market is smaller [than North America}, but the amount of work that is here is still significant for a business like ours to obtain,” he said.
“Culturally, Australia is similar to North America and the rail infrastructure owners and operators need a reliable flashbutt welding service which makes it a low risk market to penetrate.”
The first piece of Holland equipment arrived in Australia right as the world was shutting down in March 2020. Due to careful management of border closures, they have been able to grow the business and import other machinery during the pandemic.
“Our equipment was here, we could showcase and demonstrate and have customers. We were still able to advance the business,” he said.
Although shipping of heavy machinery became “a bit tougher”, it was otherwise a successful business launch in the Australian market.
Training and customer service
Piefer emphasises the need to engineer equipment specifically to meet customer needs.
“We engineer our equipment, we maintain our equipment, we have teams that perform upgrades, not only mechanically, but also technologically,” he said.
“We are able to create a service that if it needs to be changed, we can be on the front foot of change, because we can change the process with our equipment and can change the technology that is required to improve it.
“Then we can deliver that to our employees because we are training them right down the line that these changes are coming. We call it a ‘closed loop’ because we came from engineering all the way to innovating.”
The slow bend tester
A key piece of technology arriving soon is their slow bend tester, something which Piefer says helps Holland meet its weld quality initiatives and helps partnering with customers.
“Part of that partnering is research and development, helping customers improve their welding outcomes,” he said.
“A slow bend tester is a large tool that is part of our testing. You put the rail in a machine and bend it to a point of failure.
“We use that as an initial indicator of how we need to change some of our weld programming to improve our weld outcomes.”
Piefer said this had proven a useful tool in all of their operations and are now “bringing the same thing to Australia”.
“It is part of our service and shows we are committed to research and development and creating partnerships,” he said.
Looking ahead, Piefer said they were particularly keen to work with Australian universities and to seek out growth options more generally.
“We have been embedded in North America for 40-plus years and our customers there really understand what we do although we are always reinventing ourselves with new technology,” he said.
“A key point is we are not just a contracting resource.”
Piefer said the family owners were continuing to invest in the business.
“We probably will be tripling our investment in Australia through next year,” he said.
“Most of it is in the mining sector, though there is some major transport work that we hope to successfully weld as well.
“Overall, there are many opportunities ahead in the Australian market.”