Trailer Magazine

Filling a niche

  • From the December 2019 issue.
Filling a niche

Starting out as a road tanker repair business and Liquip distributorship in the Newcastle suburb of Cardiff, Durham Fabrications has grown and diversified to include tanker manufacturing in addition to the supply and fitting of Liquip and OPW tanker, terminal and retail products.

The company is owned by John and Kerrie Howson who purchased the business from the previous owner in 2003. Having started his working life as a boilermaker with BHP, John had been working in underground mining for a long time and was looking for something different to see him through to retirement.

The couple’s son Luke Howson and daughter Emma Thompson also joined the business at this time, Luke taking the role of Workshop Manager and Emma becoming Operations Manager. Some of the existing employees were retained and others with specific skill sets were employed over subsequent years as the business grew and diversified. Today the company has eight employees comprising five in the workshop and three in the office.

Around five years ago John and Kerrie stepped back from the day-to-day running of the business, leaving it in the capable hands of their progeny. Together the duo leads a passionate team of employees that has enabled Durham Fabrications to push the bounds of possibility in the highly competitive tanker building, repair and maintenance sector.

A fitter and machinist by trade and also having had training and experience in welding, Luke’s transition into the business was relatively straightforward. Emma, on the other hand, had a career background in hairdressing and business management, but was nonetheless more than up for the challenge of learning everything she needed to know in order to make the family business flourish. She proceeds to describe the evolution of the company since then.

“In the early days we were known for basic tanker repairs as that is what the previous owner had specialised in – being able to get clients back on the road after a breakdown or other misadventure between Sydney and Brisbane,” Emma says.

“Over the last 14 years, however, we’ve gone from strength to strength, thanks in a big part to Luke with his apprenticeship and extensive repair background, along with numerous other qualifications he’s gained along the way.

“Additionally, we’ve added members to our team who are boilermakers and welders and we have a technical team member who is studying engineering at university. This has enabled us to take on far more complex repair work that we simply wouldn’t have been able to manage in the early days.”

Emma goes on to say that among the type of work Durham Fabrications now undertakes are chassis rail repairs to semi- and B-double trailers, along with replacements, refurbs and what she describes as ‘boutique builds’, which consist of chassis designed and built by Durham – complete with cab/chassis flame proofing measures to comply with AS2890 standards – fitted with barrels supplied by one of the major Australian tanker manufacturers.

“Along with single trailer and B-double tanker combinations, we have a number of clients running the smaller tankers based on 8x4, 6x4 and 4x2 rigid trucks who also rely on us to look after their vehicles,” Emma continues. “We recently completed three ‘re-horse’ projects for one of these customers which involves removing the barrel and all related pumping and metering equipment from the truck, replacing any worn or unserviceable parts, and reinstalling it on a new cab/chassis unit that has been suitably flame-proofed to AS2890 requirements. The result is a new truck with as-new tank and related equipment.”

Emma elaborates on the ideal proximity of Durham Fabrications to the Newcastle port and fuel terminals, which has been a big factor in business expansion and diversification in recent times.

“Our location in the Cardiff industrial estate is only 20 minutes from the major fuel terminals and port,” Emma explains, adding that she and the admin staff have put a lot of effort into considerably expanding the terminal equipment sales the company has achieved over the last few years.

“About three years ago we started knocking on doors with the intent of increasing sales of our terminal equipment and today we are supplying most of the terminals here including the oil terminal and   mines in the Hunter Valley and greater west regions with Liquip and OPW products,” she says.

Among the other services provided by Durham Fabrications are hydrostatic testing, confined space repairs, code hose supply and testing and NMI (National Measurement Institute) meter certifications and calibrations.

The company is also an accredited Safe Load Program (SLP) inspection station.

“We have dedicated employees who share the passion for excellence in workmanship which Luke displays and this has enabled us to build a solid reputation within the circles that we operate,” Emma says.

“Luke and the team have worked really hard to uphold that reputation with the repair and refurbing work we do, and we’ve also trained quite a few apprentices over the years to this high standard.

“We feel this is a positive way for us to give something back to an industry that has been good to us.”

Fast Fact
Durham Fabrications is a diverse road tanker repair and refurb business dedicated to the fuel transport industry. Based at Cardiff in Newcastle, the company prides itself on being a one-stop-shop for tanker operators across the state of New South Wales.

Fast Fact
Durham Fabrications has recently commissioned a Liquip Level Gauging Calibration Unit to facilitate installations, maintenance and repairs on Liquip’s Diptronic metering systems. The unit will be also used to support clients who have installed the recently released Liquip Swift technology – a simple, yet technically advanced metering and delivery system.

Durham Fabrications team members Scott (Leading Hand), Martin, Elliott, Paula and Luke (Workshop Manager).

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