Business Feature, Earthmoving Industry Insight

QH&M Birt hits scraper century

He’s been operating for 48 years and has moved earth all over Queensland, but QH & M Birt managing director Quentin Birt says his job is all about people

QH & M Birt managing director Quentin Birt (left) with Hastings Deering’s sales manager – hydraulic excavators Brett Lenz

Milestones don’t mean much to Quentin Birt – but he’s not only passed a few; in some cases, he’s installed them.

Since starting Tier 1 contractor QH & M Birt back in 1973 “with a station wagon, a wheelbarrow and a shovel”, the company today has a reputation for pioneering some of the largest infrastructure works in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Among the more recent jobs are the Toowoomba second Range Crossing in South East Queensland – an 8km section encompassing a new four-lane divided highway and realignment of numerous local roads, which involved drilling and blasting of basalt materials along with shifting seven million cubic metres of natural earth.

Moura’s Kianga Creek Diversion involved eight million cubic metres of excavation and spoil shaping, while Eliwana Rail, a $125 million venture in the Pilbara in Western Australia for the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), required 3.2 million cubic metres of excavation along with 1.9 million cubic metres of engineered road formation.

The company’s stamp is on a vast array of projects across the country.

From Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria with a project creating tailings’ storage facility for GEMCO, to construction of one of the final sections of Cooroy to Curra Highway in Queensland, to BHP’s Olympic Dam in South Australia.

It’s a long journey from Birt’s very first jobs: excavating a carpark for Australia Post in Brisbane’s southern suburbs; and later creating a small road at Queensland University’s St Lucia Campus, which led to a 10-year working relationship.

“There have been hundreds of jobs, so it is difficult to really think of one as a favourite or the most challenging,” he says.

“The University job is a standout, along with a dam in Croydon, the Amrun Mine development for Rio Tinto, Eliwana Rail for FMG and the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing.”

To help meet the tasks required of these jobs, QBirt has the largest privately-owned scraper fleet in Australia, with its size putting it among the top five in the world.

The Brisbane-based entrepreneur has bought 415 machines from Hastings Deering since buying his first Caterpillar motor grader in 1976 and says he’s no longer surprised by any advances in technology.

“The advancements in communication, survey, materials handling, hydraulics, etc. are enormous,” he says.

“The scraper is a specialised unit, which can cut and load material, transport, then place in a select manner.

While the principle of what a wheel tractor scraper does has virtually remained the same since Cat launched the DW21 scraper back in 1950, today’s machines are equipped with features driven by increasing productivity, electronic clutch pressure control (ECPC) transmissions, advanced cushion hitches, wet disc brakes and more efficient engines. This means we can move dirt more efficiently.”

Hastings Deering’s sales manager – hydraulic excavators Brett Lenz has worked closely with Birt for the last 15 years, selling him 205 of those machines: a relationship that started in 2007 on a bauxite mine in Gove in the Northern Territory.

“Quentin is a bit of a quiet achiever in this space and has never gloated about the number of machines he owns. In fact, I don’t doubt he would even know the exact number of his fleet,” says Lenz.

To mark QBirt’s 100th scraper, Hastings Deering had the Cat 657 wrapped with a special design highlighting Birt’s love of cricket 

New additions

That fleet increased in size again earlier this year, with the addition of not one, but six, of Caterpillar’s new first production Cat 657 wheel tractor scrapers – among which was the hundredth bought by the contractor.

QH & M Birt was the first company in the world to receive the new models, which Lenz says is “a real achievement”.

“They are equipped with twin engines [a Cat C18 in the tractor and a Cat C15 in the bowl] providing over 1,000 horsepower (746kW) to the machine,” he says.

“It has the latest features like Sequence Assist built into it to make the machine more productive. The cab is the same as the previous K Series cabs in the 300 series, so operators love being in them.”

Lenz adds that Birt has been a champion of the wheel tractor scraper for some time now.

“He has long been aware of their capability and productivity on a job site and this is why he has so many in his fleet,” he says.

“Some contractors don’t fully appreciate the advantages of a scraper. Their benefits go beyond immediate cost or maintenance to their performance. They are the most efficient way to move dirt over shorter distances than any other product.”

For Hastings Deering, the acquisition of QBirt’s hundredth scraper was a milestone worth marking, with Lenz taking the lead on a project to pay a fitting tribute.

“I’d considered a number of ideas, but I eventually settled on wrapping the machine because, as far as I was aware of, this had never been done globally before,” says Lenz.

“I wanted something to show the world: a machine that made a bold statement. Quentin is a cricket tragic and loves the game, so we decided to incorporate his love of the game and scrapers into one montage.

“When you look at the draft arm on a scraper, it makes perfect sense to put a cricket bat on it. So, with this idea in my head, I worked with an external design and wrap company to come up with the design we see today.

“It says a bit about everything he means to us and the industry and I thought it fitting that we show the world how important a customer he is to us. When I saw the look and emotion on his face when we unveiled the machine from under the black satin sheet, I knew we had made the impact I had hoped for.”

For Birt, standing there with his wife Kylie and their extended family, he concedes it was an emotional moment.

“I was speechless,” he says.

“I was astounded and appreciative of the thought and work done by so many people. Milestones come and go, but relationships – that’s what it is all about.

“To be honest, milestones mean very little as I don’t keep such records. What is important is we have remained in business for 48 years and the relationships we have built with people we have worked with, including Hastings Deering, are enduring. Machines are important, but you need to be working with the right people.”

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