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Perils and pitfalls of purchasing an AD plant

Trelawney Dampney

Trelawney Dampney on customer service and client relationships

We’ve just bought an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant. The purchase was an interesting experience, as was the variation in submissions and responses from those tendering.One thing that was common across the board was the appalling level of customer care demonstrated by the various plant suppliers we contacted. There was one notable exception, who we ended up buying from.

When someone is trying to get a budget cost from you for a tender, you reply to emails and phone calls as soon as you can, even if it’s just to say “I’m on it and I’ll get back to you in the next few days”. You do not ignore a potential client who is saying “I have a site with planning permission, an environmental permit, over £3m to build it and I’d like to spend it with you”. 

I was amazed at the amount of chasing we had to do just to get people to respond. I can only assume that, even in these cash-strapped times, the AD construction industry is so busy that companies really do not want the work. Once you have won the tender - remembering that your client has not signed the contract yet - you do not send them a two-page contract that says on page 1 “we’re going to build you an AD plant” and on page 2 “you’ll like it”.

You sort out a suitable contract, preferably based on something like the IChemE Red Book, using a good solicitor to assist and speed the process on. You also do not wait until you have won a tender and are well into contract negotiations with your client before sorting out the supply contract with your German technology source.

You listen to what the client needs to conform with their permitting and planning conditions, and you work with them to design and build the plant to meet these conditions. You do not send down design after design with tanks in the wrong place and pipelines crossing vehicle access routes, arguing that this is the best operational layout for the plant. If you can’t get trucks in and out without artics brushing up against tanks or pipe runs, it is not the best layout.

If your client wants to see a site, which is not an unreasonable request seeing as it is quite a large wedge that he is parting with, take him to see one. Talk him through the development process in detail, without treating him like an ignoramus.

And let him talk to past clients. If you have done well, it will show. The first question he will ask is “would you use them again?” We did, all the time. Only one supplier got the thumbs up and they got it twice. Guess who we bought from?

In direct contrast to the AD plant suppliers we talked to, the preparation plant suppliers have all been on the ball. Information, quotes, helpful tips, designs and offers for assistance have rained down in abundance from the suppliers we talked to. It made a refreshing change and just showed the difference in the approach of the two industries. It may be time for one to take a close look at the other.

In the end, we found an AD supplier which managed to avoid most of the pitfalls mentioned above. It has proved helpful and enthusiastic, supplying detailed design information even before we finalised the contract to keep the project going and on time. As a result, the development process is actually quite enjoyable. I hope it will stay that way. Watch this space.

Trelawney Dampney is managing director of Eco Sustainable Solutions

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