From humble beginnings as a one-man, home-based business, AC Hargreaves has grown to a business with a workshop and warehouse footprint comprising 4 buildings with a collective floor area of over 6500m2, and some 75 staff delivering service and supply of electric motors, pumps, transformers and associated equipment to businesses ranging from retailers to theme parks, mining, manufacturing and many others.
In March of 2022, the AC Hargreaves business was confronted with the biggest job they had ever seen.
Sunshine Sugars’ three sugar mills located in northern New South Wales had been inundated by floodwaters to varying degrees, with over 1,000 pieces of HV and LV electric motors, pumps, gearboxes and transformer assets damaged or destroyed.
Very quickly, AC Hargreaves was appointed by the insurer to the job of working on the Sunshine Sugar equipment.
Although a relatively large operation, the directors of AC Hargreaves soon realised that this job was too big from one company alone. This is when they decided to approach their role as one of project management for the repair or replacement of the flood-affected equipment, utilising specialist sub-contractors from as far afield as Newcastle to Rockhampton.
One of three directors, Rick Van der Meer Managing Director stepped out of his day job running the business, to head up the project management function.
Along with Rick, the company’s’ two technical sales managers Sunny Tu, Paul James and assisted by Chantelle Maclean; stepped out of their day-to-day roles to take on the mammoth project management task.
With the sugar mills needing to be ready to commence the cane crushing season as soon as possible, the priority was the production equipment.
This included over 400 electric motors, along with pumps and transformers.
Having previously worked with Sunshine Sugar over the years, the team at AC Hargreaves understood just how important the sugar industry is to local jobs and the economy and stepped up to the challenge of helping work through the enormous clean up and recovery effort with all of its available resources, and then some.
Rick Van der Meer said that everyone in the business was committed to helping the customer.
“My fellow directors took on my share of management duties so I could focus on co-ordinating the day-to-day running of the project.”
“One of the first things I did was call in our technical service managers, pulling them off the road and assigning each of them to a factory site. In doing this we also needed to go to our other customers and explain the scale and urgency of the work that was needed to be done for Sunshine Sugar.
Incredibly, our clients agreed to delay some of their jobs they wanted us to perform for them, enabling us to focus our full and immediate attention on Sunshine Sugar.”
Four months on and Rick Van der Meer is tired, but incredibly proud. “We were put to the test” he said.
“Many of our people were working 6 or 7 days a week for 10-12 hours a day over the first few months.”
Whilst they did this willingly and with great commitment, it did require me to manage the human-side of the project in terms of fatigue management and work-life balance. And I am pleased to say that we have come out the other side of the project intact.”
The northern-most sugar mill at Condong on the banks of the Tweed River was given priority as it was deemed feasible it could be remediated and repaired in time for a June crushing start. The Sunshine Sugar team at Condong had worked through a major flood recovery in 2017 and were quick to start cleaning and recovering affected equipment as well as commencing mill maintenance works.
The next priority was the worst affected site, the Broadwater sugar mill on the Richmond River.
Rick commented, “When we arrived to assess the damage, it was covered in a slurry of water and mud. The smell was overpowering.”
The scale of the flood and the devastation it caused was nothing short of overwhelming.
Not only had AC Hargreaves not seen anything quite like it, neither had the Sunshine Sugar team. This flood event was unprecedented, and it took some adjustment for the mill workers to come to terms with what they were faced with. It’s worth mentioning that many of them had experienced damage to their own homes and properties that they were working through at the same time.
There was also no power and no indication as to when electricity may be restored to the site.
Rather than try to work on site in these conditions, it was decided to move all of the parts to AC Hargreaves’ Brisbane workshop in the first instance. This allowed the team to clean and catalogue everything before assigning it to either one of their own workshops or a suitable sub-contractor.
This in itself presented logistical challenges, with some equipment weighing as much as 20 tonnes. These mega machines needed to be loaded, secured, transported and then unloaded; before being cleaned and assessed. In many cases, they then needed to be loaded again for further transport to the assigned sub-contractor.
Project Manager Sunny Tu described his time working at the Broadwater site as a ‘growing experience.’
Sunny spent weeks living near and working at the Broadwater site, overseeing the movement of equipment. His commitment to the recovery effort has been praised by many of his colleagues.
On one particular Saturday, he made two round trips between Brisbane and Broadwater, which is over 200 kilometres each way, transporting pumps that had not been available in time to travel on the scheduled truck service, but were urgently needed.
With the recovery effort almost complete, the AC Hargreaves team took time out recently to celebrate what they had achieved and to wish Sunshine Sugar well.
At the team gathering, Rick made mention that, “Like the team here at AC Hargreaves, those working at each of the Sunshine Sugar sites have put in an enormous effort through the flood recovery works. I thank each and every one of you and want to express how very proud I am of what we have achieved.”