What has grown to become Australia’s largest plumbing industry association – and a trusted source of information, advice and expertise – started from humble beginnings. Kathryn Kernohan reports.
Keeping a business running, let alone thriving, for more than 30 years is no mean feat. For Dale Wilkinson, who established Melbourne’s All Pipes Plumbing Services 32 years ago, the achievement is even more significant. Kathryn Kernohan discovers why.
Dale Wilkinson is a specialist and, some might say, a man whose work is on the edge.
“I was the first one in Victoria to get live copper hot taps approved, and in fact it was the (now defunct) Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria that asked me to get involved in this space because they were seeing the demand for it but nobody was providing the service,” he says.
All Pipes Plumbing Services is one of only a handful of businesses in Victoria that provides hot tapping services, in addition to live diversions and pipe freezing.
Hot tapping involves the attachment of a branch connection and valve onto live and operating pipework, cutting holes into the operating pipeline and removing the wall section through the valve. One of the key reasons it is used is to repair areas that have been damaged or corroded, however hot tapping is also a method to add branches to modify the system.
Because the connection is made without shutting down the system, there is no interruption to the gas or water flow and no release of the product.
“From the point of view of a business, they cut shut down periods which saves them time and money. Also, if you have to shut down the system altogether, it adds additional time for testing to the end of the process,” says Dale.
There is no doubt hot tapping is a potentially dangerous intervention, given that workers are creating an ignition source in a combustible environment.
All Pipes Plumbing Services has four team members that are accredited and trained in hot tapping, and strong safety processes in place to support them. The business also works closely with Energy Safe Victoria, the state’s technical and safety regulator responsible for the safe generation, supply and use of electricity, gas and pipelines. Energy Safe Victoria must authorise any project that requires hot tapping before it commences.
“There aren’t too many other people that do hot tapping and I think that’s because it requires a certain mindset. You have to be a bit of a forward thinker. There’s not demand for these services every day of the week but you need to be prepared for when there is demand,” says Dale.
Another specialty area of All Pipes Plumbing Services is pipe freezing, which enables a water pipework system to be plugged, allowing work to be carried out on a particular section of the pipework. This means that it is not necessary to isolate or drain the entire water piping system.
Dale has been the sole proprietor of All Pipes Plumbing Services since he established the business. His career in the industry goes back even further, to when he began an apprenticeship in 1973, aged 16.
“My father was a carpenter so I grew up having exposure to the building trade, and even as a young boy I was never really interested in exploring anything else,” he says.
At age 28, he purchased a factory in Dandenong South and, in 2018, a factory in Somerton. Before then, his career had already taken him to different parts of Victoria including Fisherman’s Bend and the former Ford headquarters in Geelong, specialising in welded pipe fabrication and onsite welding.
The business now has a team of 14 staff members, including some who’ve been with Dale for close to 30 years, since the early days of All Pipes Plumbing Services.
Dale is also a strong advocate for welding as a career pathway, and hopes to see more young people entering the industry.
“Unfortunately there’s a lack of apprentices in the welding industry and over time our industry will suffer. It’s a great business to be part of but we need to be promoting it so people look at welding as an option over other pathways,” he says.
As for his own future, Dale says that despite having spent more than 45 years in the industry, he is not considering retirement anytime soon.
“I still enjoy what I do, so I’ve got no need to stop - I’ll keep working on.”