The evolution of the Australian pump industry – Part 1

As Pump Industry Australia Inc (PIA) – formerly known as the Australian Pump Manufacturers Association – celebrates fifty years of continuous operation, we take a look back over the early years of the Australian pump industry, and the role APMA/PIA has played.

PIA_50_cover smallWhile APMA/PIA celebrates 50 years of continuous operation in 2014, the history of the Australian pump industry dates back at least as far as the gold rush of the 19th Century.

Some of Australia’s early history in pump manufacture is represented by two family owned businesses, which still operate, albeit with several changes of ownership since their early days. Both of these organisations are over a century old and have grown out of the earliest Australian export trades of gold and agricultural produce. The oldest, Southern Cross, started in Queensland in 1871 making wooden windmills for pumping ground water. The business grew over the decades to the point where Southern Cross became a household name in rural communities and has continued to this day through various changes of ownership.

In 1875, when the gold rush in Victoria was in full swing, much of the recovery of alluvial gold was undertaken using hydraulic sluicing methods. Thompsons Castlemaine had their beginnings with the manufacture of centrifugal and reciprocating pumps for sluicing and mine dewatering.

By the 1930s and 1940s, as Australia industrialised, more pump manufacturing companies emerged in Australia. Mono Pumps first began manufacturing progressing cavity pumps in 1935 and their heritage today is still built on this world-renowned design.

One of the biggest developments in the early days of the Australian pump industry was the development of the Warman slurry pump in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, in 1938. The pump was invented by Charles Warman, a young draftsman working at a gold mine in the area. He saw the need for some improvements in slurry pump technology and set out to improve the design.

By 1938 he had made several improvements to slurry pump design and had taken out patents on his ideas. He improved the seal so that it was simpler and required little maintenance. He introduced a rubber lining which could be replaced easily. The pumps were manufactured and marketed from Kalgoorlie until 1955, when they accounted for about 90 per cent of the Western Australian market.

Warman slurry pumps are still manufactured today, now by Weir Minerals, who acquired Warman in 1999. The Warman range of slurry pumps are still regarded as the most comprehensive range of slurry pumps around the world.

The industry grows

The 1950s and 1960s proved to be a period of major growth for the Australian pump industry. Manufacturers (such as those mentioned above) continued to flourish, and international companies established a presence in Australia, such as Franklin Electric, whose products were imported into Australia from the 1950s, and established an Australian affiliate in 1962.

Other key players in the market included Kelly & Lewis, Industrial Engineering and Ingersoll Rand.

Local pump manufacturing was competitive in those times and Australia had quite a good export market into the Asia Pacific region. Kelly & Lewis even had a Singapore office, managed by Ken Willcock, to help develop the Southeast Asian market, giving the company quite a competitive edge.

Continue to Part 2 – The APMA is formed >>

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