IT’S the biggest secret of 2016.
What visual treat is being planned for the lighting of the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games?
If 2015 is anything to go by, the most watched event on television globally this year could involve a small company from a little city at the bottom of the world.
FCT Flames in Adelaide, South Australia, has been involved with every summer Olympic Games since Sydney 2000.
Last year it dominated the ceremonial flame market, providing torches, cauldrons and spectacular flame displays for almost every major games in the world including the inaugural European Games in Barku, Azerbaijan, the Toronto Pan American Games and the South East Asian Games in Singapore.
Feature flames have included a giant model of a burning man, tornado and eclipse effects, flames rising out of water and a giant burner blasting a flame skyward from the top of a 300m-tall residential and office tower.
The company has also designed a generic burner for flame torches that can be decorated and used for smaller events. It supplied more than 1500 torches across about six events last year alone.
FCT Flames entered the ceremonial flames market ahead of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, partnering with the University of Adelaide to design the burner system for the torches used in the year-long relay in the lead-up. It then went on to design and supply the burner system for the main Olympic cauldron.
The company designed and manufactured 14,000 torches for the Athens Games, the cauldron and the spectacular Olympic rings of fire, which featured in the opening ceremony.
“Then we realized there was a real business opportunity, up until then we’d mainly focused on our industrial combustion business,” FCT Flames CEO David Retallack said.
The industrial combustion side of the business delivers burner systems for high temperature processing factories which manufacture products including cement, lime, alumina, nickel and iron ore pellets.
“Our expertise at the time was in gas burning systems so when it came to Sydney we were able to use our industrial experience to design the gas firing system for the cauldron,” Retallack said.
“After 2000 we went back to our industrial work and then we thought perhaps we’ll have a go at Athens and that was very successful so we formed FCT Flames in 2005 to specifically target flames events.”
FCT International employs about 25 people in its Adelaide office and is now comprised of three main companies – FCT Flames, FCT Combustion and FCT ACTech, an online instrumentation business. It also has an office in the US and agencies in Europe.
FCT Flames sends small teams to all the events where their flames are used to set up and oversee the execution of the projects. The company prides itself on the fact its flames have lit on time without incident and been delivered within budget every time.
“When you’ve got a few billion people watching the opening ceremony and the cauldron is the grand finale, when they ask you to start it, it must start,” Retallack said.
“Reliability is key there and I’m sure that reputation is what’s keeping us at the forefront of the field.”
He said industrial programmable logic controllers were used to control the ignition and sequence of the gas burner jets.
“Under the stage there’s a very large amount of gas equipment, safety systems and isolation systems to make sure the thing runs safely.”
Retallack said FCT Flames was recognized as a leader in the field.
However, he said sometimes Olympic host nations wanted to use local companies to deliver flames, meaning there was no guarantee they were always involved.
Creative directors from opening ceremonies share their vision for how they want their flame to be with FCT Flames engineers who bring the vision to life.
Retallack said there were hundreds of hours of research, development, design and prototyping done for each unique project.
The bulk of the manufacturing is then sub contracted out to workshops around Adelaide.
Secrecy surrounds opening ceremonies ahead of every Olympics.
“The cauldron is one of the most enduring images of the Olympics, it runs for the duration of the games and it’s televised daily,” Retallack said.
“It’s an exciting business to be in, every project’s unique, has its own challenges and you always get goose bumps on the night when the cauldron is about to light because it is the culmination of a lot of man hours of work and the pressure’s typically always on.”
Retallack said the company’s next goal was to move into creating permanent large-scale flame features in major tourism precincts.