Among the innovations taking place in the essential fuel industry sectors, IOR Group, an Australian-owned business established in 1984, leads the way through an adoption of new technology, sound investments and rapid expansion.
On the back of an oil refinery in Eromanga, a little-known town in outback southwest Queensland where IOR originates, owners Stewart Morland and Ross Mackenzie have been steadfast in realising a shared vision — a vision to scale up the 24-hour company-owned Diesel Stops that service remote areas of Australia.
The business, in accordance with the pursuit of that vision, has grown exponentially with over 90 of these Diesel Stops now in effect all over the country while bolstering infrastructure and diversifying its customer portfolio for good measure.
One of the company’s core aims is to serve more customers in more places. It’s a unique model. Many of its regional depots are operated by local community members.
Bulk fuel is then distributed to surrounding communities and regionally based industries, such as long-distance transport, farming, local councils, mining and oil and gas.
As it offers fully integrated fuel management services, IOR handles most of its operations inhouse.
“We have infrastructure, capability and people across the entire Australian fuel supply chain” says Drew Leishman, IOR Head of Infrastructure. “IOR tries to do everything, within reason, ourselves. That’s the most important thing. We secure our own supply chain and COVID has taught us that’s more important now than ever.”
As a service provider to the remainder of the business, Drew’s role is to look after all assets.
That encompasses everything that goes with physical infrastructure including property from its construction to operation, service, maintenance, and keeping the multitude of fuel assets pumping every day.
Workshops also come under this portfolio.
In this day and age it’s a formidable business that foregoes the need to outsource any of its operational inputs to third parties. “We take a hands-on approach to our site development, including planning, legal, engineering and construction all being executed in-house,” says Drew. Fuel tank manufacturing takes place at IOR’s infrastructure hub in Eagle Farm.
IOR runs a fleet of around 110 trucks and 300 trailers as part of its transport operations, a business unit to itself.
Several new Hino trucks have been acquired of late as service vehicles to help with remote sites which, like everything, require maintenance.
On a normal preventative maintenance run, attendance of these new Hino 300 Series vehicles can involve minor tasks such as the replacement of parts and metre calibrations to major internal and external cleans.
The trucks are commonly fitted with a tray-back upon delivery.
After that point, the pump fit-outs, tanks and hydraulic-driven equipment is all installed in the IOR workshop. Breakdown maintenance might require the changing of hoses, nozzles and pumps, as well as different types of mechanical and electrical components. IOR technicians, according to Drew, must be multi-skilled.
In addition to breakdown and preventative maintenance they will participate in site builds, installations of underground and aboveground tanks and be asked to perform welding and electrical work — usually in remote Australia.
“They might even paint tanks and change stickers and decals,” he says. “These trucks have a couple of IBC containers in the back with hose reels and tools. They will have pipe racks on the roof and are driven thousands of kilometres or more to either fix something or build something.”
Drew’s team also runs a 24-hour hotline. Faults on sites are detected through a cloud-based telemetry system IOR has built.
In fact, that’s the project that brought Drew to the company ten years ago.
The online system, known as HyDip fuel management, runs the entire IOR network.
Fuel tank levels at all sites can be monitored online via HyDip in real-time. It also provides notifications for faults on hoses and dispensers.
“We have eyes through the cloud on every single facility and that’s what feeds into our maintenance plans and sending people all over the country,” explains Drew.
“That, if anything, sets us apart in the industry. We have got leading technology that has enabled us to establish remote unattended refuelling sites around the country, which wouldn’t have been possible without HyDip and this is why we have invested so heavily in it.”
IOR will have an engineer or technician onboard ready to assist customers should they call up with an issue on site.
“When a customer, no matter where they are, calls up for a fix on fuel tags or pin numbers or a reset they are talking to someone who actually goes out and fixes the tanks,” Drew says.
“That’s pretty unique at any hour of the day.” Unlike the company’s fuel service trucks, that are rented to third parties, the maintenance vehicles are not 4×4.
The fuel service trucks, however, are fitted with 5000 litres of diesel storage, some AdBlue, grease and air and are rented for use on large mine or construction sites before they are returned and refurbished by IOR for another project.
“I’m a fan of Hino and Toyota,” says Colin Quinn, IOR Infrastructure Fabrication Manager. “I find them robust and easier to service. The insides are always quite flash, it’s all buttons — like driving a car. They’re practical and good to run. When the rental vehicles come back to us, we’re only replacing mudguards and broken taillights. Nothing is rattled. They’re unshakeable in that sense.”
The relationship with Hino is relatively recent. Along with John Fraser who runs the Transport Division, Drew decided it was time for a change of OEM and a conversation with Sci Fleet Hino’s Nathan Murdoch proved fortuitous for both parties.
“To be quite honest he’s been awesome to deal with and he’s looked after us really well,” says Drew.
“So, we have kept going back for more. Any time we’ve wanted any factory extras, like PTOs or different guards or trays and fit-outs, they’ve always been accommodating.”
Partnering with Hino resonates on another level.
It enables the service and manufacturing team to continue in its mission to bring new refuelling services to regional and remote communities, in places like Quambone, or on King Island Airport, that might never have had fuel infrastructure beforehand.
“That’s what we do. We just continue to roll these facilities out,” says Drew.
“Our roots as a company are in the bush. That’s where we come from. Our business has always been about challenging ourselves and going out to remote and regional places, establishing new fuel and energy infrastructure, enabling remote communities with access to fuel, 24/7, and giving back by supporting organisations that save lives and improve people’s wellbeing. For years, IOR has been a major supporter of RACQ LifeFlight Rescue, Heart of Australia, It’s a Bloke Thing, Outback Futures, and the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service Queensland.”
Self-bunded fuel tanks are a major part of the rental business. These range from 1000-litre tanks up to 100,000-litre tanks.
There are more than 50 other small mobile fuel assets to rent which provide capacity for 2000-litre trailers and go up to 24,000-litre trailers for tow-around projects.
Agricultural customers, particularly in time for harvest, take the 24,000-litre self-bunded quad dog trailers according to Drew.
“They can be towed around the farm to fill up equipment. This way of bringing fuel to equipment in the field reduces downtime and enables massive productivity improvements at a critical time of the year,” he explains. “The smaller stuff is hired out by oil and gas groups and solar farms and civil construction projects, rail projects.”
The company continues to invest heavily in research and development to provide integrated fuel access, storage and management solutions to meet the specific needs of its customers.
In Yaraka, 220 kilometres south of Longreach, to give an indication of its isolation, the only option to refuel in the district was, previously, a 100-kilometre trip to Isisford before IOR developed a 24/7 refuelling site.
That required farmers and residents to make costly return journeys to purchase fuel.
Bedourie in the Simpson Desert is another new location in the IOR network. The refuelling site here will support connectivity and access to fuel for transporters from northern Queensland into South Australia.
“We’re building sites in the locations our customers need us most,” says Drew. “The more we connect the dots, the more the network grows, the further our customers will be able to go.”
Joining the refuelling sites with major highways is critical to this expansion strategy and sees the company growing its presence in metro areas.
Aviation fuels were added to the business in 2017 to expand and strengthen its services to remote and regional areas.
It follows the diesel network model, combining HyDip with aviation grade fuel tanks which it uses at regional airports.
IOR plans to further increase the number of airports it services in the coming year.
Back in February it was announced that IOR had secured a $15 million loan from the Queensland Government’s Building Acceleration Fund to help expedite the development of a new diesel import terminal at IOR’s site in the Port of Brisbane.
Operated as a Crude Oil Terminal until last year, the Lytton Terminal facility was constructed in 1984 and was acquired by IOR in 2008.
The planned upgrades will be critical for Southeast Queensland’s fuel security, introducing new fuel importing and storage infrastructure.
Upon completion, the Terminal will provide Brisbane with 110 million litres of new domestic diesel storage. IOR is commissioning an estimated $50 million of works.
For perspective on the scale of the project, the site’s existing 50ML tank is being repurposed for diesel storage, two new tanks are being erected for extra diesel capacity and one new tank for biodiesel additive.
Various upgrades have also been greenlit including improvements to the containment bund, electrical infrastructure as well as delivery of new diesel loading pumps and loading bays, and construction of a 4km pipeline to the nearby wharf complete with new marine loading arms.
The project will support over 260 construction and eight operational jobs. “IOR’s core business is the on-road refuelling sites and bulk fuel. But each business unit including lubricants, aviation and tank rentals are essential to IOR and our customers in their own rights,” says Drew.
“Together it just creates a great proposition and capability that can do a lot of things for a lot of people. If someone calls us for support on their project, in most cases, we can solve nearly all of their problems in one hit.” Cohesion across the business is therefore vital.
The two directors Stewart Morland and Ross Mackenzie, according to Drew, are still both in the office every day.
“They are heavily focused on getting the terminal up and running in Brisbane and keep on investing in the business,” he says, “It’s exciting. That’s why I’ve stayed as long as I have and will continue to. It’s such a good place to work. There’s never a dull moment.”
Despite ongoing scarcities in global markets that continue to ripple across the world, it’s reassuring to see dedicated energy, ambition and Australian knowhow are not, at least where IOR is concerned, resources in short supply.