50 Years in business

50 Years - 50 Stories: Yatala Brewery Upgrade

Aquatec Maxcon 50 Years 50 Stories  Yatala Story

The brewery at Yatala, (located strategically between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, originally known as the Power Brewing Company) was built in 1988 by entrepreneur Bernie Power to compete mainly against the Brisbane based brewery Castlemaine Perkins, who produced the iconic XXXX beer, and the local arm of Carlton and United Breweries (CUB).

Bernie subsequently entered a joint venture to form Queensland Breweries with CUB in 1992 and sold out in 1993, whereupon CUB ceased production of beer in their Fortitude Valley facility.

Based on the advantages of anaerobic technology for treatment of high strength wastes, CUB and consultant GHD commenced discussions with Aquatec Maxcon early in 1993; Aquatec Maxcon having recently successfully installed and commissioned the Paques BV designed UASB (upflow anaerobic sludge blanket) system in the Golden Circle Cannery, not far from Yatala. Around the same time, Aquatec Maxcon was in preliminary discussions with Cadbury for staged anaerobic effluent treatment trials at their chocolate factory in Claremont, Tasmania. It was clear that the Paques BV UASB technology was becoming well respected in Australia for food industry wastes in particular.

Anaerobic treatment advantages include that granular sludge can be dormant for months, unlike aerobic sludge; there are minimal power requirements; and a relatively small footprint is required (compared to aerobic treatment). Most importantly, it was a process fundamental at Yatala that the quality of the treated effluent from the plant comply with industrial inflow pollutant limits applicable to the local sewage treatment plant without the need for aerobic polishing.

Aquatec Maxcon, in conjunction with Paques BV, then finalised the flowsheet with the interested parties, and we built the plant to a very tight timeline for commissioning in December 1993. Upstream equipment included an Aquatec Maxcon inlet screen and clarifier.

As is usual with large anaerobic plants, Aquatec Maxcon worked with CUB for some time to optimise the performance of the plant and to that end Aquatec Maxcon employed a keen and knowledgeable university student who was undertaking a masters thesis on anaerobic treatment. When optimized, the plant operated very reliably and well within effluent quality specification requirements.

Being an anaerobic plant with the associated generation of methane, Aquatec Maxcon originally installed a gas storage and flare facility, however, a year or so later, the CUB plant engineer (Charlie Foxall) installed equipment to use the methane gas as fuel in the brewery boilers. Charlie worked with Aquatec Maxcon right from the start, and his faith in the UASB technology was strong. So strong that years later when CUB expanded the capacity of the brewery, Charlie preferred for the major upgrade of the effluent treatment to tertiary quality, that Aquatec Maxcon base the design on UASB settlers in lieu the more recent Paques upgraded IC (internal circulation) anaerobic treatment design.

Of interest, the major Yatala brewery upgrade was brought about by the closure of the CUB-owned Tooths Kent brewery in Broadway, Sydney. CUB then invited Aquatec Maxcon to review all the redundant equipment from the Kent brewery and piece together as many components as possible to use for the design and installation of an effluent treatment plant at the CUB-owned Samoan Breweries plant at Vailema (Apia).

This was the first treatment facility of any kind in Western Samoa; and another successful Aquatec Maxcon installation.

Story submitted by Geoff Parker.

Aquatec Maxcon Yatala 50 years UASB

Above: A little piece of Aquatec Maxcon history. Article about Yatala from Industry Magazine, circa 1993/94.

50 Years - 50 Stories: Maroochy Excel Water Alliance - The First of the Alliances


In the early 2000s, Aquatec Maxcon experienced significant growth due to our becoming part of several Alliances. The first of these Alliances was with Maroochy Water (better known as Unitywater now).

The value of the Maroochy ExcelWater Alliance was not quantified in revenue as much as the impact it had on the community. For instance - The $1.3 million dollar project resulted in Maroochydore Sewage Treatment Plant increasing the capacity of its ‘B’ plant by 40% - giving the plant a total capacity of 15.5ML/d. This sort of result would be a lot more difficult to achieve these days, even though we now have access to more resources.  

Our Maroochy ExcelWater Alliance Team was comprised of Maroochy Water Services, Aquatec Maxcon, John Wilson & Partners, and Ward Civil & Environmental – all working together to deliver the best for project outcomes. The project commenced during September 2000, 20 years ago (at the time of this writing), and was commissioned in June 2001. Excellent co-operation between the Alliance partners realised the true potential of the existing infrastructure, resulting in the plant being commissioned ahead of schedule and slightly under the Target Cost.

The Maroochy ExcelWater Alliance was the first project undertaken in Queensland using the Alliancing form of delivery for major water infrastructure projects. It showed that doing things differently together leads to success for both the client, consultants and the contractors. We consider this one of the most significant chapters of our 50 year story and an important milestone of our long term relationship with Unitywater, opening doors for us to join other Alliances in South East Queensland such as BWEA (Brisbane Water Enviro Alliance).

 Maroochydore STP Aquatec Maxcon ExcelWater Alliance

50 Years - 50 Stories: Luggage Point - The Early Days

50 Years - 50 Stories - Luggage Point Continued Warren Liebke

Job 552 – A Baptism of Fire – Luggage Point

The following is a story submitted by Warren Liebke, Technical Writer, who has been with the Company for over 40 years! Warren began his career as an apprentice boilermaker with Maxwell Contracting - his first assignment being general assistance with site work at Luggage Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. It was a steep learning curve for young Warren, the mystifying jargon of the waste water world and the stench of the waste itself proving quite a challenge for a young lad to adapt to...

I first set foot on the premises of Maxwell Contracting on the morning of Wednesday, June 18, 1980; as I nervously made my way towards the entrance to the workshop, a booming voice behind me stopped me in my tracks – ‘The Voice’ introduced itself as Peter Maxwell.

Upon the completion of a very concise ‘workshop-induction’ – comprised only of Peter pointing to the toilet door as we walked briskly past – I was initially assigned to Howard Whitehouse, the company handyman.

After several days under Howard’s tutelage (and now able to decipher his impenetrable Yorkshire dialect) I was approached by another gentleman, who introduced himself as Barney Hackney. I was to be reassigned to assist Barney on a work site at the mouth of the Brisbane River – the name meant nothing to me at the time - "Luggage Point".

Barney’s instructions were clear, concise and non-negotiable, “Be at my place tomorrow morning at six o’clock, do not be late.”

I promptly arrived at the said address, transferred to Barney’s company ute – he was waiting with the motor running - and commenced the journey to Luggage Point. While travelling, Barney enjoyed listening to the radio and talking incessantly about... budgerigars. Unfortunately, I was unable to enhance my knowledge of this Australian native bird as the volume Barney had set the radio to made hearing any spoken word impossible. Interestingly; Barney would always turn off the heater long before we arrived at the work site, “So we can acclimatise to the outside temperature when we have to get out the ute” was his rationale – I declined to challenge this flawless logic.

Having arrived at our destination we passed through the main gate; Barney continued on past several permanent buildings and demountable lunch rooms to proceed towards – in the distance – a number of large circular concrete structures, eventually parking under the overhang of the first tank.

“This is Luggage Point Treatment Plant; Maxwell Contracting are building a number of clarifiers for installation in these tanks – this particular kind of clarifier is a ‘suction-lift’ type…” With the radio now turned off I could finally hear Barney’s precis – I had absolutely no idea what a clarifier was, what it did, or how it worked; Barney continued using terms like feedwell, centre column, baffle, scum box, top water level – my head was spinning with this new terminology. And if I thought my head was spinning – while in the relative confines of the ute – it was nothing compared to the experience when I first opened the door.

While the dust, permeating throughout the site generated by the constant flow of construction traffic on dusty tracks stung my eyes and dried out my mouth; and the noise, from the adjacent pneumatic equipment degenerated any communication between Barney and I to sign language; it was ultimately the smell that hit me like a Mike Tyson right hook.

As I stood by the ute in mild disbelief - my eyes were stinging, my mouth felt like the bottom of a parrot cage, my ears were ringing and the stench made me want to be sick.

Armed with a myriad of plastic bags; the labelled tags referencing all the nuts, bolts and washers assigned to a specific assembly drawing, Barney and I were ready for work. To access the peripheral walkway – surrounding the closest clarifier tank – was firstly to find, and secondly to climb, the sadly-neglected wooden ladder allocated for access to this specific tank.

Once this obstacle was negotiated, one received an extraordinary view of the sheer size of the concrete tanks and the parcel of land set aside for the development of the site.

Mercifully; the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made and over the forthcoming weeks I became accustomed to the ‘Luggage Point experience'; and more importantly – via Barney imparting his vast knowledge – began to understand the terminology, and the workings, of a ‘suction-lift’ clarifier.

One evening I received a phone call from Peter Maxwell – “Report to the factory tomorrow morning at six o’clock, do not be late.”

The following morning; I dutifully arrived at the workshop to be introduced to John Maxwell – Peter’s brother; I was to continue to work at Luggage Point with John Maxwell as my new supervisor.

As with Barney; John and I worked hard, initially installing – per clarifier tank – the hot-dip galvanised centre column, bridge support structure and finally the three aluminium ‘truss’ bridges.

Once the basic structures were in place, we would dispense with John’s HQ Holden ute and start driving the company five-ton truck to site – the tray loaded with suction-lift pipes, fibreglass scrapers and more plastic bags full of nut, bolts and washers. After several weeks labouring hard on the project, John advised me we were to receive two more staff members to increase productivity.

Little did I know I was about to meet – and work along beside – the legendary John ‘Joe’ ‘Blakey’ Blake… who became my supervisor not long after.

Blakey and I were like a ‘well-oiled’ machine, we were, figuratively-speaking, ‘cooking’ – and it certainly felt that way in the confines of those concrete tanks as the daytime temperatures increased.

[Our tans were coming along beautifully…]

Before we knew it, Christmas was just a few weeks away – one afternoon, after we arrived back at the workshop, Peter Maxwell – in his inimitable style – announced we had three more days at Luggage Point to have one clarifier operational. Blakey had only just requested the council start filling one of the tanks with water to allow preliminary testing and argued we needed another week.

The ensuing discussion was fruitless – Blakey desperately outlined what was required prior to having a clarifier operational. Peter Maxwell did not listen to a word. We had three days…

Tasked with meeting an impossible deadline, John and I concentrated purely on the first clarifier mechanism; double checking every nut and bolt was secure and all threads covered in a liberal coat of anti-seize paste. We confirmed every slide gate mechanism operated as per the design, and all drive and idler wheels were correctly aligned and did not scuff.

After completing two particularly arduous days on site, the final Friday morning arrived – the tank was only half-full of water, though it was still at least two metres deep at the outer periphery. After a final check of the equipment, Blakey pressed the “Start” button. At first, I thought nothing was happening – it was not until I looked more closely did I realise the mechanism was actually moving. A quick calculation in my head – drive wheel circumference multiplied by gearmotor RPM – provided me with an approximate speed of two metres per minute, a very leisurely amble.

The clarifier operated perfectly – Blakey and I celebrated the milestone by diving off the bridge into the water below; after lunch, and after another couple of dives from the still rotating bridge mechanism, we tidied the area, packed our tools – returned a ‘borrowed’ council radio – and like cormorants standing on a partially exposed tree stump, their wings outstretched – John and I dried ourselves in the sun.

Our time at Luggage Point had come to an end – at no stage did we have to sign in or out every time we left the site, neither did we have to confirm we had been immunised against a plethora of contagious diseases, we never attended a site induction, we did not have to keep a record of our daily work schedule – no-one had heard of an ITP…

To Barney Hackney, John Maxwell and John 'Blakey' Blake – who introduced me to the challenges of site work; I thank them sincerely. My eventual return to the factory gave me the privilege to work with a number of quality tradesmen; Robert Mason, David Kreis, Phil Gray to name but a few… My thanks also to these men.

Luggage Point has continued to operate successfully since the 80's and we continue to enjoy a wonderful working relationship with QUU (Queensland Urban Utiliities). 

50 Years - 50 Stories: Luggage Point - The beginning.

50 Years - 50 Stories - Luggage Point WWTP Clarifier Greg Johnston

The following is a story about Aquatec Maxcon's first Luggage Point project experienced first-hand by Greg Johnston, ex-Managing Director of Aquatec Maxcon Group. At the time, Greg was a young engineer just starting his career at Aquatec Maxcon.. He was also the only engineer!

In the late 1970s (about 1977), Brisbane City Council called for tenders for 8 x 140 ft. (42.7m) diameter suction lift secondary clarifiers for Luggage Point. Our company had built a few suction lift clarifiers and drew the tender documents, but we were initially dissuaded from tendering because the specification required many features that seemed to be specific to a competitor and were very unusual. These included 3 bridges for each clarifier constructed from aluminium while the scrapers, sludge collection troughs and feedwell were all to be constructed from glass reinforced plastic - materials of which our firm had limited or no experience at that time. The feedwell was also to be fixed with a siphon to transfer sludge from the collection channels on each bridge to a channel in the feedwell and eventually the outlet pipe, while our usual design used direct gravity flow and required a rotating feedwell. Given that the client seemed to have a specific competing technology in mind, it was initially decided not to bid, especially given the scale of the project and the fact that another significant order appeared imminent. Unfortunately, that order fell through and with only 1 week until the tender closing date, Mr. Peter Maxwell decided that our company would bid and demanded that a complying design be produced ...immediately.

I did a rough design for the hydraulics, structural and mechanical components of the clarifiers quite literally overnight which was quite a challenge as in those days I was the only engineer. The design was sufficient to issue enquiries for the kilometres of aluminium sections and to find a fibreglass manufacturer willing to embark on the project with us.. as well as all the usual mechanical and electrical components, some of which were “super-sized” – the centre bearing for each mechanism was a slewing ring 1,000mm in diameter. There was also the complexities associated with having 3 bridges driven by a single drive unit.

After a very, very taxing week, the tender was delivered and we attended the tender opening. The first bid read out was that of the company whose technology appeared specified and it was more than double our tendered price. I thought at that point that I must have made some terrible errors, but this appeared not to be the case as later bids were lower. The second last bid was that of a company that was usually a little dearer than us. Our tender was read out last and appeared to be the lowest offer by around 10%.

Brisbane City Council invited us to attend a tender interview which was recorded and chaired by Fred Greehalgh, the Head of the Water and Sewerage Department at the time. Mr Greenhalgh made it plain that he was concerned by our company’s limited experience with this type of equipment and the fact that we had never built a mechanism of similar design, especially given that Luggage Point was Brisbane’s largest facility and one of the largest in Australia. He had approximately 20 engineers in attendance, each one was a specialist in some specific aspect of the clarifiers (hydraulics, structural, bearings, sliprings, gearboxes, motors, corrosion, electrical etc.) each of whom had a series of questions. Peter Maxwell dealt with the manufacturing and commercial questions while I dealt with all the technical enquiries. After some gruelling hours of detailed questioning, Peter Maxwell said that he thought that we had demonstrated that we knew what we were doing, but that one young engineer having to deal on the spot with very detailed questioning from 20 experts seemed a bit one sided, so he requested that any remaining questions be put in writing and that we be given a week to answer. We were able to satisfactorily answer all the enquiries and after a second (much more friendly) meeting, we were awarded the project. This was the largest project that the company had been awarded up to that time.

The Letter of Acceptance was duty stamped and attached to the updated tender schedules and correspondence which, together with the Specification and Commercial Conditions, resulted in a Contract document only about 10mm thick in total. This is in stark contrast to the reams of paper that are typically consumed in contracts today that frequently seem almost too large for one person to carry.

Calculations for all flow and load cases were undertaken manually which was quite some undertaking, (some of which was completed on Saturday mornings in the rose garden outside Geyer’s Pharmacy in Inglewood where Tammy was a relieving pharmacist). The design resulted in our requiring dies to be produced for 80 x 80 x 5 box section as no aluminium sections were available in such large sizes, which seems hard to believe today. On inspection when the first delivery was made to our factory, chatter marks were evident in the material resulting in the entire batch (over 500m of material) being rejected. The jig on which the bridges were made was also the subject of some controversy as it was precambered differing amounts on each side, causing considerable consternation among the workshop staff who insisted on trial loading a number of load cases on the first bridge completed in the workshop. Much to everyone’s delight, it performed exactly as designed and the remaining bridges and components were rapidly produced.

The bridges were configured something like a “Mercedes star” hinged from a central bearing and steel pylon, platform and feed pipe with one bridge having an innovative peripheral drive unit which also drove the remaining 2 trailing bridges and resulted in a drive system which was very easy to access and maintain compared to conventional centrally driven designs typically used on large multi-bridge clarifiers of this type.

The glass-reinforced plastic components were produced to an excellent standard by Rapid Fibreglass, commencing a relationship that continued for many years. The siphon priming system was automated to detect impending loss of siphon prime and automatically reprime.

The concrete structures were built by day labour by Brisbane City Council under the supervision of Alan Ginn and were also built to a remarkably high standard with all dimensions and levels accurate to only a very few millimetres. This level of accuracy and meticulous attention to detail resulted in installation proceeding very smoothly as well as commissioning and proving trials, demonstrating the care and attention to planning that had been initiated from the project commencement.

The project proved to be very successful in all respects, being delivered on time and the smooth delivery resulting in costs well under budget, despite the very short time spent preparing the tender. The mechanisms have operated continuously other than expected maintenance, for well over 40 years, demonstrating the high standards maintained throughout.

Since this time, Aquatec Maxcon have enjoyed a long and very productive relationship with Queensland Urban Utilities, with our partnership resulting in many successful ventures through the decades.

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