Our product quality control is in safe hands

Our reputation at Viva Energy hinges on the safe and reliable supply of quality products – and our people. Quality control is an essential part of our business, and we’re fortunate to have a highly regarded industry expert, Dr Mark Tabone, in our Product Quality (PQ) team. 

Viva Energy attracts high-calibre people. We have industry leading experts across many facets of our business, but Dr Tabone holds a revered place – not just within Viva Energy, but within the broader downstream fuel industry. 

Mark is widely regarded as our ‘safe pair of hands’. He’s earned that reputation by helping to make sure the quality of our products is preserved throughout the entire length of the supply chain while adhering to strict safety and testing procedures.

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It’s a reputation that has spread beyond Viva Energy. “When we speak the industry listens,” he says. “It follows our lead because we have a reputation for excellence. People know that they can rely on our expertise and knowledge.”

Success after success

Equipped with an extensive education in science that includes a Doctorate in Chemistry, Mark joined the company 27 years ago.

He’s been applying his rigorous analytical thought processes to a variety of roles ever since, from formulating agricultural chemicals to product development, instigating ISO quality assurance systems, responding to government tenders and creating a Testing Officer Training Program to ensure end-to-end product quality along the full length of the supply chain.

We can all feel proud of the Testing Officer Training Program. Assessed by an external organisation called Intertek, it has been hailed as one of the best programs of its type in the industry.

“Our testing officers are the thin blue line between us and a quality incident,” he says. “They perform something like 25 different tests on our products, and because of our training program we know they’re fully skilled to carry them out. They’re like having laboratory analysts out in the field.”

Mark has been directly involved in so many of Viva Energy’s successes it’s hard to keep track of them all. One notable achievement was helping to develop the original Shell V-Power racing fuel used by the V8 Supercars and the first 100 octane retail fuel. At the time, much sought after by the sports car fraternity.

Low Aromatic Fuel (LAF), which contains low levels of aromatic compounds to deter petrol sniffing, is another of his achievements. He was involved from the development of this unique fuel through its specification and manufacturing process to the testing program to validate it, helping to convince the Government that Viva Energy was capable of manufacturing our own product, and helping to win the tender to supply LAF into northern Australia.  Then touring the top end, engaging with service station owners, mechanics and customers to calm uncertainty around the fuel’s introduction.

Today LAF is available at 170 remote sites across northern Australia. The success of the LAF program was highlighted in a study carried out in 2011/12 and 2013/14 by the University of Queensland and Menzies School of Health Research, which found an 87.9 percent reduction in petrol sniffing between 2005 and 2014 in communities where the LAF program had been implemented.

Controlling every step

The ability for the Product Quality team to oversee the entire length of the supply chain allows them to provide expert advice that can influence decisions regarding every product, including aviation and marine fuels, retail and commercial fuels and LPG. 

“The PQ team makes sure that we’ve taken all the appropriate steps and have the necessary controls in place, from point of manufacture or point of import all the way through to the end customer, to ensure the quality of our products,” Mark explains.

Making the tough calls

Sometimes he has to make tough decisions that can have serious financial implications for the business. Such is the respect he has within the business, Mark’s recommendations are always highly valued. 

Mark reminds us of one particular occasion that demonstrates this perfectly, when, in 2010, an import vessel came in with 43 million litres of jet fuel. 

“I was onsite and noticed that the colour of the fuel was quite dark. We had some tests done and there was a high level of particulates in the fuel, which turned out to be soot from the inert gas system in the vessel. The jet fuel specification allows for the presence of particulates so, technically, it wasn’t off-grade. But we had to reject it because I knew it would block the pipeline filters at airports and cause serious supply disruption issues for those customers.” 

“That was a very scary moment, because the fuel was technically on-grade. Rejecting it ultimately cost us two million dollars, but that’s how far we’re prepared to go to ensure our customers receive the high quality fuel and reliable supply they expect us to deliver.”

By the book

The PQ team is the steward of a 40-year old document called the Quality Control Testing Procedures Manual, which defines how we manage quality at the terminals for sampling, testing and all the aspects of these procedures. This manual has been kept as relevant today as when it was first written, however aspects of our business are constantly changing and new procedure documents must be created. 

In the last three years the Energy Institute issued a new, highly rigorous aviation standard. Viva Energy acquired Shell’s aviation business in 2017, and so Mark has written a quality system called the Viva Energy Aviation Quality Assurance Standard to ensure we are always at the forefront of industry best practice.

“It took a long time to finish, but the first draft has been implemented and will be fine-tuned over the next 24 months.  It’s been one of the key projects I’ve worked on and something I’m enormously proud of.”

In global demand

With so many accomplishments it’s not surprising that Mark is highly respected throughout the energy industry – and not only in Australia.

When Vietnam built its first (and only) refinery it approached the International Aviation Transport Association (IATA) and asked how to get their kerosene certified for jet fuel. The IATA approached us because we were a trusted advisor and Mark found himself in Vietnam to start the certification process. 

“I found all the weaknesses with their processes, set up a framework and brought in our Product and Technology group, which was then called Global Solutions. Two guys worked there for three months. Then I came back and conducted an audit, in the formal aviation sense, which they passed.”

He has also audited refineries around Australia and in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Qatar and Papua New Guinea, as well as provided many people in the industry with advice and training.

The good fight

As a member of the Australian Institute of Petroleum Fuels Working Group since 2005, Mark has helped develop industry positions around fuel quality that seek to influence legislation related to our industry. 

“We do things like make sure that there’s rigorous science behind the decision to consider or adopt new fuel standards, such as lower sulphur fuels,” he says. “These forums represent the industry, but I also represent Viva Energy and help to shape our government submissions to reflect our circumstances.”

Mark has achieved many personal and business successes over his career, and he acknowledges hard work, the people around him and the culture here at Viva Energy as contributing factors. “I’ve had opportunities with this organisation that are once in a lifetime. You only get them if you back yourself, you’re good at what you do and people have faith in you.”

Learn more about Viva Energy’s commitment to supplying high quality fuels.

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