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Pipe dream becomes booming business for Adelaide duo

Business

An Adelaide company started in 2019 by two technicians who met inspecting gas pipes in the desert has grown to a staff of more than 70 as it expands nationally.

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Kimal Singh and Josh Cleary met in the Cooper Basin and decided to pursue their shared dream of streamlining the non-destructive testing sector.

They started NDE Solutions in Singh’s backyard shed in November 2019 and moved to Hindmarsh last year, a site they are fast outgrowing.

The company is now drafting plans for a purpose-built site at the Tonsley Innovation District, which will include an advanced manufacturing component for building its hi-tech inspection gadgets.

“I met Josh at Santos, we drove around for two weeks performing inspections in the desert and we just spoke openly about our dream to revolutionise the industry,” Singh told InDaily.

“Where we have disrupted the market has been in finding people who are aligned with our vision and that helps us be a lot more efficient and deliver quality services.

“Then we invested heavily in a lot of technology and we started a large traineeship program.

“Essentially we’re appealing to the accountants of a firm by reducing their costs through efficiency and to the engineers by reducing their risk through the higher probability of detection.”

NDE now has a branch in Brisbane and is in the early days of operation from Perth and Darwin. It is also running operations from Roxby Downs in the state’s Far North where it services clients BHP and Santos.

Other major clients include Chevron, RioTinto and defence shipbuilder ASC.

“We inspect assets – tanks, pressure vessels and piping mainly – and then we identify if there is any corrosion, cracking or anything that can cause the asset to fail and cause an explosion, loss of life or lost production,” Singh said.

“So the consequences are pretty high and we’re that line of defence.

“We’d like to hit 100 staff this financial year and we think that’s achievable. But we are struggling to get enough staff in this job market like anyone else and there’s a long lead time to get someone to technician level.”

NDE has teamed up with Brewed Engagement Extended Reality Laboratory, better known as BEER Labs, who share the Hindmarsh site and are also looking to co-locate at Tonsley.

BEER Labs is a software company helping to bring some of NDE’s hi-tech tools to life through augmented reality.

Gadgets developed so far include a specialised augmented reality headset for conducting inspections remotely, the world’s first eddy current array crawler for inspecting pipes in difficult-to-access locations and a rapid pipe scanner.

The rapid scanner is fitted to the outside of a pipe and has smart sensors and proprietary software built in to assess the integrity of the asset and capture data.

“All of our product suites are being designed and built to be used remotely. We’re simplifying the human component so data can be captured with more certainty under our remote supervision, which will allow people who don’t have as much experience to do it,” Singh said.

“We believe augmented reality has got a huge implication for our industry to connect remote experts with people in the field and we are leading the way in performing those remote inspections.”

The rapid scanner prototype is already in use and the full production model will be assembled this month ahead of more field trials in August and September.

“It’s going to deliver huge value to our clients and also completely lower their risk – there’s nothing out there like it.

“It’s a completely South Australian-made innovation and it will change the face of pipe inspection globally.”

NDE plans to use its devices to service clients in Australia but is looking to manufacture and sell them to pipe inspection teams overseas from next year.

It has also split into two divisions – a service division and a technology division with the Tonsley site to include a rapid prototyping and manufacturing facility.

“It will give us the chance to work alongside some great companies there like SAGE Automation, Micro-X and BAE down there – it’s a happening spot and the internet is lightning fast,” Singh said.

“We were always planning to do our own technology, we just didn’t know we’d do it so quickly and we didn’t realise there would be a path to commercialisation that quickly either.

“It’s been tough to grow so fast but it’s been such a good ride.

“We thought where we are now might take us 10 years plus but we just held on.

“These things have got a mind of their own, almost a will of their own and now the organisation is not one or two people – it’s a cybernetic organism of computers, equipment and people and it just wants to go.”

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