Our Company Story
Exasperation to Inspiration
It was a hot afternoon at a gold mine in Western Australia. A hired skid mounted pump at the edge of a tailings dam had broken down again. For Rob Hair, the mining services contractor who owned the pump, the break down was exasperating. This was the fourth time in three months that this pump had been out of service. The pump had been drawing in tailings from the bottom of the dam and the seals had blown. Again. Rob was getting fewer than ## hours out of a set of seals, and every break down was costing him lost revenue.
Rob employed over 40 people, but he was still a hands on kind of guy. Just as Rob had the spanner out to pull the pump apart, however, he got a phone call. Another of his hire pumps was now out of action. The customer had put the water intake too close to the surface, a vortex had formed and bubbles had imploded in the pump impeller. The shock waves of the implosions had cavitated the pump and destroyed it.
Rob wiped his brow and thought to himself, “There has to be a better way.” He got on his computer and searched the world for a solution, but couldn’t find one.
So, he went into his workshop and set about creating one himself.
The Principal of Critical Submergence
The problem, he knew, was “critical submergence.” A pump intake has to be a certain depth under the water or a vortex could form.
At the same time, the intake had to be a certain height above the tailings or they would be drawn into the pump and the seals would be damaged.
“What if,” he thought, “instead of critical submergence always having to go down, I could turn it on its side? That way, I could have a water intake that floated on the surface, no vortex could form and the intake would be as far as possible away from the tailings at the bottom.”
In Rob’s words, “I would have to falsify the critical submergence to ‘trick’ the water into thinking the intake was down, not just under the surface.”
The Principal of Falsification
And this is how Rob came up with the Principal of Falsification. The Principle says Critical Submergence can be falsified by doing three things:
- Taking Critical Submergence depth and turning it sideways.
- “Virtually” expanding size of suction pipe intake with larger radial intake.
- Doing all this under a vacuum.
Prototypes and Endless Testing
Excited, Rob designed a prototype, built it by hand and tested it at the gold mine. The results were so good that he immediately lodged a patent application.
Then he built another prototype, this time with a rounded bottom shell so it could slide out over polyethelyne tailings dam liners without tearing them. The next one he built had a wear plate on the bottom so it could slide out over rocks and be dragged around a mine site.
Each prototype tested a new improvement. Out of this testing, his company, Turret Engineering, was born.
One day, there was an emergency. The decant system on a big tailings dam had been damaged. If it could not be repaired, the mine would have to shut down. Could Turret Engineering help?
Rob had always been a problem solver, and this ethos was the backbone of Turret Engineering. They took two of prototype Turrets down to the tailings dam and hooked them up to a skid-mounted pump. Within hours, the tailings dam was back online – pumping 2,000 cubic metres of water an hour like nothing had ever happened. In fact, the Turret system was so good that it ran that tailings dam decant for the next 14 months.
Turrets for Agriculture
The Turret Engineering team started thinking: “where else is shallow water a problem?” The newspapers in their drought ravaged home country of Australia left them in no doubt: farming and agriculture. So they set up a trial in a river in Victoria and ran it for 12 months.
The positive results were that by drawing the cleanest water from the top, the property went from cleaning filters every three days to cleaning them every six months. The water level could go down to 400mm and still they could draw up to 1,000 cubic metres an hour.
Then People Started Talking
Soon, the mining industry started talking. By word of mouth, mines and pump companies from all around Australia started calling for Turrets. Soon, the Company was sending them around the US and Africa. But there was a problem. Each hand-made Turret took 14 days to build. How could they keep up with demand?
So, Rob’s team hired one of Australia’s top designers to translate his design into a Turret that could be mass produced. To do this, they needed massive aluminium tooling four metres wide. This was too big for any Australian company to build, so they scoured the world until they found a company in Europe that could build it.
When the tooling arrived in Australia, Rob got to work. Soon, the factory could turn out a Turret a day. Rob was making 18 at a time, but even then, the Turrets were sold before the production run was delivered.
Saving Lives and Property in Bushfires
As Rob watched a Turret draw from shallow water one day, he thought to himself, “What other industries have a problem with shallow water?” Rob lives in the country and had been a volunteer with the Wandering Bush Fire Brigade for twenty years. He ran the pumps for the Brigade during bushfires. He knew the pumpers and tankers drove past shallow water bodies on their way to refill from dams. “What if they could draw from that shallow water along the way instead of having to drive all the way back to the dam?” he thought. “Wouldn’t that save precious hours and increase the chances of saving lives and property?”
So, he want back into the workshop and started working on a smaller, lighter version of the Turret. This version would only be a metre wide and would weigh less than 16kg – light enough to be lifted by a single person.
Soon, Rob had another product. He tested it with his local fire brigades and they loved it. “Bloody awesome” said one admiring fire brigade volunteer. “Now we can suck anything from anywhere. There is no limit now. As long as there is a bit of water, we are good to go.”
Helping Farmers in Drought
Rob lives in the country and knows only too well the problems with lack of rainfall. The one metre Turret, he hopes, will give farmers more options when dealing with shallow water in dams and rivers during drought.
Solutions, Not Sales Pitches
Turret Engineering won’t sell you a Turret if it won’t solve your problem. “We don’t sell Turrets out of a portfolio or annoy people who aren’t interested.” says Rob. “Instead, we ask people questions like their NPSH, head height, maximum flow, average flow, pipe size and a host of other things so that we can tell them their best solution – and if it’s not a Turret, we let them know.”
Increasingly, however, the company that prides itself on not “selling” is selling more and more Turrets in Australia and around the world. As Imran Gallani, Head of Tailings at Rio Tinto Australia told Rob, “It’s such a simple solution for such a complex problem.”