Ingenuity solving heavy rooftop challenges

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A finished installation fitted with classic screen walls.

Con-form Group has been challenging the perception that Industrial HVAC&R systems have to be heavy and noisy for almost ten years. Manufacturers’ Monthly speaks to the Australian engineering company about breaking the mould for roof-mounting mechanical equipment.

Before engineering innovation can prosper, Nigel Cro, Con-form Group managing director said his team concentrates on understanding the root of a problem, and more importantly understanding what a customer is trying to achieve. Con-form brings its engineers, technical team, warehouse and manufacturing capacity together to solve problems for Australian businesses, rather than just provide products.

“It’s not good enough to take on face value what a customer says they need,” he explained. “You have to ask questions, and then ask more questions. If you wipe the slate clean and consider all the factors to to the problem, then you have the opportunity to provide a solution to exactly what they’re trying to achieve.”

Nigel Cro recounted what lead the Bathurst-based business to make a change to the standard for HVAC&R systems and invent a new light-weight platform.

“It was painful to see large structural steel sections getting craned onto roofs laboriously day after day, piece by piece and the danger and the logistics involved,” he said. “And I remember just looking at that and saying, “There just has to be a better way” Why can’t we go to a lightweight structural system that removes a lot of this pain?”

In 2014, the Con-form Group team collated its expertise and experience to develop an industry leading lightweight roof-mounting platform system for mechanical equipment.

Industrial HVAC systems are heavy and often noisy, so Con-form Group provided an engineered solution for the structure to cater for the weight on roof top installations and deliver acoustic solutions to minimise environmental noise.

“We knew a lightweight structural system could remove a lot of that pain,” noted Nigel. “As industry professionals in roof work, we challenged ourselves to take it up a notch. There was skepticism about mounting 20 tonne of equipment on something lightweight, but we proved that wrong and will continue to do so.”

The solution’s flexibility continues to be a critical advantage over traditional systems.

“They are built fit for purpose, engineered for the required weight and the required KPA,” he said. “Clients such as supermarkets are always renovating and changing things mechanical and refrigeration equipment in stores all the time. What this system allows you to do is to increase or decrease at will, without changing anything in the physical structure of the building.”

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Con-form conceals unsightly plant machinery with the sharp clean lines of the Screen Wall.

From Nigel’s perspective, roofs and Aluminium pair extremely well. Aluminium is light weight but can be engineered as part of a structural solution, so Con-form Group knew it was key to creating this light-weight structure. The metal is an inherently noncorrosive material well suited to Australian roofs, which cope with harsh environmental conditions. The lightweight aluminium plant platforms and screens are now found on industrial, commercial, and public infrastructure roofs right around Australia, but not that you’d notice Peter explained.

“People will drive along on a highway overpass and there is a lot of things on roofs that you see, now if you don’t see those things, that’s because we’ve done a good job – that’s our goal.”

Capral Aluminium is a key supplier to Con-form Group providing regular supply of standard and exclusive Aluminium sections along with sheet and mesh products. Custom extrusions are a key element in the solutions Con-form create – Capral works hand in glove with the team to help develop exclusive extruded sections and ensure the business receives consistent and regular supply to its regionally located manufacturing site.

For Nigel, the value of a strong partner like Capral is not limited to reliable material supply.

“We get more value than a pallet of aluminium from Capral,” he said.

“It comes back to the culture again. What can we exchange as industry colleagues between each other, rather than simply being a supplier that a truck comes in and drops off something and you pay for it. That’s not what we’re about. We need to exchange data between ourselves so that we can grow together as industry partners.”

There have been significant changes within the Australian Aluminium industry over the past 24 months as many local manufactures grapple with material import issues and supply shortages, not to mention turbulent Aluminium pricing and LME fluctuations. Of course, manufacturers like Con-form who rely heavily on their ability to procure Aluminum to manufacture and satisfy customer needs in a timely fashion.

Capral’s NSW Industrial Market Manager Mark Murray works closely with the Con-form team to ensure their needs are being consistently met and they are abreast changing industry dynamics.

“Mark came out to visit us recently and that’s always great because things are changing so fast in the industry,” Nigel said. “Quicker than we can almost keep up with. He’s a wealth of knowledge so I really took that time to try and draw out a lot of things from him that I really didn’t know, and that really helped us as a company.”

Australian skills and materials

The Con-form Group team take pride in being able to innovate and rapidly develop bespoke solutions for clients. Employing a skilled team of engineers, draftspersons, fabricators, and installers and encouraging a culture of excellence and innovation, Nigel said employees are the company’s biggest asset.

“That will never change, regardless of what sort of building you operate from, or what sort of machinery have,” he explained. “Your biggest asset, your most valuable asset will always be your team. So we’ve gone through very carefully and picked our team. Those individual people absolutely have to share the same culture and the same values that we as business owners do.”

Agility and dynacism are two of those values which spread across the Con-form business footprint.

“I can go to our structural engineer who can do up a preliminary design sketch, send that through to the CAD team to draw it. It goes down to the machinery, which is fully automated, and I can have a sample on my desk within an hour. It’s as quick as that and that is very rarely seen,” Nigel added.

Equally important to Con-form’s business and success are strong industry partnerships with key suppliers. Nigel emphasised the importance of cultural fit and the significance this plays in selecting suppliers.

“We’re very proud to be an Australian manufacturer. In years gone past we, like a lot of companies, purchased a lot of things from offshore,” he said. “But as we realised what the importance to our customer is in timing as well as value of getting things local, we’ve brought a lot of things in house.”

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Con-form Group stands out in the market for its solution focus and as a Regional Australian manufacturer using Australian materials, ingenuity and labor. Nigel circled back to the most important mindset the company holds: focusing on what the customer is trying to achieve rather than simply responding to an order.

“Any roof, any pitch, any weight anywhere.” he said, “That’s our promise, we will create the solution our clients need, and we are glad to have partners like Capral to support us.”

To watch the video about the Con-form Group story, scan the QR code.