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25 years tunnelling Auckland City

march cato

March Cato is an award-winning Auckland-based civil engineering construction company.

Founded in 1997 by Richard March and Adam Cato, it has quickly developed a reputation for taking on some of the most challenging and complex infrastructure projects.

Co-founders Richard March and Adam Cato first started working together at the Auckland branch of March Construction. When the opportunity presented itself, Richard and Adam joined forces to buy the Auckland operations and establish their own company, March Cato Ltd, which began trading in 1997.

 Specialising in trenchless and deep open cut pipeline construction for the 3 waters sector, March Cato have established themselves as a trusted construction partner, delivering innovative, technical solutions with a down-to-earth and practical attitude.   

In the late 90s, March Cato predominantly worked on stormwater and wastewater pipes for Metrowater and Auckland Council. “During the early 2000s we completed a lot of wastewater separations projects for the city,” says co-founder and director Adam Cato. 

“A large part of Auckland City is still on the combined stormwater and wastewater network, so we did a lot of work separating that out. The projects typically involved installing smaller diameter pipes, using a mixture of open-cut and trenchless methodologies.”

Between 2010 and 2015, the company began branching out into manual, pipejacking as well as working on major tunnel refurbishments. “In the 60s in Auckland there were a lot of hand excavated tunnels or timber headings,” Cato explains. 

“They would put wastewater tunnels through sandstone, which eventually reached the end of their design life. Using old school tunnelling techniques, steel sets and timber laths, we would replace the pipes by hand.” 

Around 2015, March Cato took on a project for Watercare as a subcontractor for John Holland and Fulton Hogan. The Hunua 4 Water Main Project was designed to increase the security of the potable water supply for Auckland and to cater for the expected increase in demand over the next 50 years. 

“It was a pipeline that spanned the whole of Auckland,” says Cato. “Up until that point, the biggest project we ever delivered was $8 million, whereas this project was $60 million. Inevitably there was a lot of changes and growth within the company at this time, because we had to deliver that job, yet not drop the ball with our existing clients.”

Cato explained that the company had to employ a lot more people and scale up the business in order to deliver larger infrastructure projects. March Cato Ltd now employs around 120 people and delivers infrastructure projects right across the greater Auckland region

In 2016, the New Zealand Mining Operations and Quarrying Operations Regulations were introduced, which had a significant and positive impact on the tunnelling industry in New Zealand. An increased focus was placed on the training and competency of key, safety critical staff, as well as providing clearer, higher standards for ventilation and the management of tunnelling risks. Ultimately this promoted the use of specialist tunnel boring machines (TBMs) over the older hand jacking techniques.  

As a result, the company have invested heavily in the appropriate plant and machinery and now has a number of Herrenknecht TBMs in its fleet. March and Cato have also recently purchased a pilot auger bore machine to cover the range from DN300 up to DN1000 and as a result, the company can now cover the whole range of pipe sizes, right up to 3m diameter. 

“We’ve always taken a very considered and strategic approach to the trenchless sector. It’s a very capital-intensive industry to get into, so you can’t afford to get it wrong. We knew we had the core technical capability within the organisation, so it was a case of targeting the right opportunities and then backing ourselves to deliver.” 

As for any company, Cato says that some of its biggest challenges is finding quality people. “We work in a labour-intensive industry, so finding the right number of the right people, with the right skills is always tough in a competitive market.” 

Delivering these works consistently and safely is of utmost importance to Cato.

“We put our people to work in some pretty high-risk environments, where the consequences of getting things wrong are unthinkable, so we have to make sure we’re investing in effective training, to upskill our people, so we can be confident we can deliver the work safely is really important and a massive challenge. 

“But it’s something we pride ourselves in: we do a lot of very challenging, technical, complex work that requires competent people. And we’re fortunate to have attracted a great pool of people. We’ve got some smart, practical engineers as well as some wily, innovative supervisors and a highly skilled and experienced workforce who deliver the work. It’s a great mix.” 

In terms of the company’s future growth, Cato says, “It’s all about delivering a quality product, and bigger isn’t necessarily better. Where we end up is dependent on the opportunities out there and the market. If the market dictates that we continue to deliver at the size we are, then that’s fine. Growth may come, but it’s not really something we necessarily push for.”

For more information visit the March Cato website. 


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