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Kobelco builds the foundations for success with Gradco


Since the 1950s, Tasmanian based mining and civil contracting company Gradco has been a pioneer for purchasing cutting-edge earth moving machinery. Director Oliver Diprose speaks with Quarry about why his company continues in the same direction today. 

Buying the best and the latest earth moving equipment is a gamble that has paid off well for a contracting business in Tasmania. Having introduced the very first Gradall excavator from the US into the Southern Hemisphere in 1955, Gradco (originally Gradall Constructions) continues to be a pioneer with earth moving machinery, recently ordering the very first 50-tonne Kobelco SK500XD excavator to be rolled out in Tasmania. 

Gradco’s history

As a family business now in its fourth generation, Gradco has firmly established itself in specialist contract mining, civil construction, environmental and heavy haulage services, not only in its home state of Tasmania, but throughout Australia. 

Started from a one-man contracting operation in the 1950s, today Gradco is a diversified mid-tier civil/mining contractor with works across Tasmania and into mainland Australia. The company has a structured management team and a dedicated team of about 250 employees, boasting a machinery fleet with over 260 earth moving plant items, including 60 hydraulic excavators.

Parallel to a very successful contracting business, the quarrying side of the business – known as Van Diemen Quarries – provides a wide range of quarry products through a network of quarries strategically located across Tasmania. The company’s success is owed, to a great extent, to investing in cutting-edge machinery. In 1955, Dak Diprose, the founder of Gradco, imported what was the first complete Gradall machine into the Southern Hemisphere, which resulted in its widespread use throughout Australia during the 1960s.

“My grandfather had a lot of foresight to bring that machine into Australia,” said Oliver Diprose, Dak’s grandson and the company’s current director. “Before that, he just used bulldozers and very basic machinery to move dirt. Buying that first hydraulic excavator changed all of that.”

Fuel economy

With the Gradco business playing such a prominent role in the civil construction and mining industries in Tasmania, Oliver said investing in the most fuel-efficient machines is critical to the company’s competitiveness.

“The technology and efficiency around the fuel of the Kobelco product has been outstanding, that’s why we continue to buy them,” said Oliver. 

When the latest SK500XD lands in Tasmania, it will be the 15th Kobelco excavator in Gradco’s fleet. Last year, the company purchased two Kobelco SK380XD excavators from their local Kobelco dealer, DLM Machinery, one of which is operated by Oliver’s son, Tom Diprose, on a quarry owned by Van Diemen Quarries. 

Rugged design

Not one to take equipment purchases lightly, Oliver said that joint owners Tom and Will, had also done their homework before the collaborative decision was made to purchase the latest Kobelco SK500XD, which will replace another 50-tonne excavator on one of Gradco’s mining projects.

“Our decision to buy the SK500XD was based on the acceptance of our first SK380XD and what a good machine it was. The operators love it. It is quiet and efficient. We also spoke to some other operators on the mainland that operate the SK500, and they gave very positive feedback, which confirmed our thoughts and led us to buying the machine,” Oliver said. 

“The heavy-duty features of this machine, in addition to our close relationship with our local DLM Machinery dealer, prompted us to buy the bigger Kobelco,” he added.

David Morrison, director of the DLM Machinery dealership in Launceston, explained why the models were suitable for Gradco’s applications.

“Both the SK380XD and the SK500XD are part of Kobelco’s XD Series excavators, which feature a rugged machine body built with substantial additional reinforcements to all key areas of stress and wear across the boom, arm, underbody and undercarriage,” David explained.

“The specially adapted heavy-duty boom and arm set in the XD Series is built to last in the harshest of applications, and features factory fitted, triple-plated, hardened steel applied to all key structural sections, including the boom to arm connection, the boom centre and the end of the arm – providing high level of durability and longevity to the attachment structures.”

Operator comfort was a key factor for Gradco in choosing the SK380XD.

Operator acceptance

Gradco has been operating as a family owned business sine 1956 with progressive practices as an integral part of the business.

Oliver said being recognised as an employer of choice was a point of pride for the company, which is a factor that also plays in when deciding to upgrade machinery, he explained.

“A major thing for our company is operators’ acceptance of the machinery. We strive to give our guys the best equipment to drive and operate that they enjoy driving, because they are the ones that sit in these machines all day,” he said.

“We have a very loyal team of people. Our longest standing excavator operator has worked with us for 44 years. In our company culture, looking after each other is very important. We do our best to attract people to the business, but we do find that our guys stay onboard with us for a long time because of the equipment they get to operate, and because of the nature of our relationships as a family-owned business,” he said. 

“Our people are very valuable to us, and we show them that we appreciate them.”

With this vision, Oliver said Gradco is continuously investing in new technologies to stay ahead of the game with productivity and efficiency.

“We have a continuous fleet upgrade program, where we are taking delivery of new equipment into our business all the time. We are always ready to adopt new technology and give it a go, in the hope of giving ourselves a point of difference and making ourselves more competitive in the market,” said Oliver.

“We’ve had a fantastic run with our Kobelco machines over the years. They are well accepted in our fleet, alongside other major brands. Our local dealer always goes above and beyond to rectify any problems if they come around, and we’ll continue to buy Kobelco machines from them into the future.” •

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