Hunter-based Cougar Mining Group acquisition of Industrea Mining Equipment sees it become an Original Equipment Manufacturer with global potential

FORWARD PLANNING: "We knew there was a storm coming and that we needed to build a bigger boat," says Chad Dillinger of the recent mining downturn.
FORWARD PLANNING: "We knew there was a storm coming and that we needed to build a bigger boat," says Chad Dillinger of the recent mining downturn.

 Cougar employs more than 100 staff as a local mining service company. How and when did it start?

Cougar Mineworks was founded on New Year’s Eve, 1998, by Craig Barnett. Craig started as a contract fitter working in the Queensland mines with two underground hire machines. In 2009, Craig and I started Cougar Minehire. In 2012 the Cougar Mining Group was established by merging a number of mining services companies.

 How did the business grow and diversify?

The mining industry radically slowed down between 2013 and 2015, with most of the global mining services companies retracting from Australia due to lack of demand. This created opportunities for smaller more dynamic companies to fill the space. Cougar was employing key people and buying equipment when others were down sizing and shutting down. Today there are four operating entities: Cougar Mining Group, Cougar IME (Industrea Mining Equipment), Cougar Drilling and Cougar Stratajacks

  What are its current services?

Cougar Mining Group has the second largest underground hire fleet in Australia offering run of mine and longwall relocation equipment. We offer field service, repair & overhaul and spare parts support in NSW, QLD, Tasmania and China. Cougar Mining Group specialises in Mechanical and Electrical service and support.

The most recent acquisition of Industrea Mining Equipment assets and creation of Cougar IME gives Cougar the ability to manufacture a full range of underground equipment as well as the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) rights and responsibilities for 800 machines world-wide.

Cougar Drilling’s inseam directional drilling specialises in pre and post gas drainage as well as equipment manufacture of modular and track mounted drill rigs.

Cougar Stratajacks offer underground strata support, ventilation control, high volume void fill & long-distance grout pumping. We manufacture our own standing supports, specialised pumping systems and have also developed our own non-shrink cellular grout.

 What were the main challenges in growth?

Finding working capital to fund growth while the global mining industry was in a radical downturn; Cougar had out grown traditional bank funding and private lenders were sceptical on when or if the industry would recover.

Cougar had out grown traditional bank funding and private lenders were sceptical on when or if the industry would recover.

Chad Dillinger

 When the most recent mining downturn started to bite, how did it affect your business?

Our core business is rental of equipment and men, utilisation is our key driver. Rental equipment and contract labour is the first to be sent home when things become tight, we saw our rental fleet utilisation drop to less than 25 per cent.

 How did it respond?

We knew there was a storm coming and that we needed to build a bigger boat. We employed the highest quality people we could and we purchased as much equipment as possible while the market was down. We worked on our own equipment when there was little external work and we created other offerings to give depth to the business. We remained upbeat and confident that the market would return and we were prepared to change direction at short notice.

  What is the company’s turnover today and staff levels?

 Cougar employs more than 140 people across NSW, Queensland and China with our FY18 revenue forecast at $60 million.

 What are new areas of business?

Directional drilling is one of our newer ventures and has already proven to be successful and in-demand. In the 18 months since inception, drilling has grown from a single-rig to a five-rig operation. We have appointed a general manager to the Stratajack business and will focus on high volume Jack installs both surface and Inseam.

And of course, the production of new mechanical and electrical equipment under the Cougar IME brand.  

 What innovation is happening within the company?

We have multiple R&D projects across the group, the one I feel the community is most interested in is our project to reduce human exposure to diesel particulates.  We are following a three-staged approach: Further development of our tier 3 rated mechanical engines for underground; re-generative Diesel Particulate Matter system with a targeted 2000-hour life cycle; and replacing diesel engines with battery powered technology.

 Cougar recently acquired Industrea Mining Equipment assets from General Electric (GE). What was the price of the deal and why did Cougar make the move?

I am unable to disclose the figures in the deal but GE were most interested in finding an acquirer who would support the customer base, the employees and the fleet of equipment globally - Cougar was the perfect fit. We saw this as a strategic move to become the OEM for a globally recognised brand of underground equipment.

 What will the acquisition allow Cougar to do that it hasn’t done prior?

Become an OEM which allows us to manufacture heavy equipment as well as the know-how to support the underground coal industry

  What is key to Cougar’s ability to grow despite the pressures on the sector?

Our team is the backbone of our success, customers and suppliers have also been loyal. Furthermore, we have some special individuals who have invested in Cougar with a handshake as security.

 What is in the pipeline?

As a group, our pipeline is in excess of $100m with more than 80 per cent of our order book contracted for the next 24 months. We are now focused on sustainability and profitability as we head into our 20th year of business as Cougar.