From the magazine

Ahead of his time – Bill Menzel

Iplex started out as Industrial Plastics Ltd (I.P.L.), back in the 1930s under Bill’s father, Otto Menzel. In 1938 the company became Iplex when his father had wanted a trade name and Bill suggested adding an “÷EX’ at the end.

Under the family’s direction, Iplex grew to be a great company and changed the way domestic plumbing systems were accepted, and became the household word for a whole new generation on products and skills relative to plumbing systems.

While it was a difficult task to change entrenched attitudes on traditional plumbing, Bill’s determination was able to turn negative perceptions about PVC to positive.

In the 1970s Bill’s vision saw the benefit of drip irrigation as a new and innovative way to irrigate a great variety of crops and in 1972 he set up Reed Irrigation Systems in California. Drip irrigation had the benefit of using 50 per cent of the water that would be used by conventional irrigation, and at the same time increase crop yields. Even though these benefits were obvious it was still a hard task to change attitudes. With sheer determination he was able to lead the charge to where drip irrigation made its mark, and many crops today could not be grown without the efficiencies drip irrigation offers.

In 1992, he began repairing the sewerage system using technology developed from a totally new concept that led in 1980 to the foundation of the Rib Loc Group. Bill was CEO of the Rib Loc Group from 1980-94 and chairman from 1985.

Bill applied his talents to inventing spirally wound plastic pipe via Rib Loc Group Ltd, a publicly listed company, founded by Bill. These pipes have applications for both storm drains and culverts and are sold in 30 countries worldwide.

A significant development was adapting the spirally wound concept as a method to repair below ground sewer pipes and the like, where the spiral winding machine sits at the base of a manhole and the liner is wound directly into the failed pipe. Under Bill the pipe diameter varied from 150 mm to 2,500 mm, and as the winding machine is portable, the piping can be produced in situ, allowing underground broken pipes to be lined without being dug up. However, since then the company has expanded the range to up to 3,000 mm in pipe diameter. This has been highly successful and is gaining rapid market acceptance for larger diameter pipes. Steel bands are incorporated into the design creating a high performance liner in these larger diameters.

This product was recognised by the International Society for Trenchless Technology (ISTT) in 1998 when Bill received the ISTT award for the most significant advance in the field of Trenchless Technology for 1998. Bill was able to personally receive the award in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Rib Loc, now Sekisui Rib Loc Australia and part of the Sekisui SPR Group, continues to innovate and further develop the original spirally wound concepts, with a new generation of liners about to emerge.

Recognising excellence

In 1969, Bill was named export salesman of the year by the Institute of Marketing of Australia, the first of many awards.

Bill was recognised for his contribution to the plastic pipe industry when he was awarded the Order of the British Empire and later the Order of Australia, which recognise a significant contribution made to the industry.

In 1997, Bill was among twelve scientists and innovators, including four Nobel Laureates, selected for commendation by the Australian Science Festival.

In addition to this, and something that was said to give Bill much pleasure, was having his portrait hung in the National Gallery of Australia as one of 70 Australians considered to have given Australia the right to be called the clever country.

Determined and never standing still

All of this work was underpinned by Bill’s vision to be number one in the field, and he had the talent and determination to achieve that result.

Product Manager for Sekisui Rib Loc Australia Shaun Melville said “His determination, perseverance and constant thinking outside the square – always looking at better ways of doing things – sometimes led to some interesting times at Rib Loc.”

Described as always one step ahead, Mr Melville remembers Bill as no sooner coming up with an idea, that others were busy developing further to bring to the market, that he’d moved on to the next, leaving others trying to catch up.

With great foresight, Bill always recognised the importance of research and development, that standing still was not an option.

“While it’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention, Bill seemed to recognise the needs ahead of time,” Mr Melville said.

Long before globalisation became a buzzword, Bill was a global citizen and business leader. He was in demand as a speaker internationally, and within his industry was affectionately called Mr Plastic Fantastic.

His internationalism led to him fostering the unique Transnational Academic Alliance which, designed to promote synergy and innovation across national boundaries, links the University of Iowa, the National Taiwanese University and South Australian tertiary institutions. In 1990 he became the first vice-patron of the Australian Lung Foundation, and in 1993 became a board member of the South Australian Research and Development Institute.

In bringing his ideas to reality, Bill recognised the importance of building a good team, something those who have worked with Bill at Rib Loc will remember.

“One aspect of this was to bring together people around him who could help bring his ideas to reality – further developing and commercialising the ideas that he had. The other aspect was inspiring those around him to think and work in something of the same way he did, ensuring that others would be able to continue what he had started – developing innovative approaches to meeting the needs of the pipe rehabilitation market,” Mr Melville said.

When asked about a memorable story about Bill, Mr Melville said that while he only started at Rib Loc in 1996, he experienced what other people had described Bill and his wife Gerda to be: “wonderful generous party-givers.”

“I remember Bill opening up his home on several occasions – where family, friends and the extended Rib Loc family would gather to celebrate Rib Loc’s successes.”

Celebration of success was highly valued for Bill, as was the hard work and dedication that made such success possible and perhaps inevitable.

“Bill led by example, demonstrated and inspiring in others those attributes he valued and the ideas he had for the future. He was frequently out in the workshop seeing what others were doing and getting involved.

“Keeping up with Bill, physically and mentally, was a challenge even in these later years. There always seemed to be that next invention to keep in mind,” Mr Melville said.

In 1995, Bill was given eleven months to live when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and enrolled in a gene therapy trial at the University of Pennsylvania. He was one of twelve patients and successfully went into remission. Bill returned to his busy life, not missing a beat, but the cancer returned in 2000.

There is no question about the legacy Bill left behind and the important role he played in furthering the trenchless industry. Sekisui Rib Loc Australia has achieved many successes from the foundations Bill had built before his passing and continues to do so.

Most recently, Sekisui Rib Loc Australia, along with Interflow, were awarded the Project of the Year award at the ISTT International No-Dig conference held in Singapore, for their work on the NGRS pipeline. The project used Ribline䋢, known as SPR䋢 PE internationally; a unique steel reinforced spirally wound high density polyethylene liner which was developed in 2005.

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