Nissan: Australian Made, for the long haul

The last Australian car-maker may have closed down its operations a year ago, but one big automotive brand remains fully committed to continuing to manufacture here, writes Peter Jones, Managing Director of Nissan Casting Australia.

At Nissan, we have been manufacturing parts in south-east Melbourne for more than 35 years. While Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry has taken a battering in recent times, it is a source of enormous pride that we continue to manufacture parts locally for vehicles that wind up on Australian roads and on motorways all over the world.

The parts we produce in our Nissan Casting Plant (NCAP) are carefully manufactured by a team of 192 highly skilled workers, spread across three shifts per day, seven days a week. This concentration of skill and experience results in approximately 2.6 million die-cast aluminium parts and over 16,000 tow bars annually, with an export value of $82.5m.

We have experts in high and low-pressure die casting, precision machining, component assembly and accessories manufacturing, and we currently create 60 different parts specific to oil pans, gearbox and final-drive housing, as well as parts for electric vehicles, including the Inverter Water Jacket and Stator Housing. These parts are critically important to our global business, seeing distribution to Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi (Alliance) vehicle assembly plants, and Nissan affiliate powertrain plants as far and wide as Japan, the UK, the US, Thailand, Mexico, and South Korea.

For anyone concerned that we will follow the prevailing trend of Australian automotive manufacturing, let me reassure you: we are dedicated to local manufacturing for the foreseeable future, with exclusive supply contracts awarded by Nissan Global that will keep the plant operating well into the next decade. There should be no doubt that Nissan is still a fully integrated original equipment car manufacturer here in Australia, and we are determined to continue to defy the belief that automotive manufacturing doesn’t have a place in our country.

If you want evidence that ‘Made in Australia’ is alive and kicking in our automotive industry, you need look no further than the 90,000sqm block of real estate in Dandenong South (SE of Melbourne) – one of the nation’s busiest manufacturing hotspots. There, you’ll find us proudly including a kangaroo insignia on all of our parts, helping promote local manufacturing to the world.

These components ultimately find their way into vehicles like the Nissan QASHQAI, which includes a locally built gear carrier and rear cover; the Pathfinder, featuring Aussie-made oil pan assembly; and the Nissan X-TRAIL, which includes final drive unit parts.

Nissan isn’t the only make that benefits from our manufacturing prowess, with the Renault Koleos also including Aussie-made final drive unit parts, and the INFINITI Q50 rolling out of the dealership packing our expertly crafted gear carrier. The use of our parts extends to more than 30 overseas models, including the world’s highest-selling electric vehicle (EV), the Nissan LEAF, which includes an EV water jacket inverter, inverter cover, inverter case, and motor stator housing that all come directly out of Dandenong.

Committed to manufacturing products of the highest quality, we have worked with companies like the CSIRO to develop technologies that guarantee the very best in workmanship. Together we have improved the welding methods for die repair, and improved the materials in dies and the coating of die steels, to ensure we get the most out of our equipment. This means our equipment lasts longer, bringing down our costs.

Our quality department uses the same kind of measuring machines and granite tables used by Formula One teams. These parts are so precise that they match up exactly with parts made in Japan to a tolerance of 15 microns, less than the diameter of a human hair. And it’s this precision that has earned us exclusive contracts for the supply of specific parts. I’m very proud to say that the team in our quality department played a large role in securing even more business from Nissan Global, some of which is exclusive to Nissan Casting Australia.

In the last two years we have committed over $11m to our NCAP facility. During this time we have updated the tooling equipment and the dies, introduced more assembly equipment and upped the number of new machines. This has helped us increase capacity and it ensures the quality of our product is to a global standard.

With plenty of work keeping the casting plant busy as it heads towards 2025, we are investing a further $1.8m on cost reduction activities using automation. We have a number of robots at NCAP and we are increasing numbers. But we are also investing in co-bots – or collaborative robots. This is automated equipment that works with an operator, and this is exciting for us because we are one of the first to use this state-of-the-art technology. We also have further plans to increase the number of Automated Guided Vehicles – which are common in automotive manufacturing plants around the world.

As the world turns its attention to EVs, so too will we, investing in new and existing equipment to ensure we maintain our global reputation for quality, state-of-the-art EV products that are designed for new and next-generation electric and hybrid vehicles. To achieve this, we have updated the control systems on the die cast machines, and installed new technologies, such as oil-based die spray, helium leak testing, and the continued investment in automated assembly to allow NCAP to achieve the increased quality requirements of EV parts.

In fact, NCAP has the most advanced oil-based die-spray equipment across the Nissan network, and we are the only Nissan manufacturing plant, globally, to conduct helium leak testing. This investment was supported by financial grants from the Victorian State Government and the Federal Government, both of which understand the importance of continued local manufacturing.

While this innovation is exciting, we are also determined to invest in people. We employ and continually train a highly skilled workforce made up of Aussies who are passionate about the brand and dedicated to producing the very best products, ensuring global demand for ‘Australian Made’ won’t go away any time soon.

Taking precision machining to a new level

A new machine tool described as “a production powerhouse” has been installed at Meeke Engineering in Wetherill Park, Western Sydney, and its new owners believe that it takes precision machining to a new level.

The new machine is a Kingfisher RAL12 CNC vertical lathe by Radar Industrial, a Taiwanese manufacturer of high-precision machine tools. The vertical spindle is supported to a full 360 degrees, eliminating ‘spindle droop’ and increasing the maximum weight allowable on the spindle. As Isaac Newton would have noticed, gravity provides a downward force on the workpiece, assisting the workholding. Minimal clamp force can be applied where desirable, and gravity keeps each part in the chuck. This not only provides additional stability, especially when machining delicate parts, but also dissipates the cutting forces created by heavy cutting.

Increasing capability

These facts were in the thoughts of the management team at Meeke Engineering as they considered the needs of their current and prospective customers. The team was seeking to add more capability and capacity to the company’s workshops by installing a new machining centre. They worked together with the engineers at 600 Machine Tools to identify they right machine for the envisaged tasks. After visiting an innovative manufacturer, the team chose a CNC vertical lathe built for heavy-duty cutting while maintaining remarkable levels of accuracy. After the configuration of the lathe was decided, including a Fanuc Oi-TF control, an order was placed with Radar for early delivery.

The Kingfisher RAL12 is a CNC vertical lathe designed, engineered, and built to very high specifications by Radar Industrial at its manufacturing facility in Taichung City, Taiwan. This company boasts a formidable reputation in the world’s engineering workshops, especially among those requiring fine tolerances in components for such market segments as aerospace and health.

The one-piece column is made from Meehanite cast-iron with a wide-span ribbed box structure, a machine design that provides excellent stability and rigidity. The new lathe is primarily built from a high-quality alloy steel, and its fully-covered and high-torque octagon-shaped structure is designed to handle the stress of inner and outer diameter cutting, and ensures cutting accuracy.

“We are delighted with the RAL 12 for a number of reasons, but most importantly for its precision” says Satish Sawant, General Manager of Meeke. “This is a direct result of the design, engineering, and build-quality. The Kingfisher RAL12 is a cleverly designed, cost-effective production powerhouse. Its sturdy construction provides rigidity and stability for longer tool life, toolroom accuracy, thermal stability, and fast run-times.”

Throughout Australia, Radar machine tools are sold, serviced, and supported by Sydney-based 600 Machine Tools, a member of the global machinery manufacturer and distributor 600 Group, a company with more than a century of expertise.

“When I first watched a demonstration of the RAL12, it became obvious that the design was a key factor,” says Cliff Purser, Managing Director – Asia-Pacific for 600 Machine Tools. “It enables the CNC vertical lathe to deliver machining excellence through rapid feed rates, fast and precise cutting, and smooth surface finishes. The octagon RAM provides superior damping characteristics, excellent thermal expansion control, and stronger rigidity than traditional square designs. The octagonal design counterbalances the machining forces on inner and outer surfaces, and ensures accuracy on both sides.”

Purser added: “Meeke will be able to count on the machine’s consistent accuracy, even when engaged in heavy-duty cutting, despite the RAL12 having half the footprint of a horizontal lathe.

Renowned problem solvers

Meeke has earned a reputation for providing world-class manufacturing, engineering, fabrication, machining and assembly services for a variety of customers in Australia and overseas. According to Sawant, this is down to the relationships his team build with clients.

“Our Wetherill Park workshops provide a lot more than just production capacity,” he explains. “Senior staff members frequently interact with customers to devise knowledge-based solutions to specific problems, often going on to design and engineer a prototype, before the chips start to fly.”

Meeke provides hydraulic cylinders and refurbishing, complex welding jobs, specialised CNC machining, and quick turnarounds when required. Sawant says that some of the typical challenges that the company might face include centre barrels for the mining industry, gearbox cases for the gear industry, moulds for the rubber industry, and hydraulic cylinders for the earthmoving industry. The company’s workshops are about 15km from Badgerys Creek, which is the site of the West Sydney Airport now under construction, with facilities for fast handling of express air-freight.

“At our base in Sydney’s industrial heartland, Meeke has the expertise and experience to produce everything,” says Sawant. “From a tiny component to a complete system that has been designed, manufactured, assembled, and tested under a ISO 9001:2008-accredited QA regime.”

Stop press

As this issue of AMT Magazine was going to press, Meeke has announced that it was in the process of installing and commissioning a very large swing lathe from US manufacturer Clausing Industrial capable of handling workpieces of up to 6m in length.

Based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Clausing’s four series of large swing heavy-duty gap standard CNC lathes are designed, engineered, and built for industrial-strength performance – in particular for heavy-duty stock removal. All the company’s lathes, drills, and other machine tools are tested to the most stringent accuracy, and test cuts are made before shipping.

“The powerful MA45 we have configured for Meeke is one of Clausing’s large swing lathes that is capable of machining, for example, 6m barrels for hydraulic cylinders,” says Pat O’Doherty, Sales Manager of 600 Machine Tools. “A member of the 600 Group, Clausing has led the charge in the world of heavy-duty machining since its founding in 1911, and at least one of its machines can be found in every major shipyard of the US Navy.”

John Croft appointed to head up AM Hub

AMTIL has announced the appointment of John Croft as the new Manager of the Additive Manufacturing Hub (AM Hub). John joins AMTIL on the back of a wide-ranging career in Australian manufacturing, having most recently served as Business Development Manager for Automation & Robotics at Robert Bosch Australia.

Led by AMTIL and generously supported by the Victorian Government, the AM Hub has been established to grow and develop additive manufacturing (AM) capability. Its goals are to: promote and market AM capabilities; support the creation of high-quality AM jobs; provide a forum for dialogue and communication for the AM industry; encourage R&D, innovation and collaboration; and provide a strong, cohesive voice on AM sector development.

John is uniquely well placed to oversee the direction of the AM Hub, having been at the forefront of the adoption of AM technology in Australia for more than two decades. In the early 1990s he launched Interact Plastic Services, the first private company in this country to move into AM, having purchased a Stratasys FDM 2000 3D printer. For John, part of the appeal of his new role with AMTIL has been the opportunity to re-engage with AM and its continuing development.

“I have had to ask myself who in their lifetime gets an opportunity to complete something they started 23 years ago?” he said. “I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with AMTIL in one of the major technologies that will eventually become the norm for future manufacturing.”

John started his career from humble beginnings, initially working as an apprentice fitter and turner, before moving quickly into the plastics industry, where he accrued many years of experience in plastics toolmaking. His career has seen him closely involved in every aspect of product  development from concept to manufacturing – including design for manufacture – as well as running consultancies on a range of global platforms and industries.

Commercially astute and strategically focused, John has extensive experience of providing solutions to major players in the manufacturing, defence, automotive, medical, pharmaceutical, FMCG, food and agricultural sectors. At Bosch he had an excellent success rate in identifying commercial opportunities, establishing a new division that would become the preferred supplier of medical device assembly equipment for Cook Medical, Fisher & Paykel, ResMed and Cochlear, as well as supplying a range of other industry sectors.

With exemplary technical and cultural expertise in manufacturing, John has a proven track record in driving growth in sales, revenue and customer base, working with stakeholders from across the globe. His ability to build strong relationships at all levels and to work with key business decision-makers will make him a valuable asset to AMTIL and the AM Hub.

“I look forward to working with the AMTIL staff – our members in making the AM Hub the centre of additive manufacturing in the ASEAN Region,” John added.

Barracuda – Laser structuring makes plastics shine

Based in Kaufbeuren in Germany, Kunststofftechnik Bernt (KTB) has developed a new day-night design for decorative panels in car interiors that can produce coloured light using laser technology passing through chrome-plated plastics. The system manufacturer ACSYS Lasertechnik is supporting KTB in technology development with the delivery of two laser systems.

Chrome-plated decorative panels with 3D lettering in two different matt finishes that also glow in different colors at night have only been available in series production from a German OEM for a few weeks. The changing day-night design – the haptics above the 3D lettering by day, the illuminated color selected by the driver at night – is an eyecatching feature, at a time when customisable interior ambience is currently a trend among OEMs.

Dr Carsten Brockmann, KTB’s Managing Director, is enthusiastic about the new design: “This greatly increases the value of the interior design. This day-night design also allows further customisation of the car’s interior. The panel’s surface and contour lighting gives us a new design element that appeals to the senses.”

Using a multi-component injection moulding process, KTB manufactures components of polycarbonate (PC) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and finishes them in its in-house electroplating system. The polycarbonate is located on the back side of the component and cannot be electroplated. This means that the component remains without chrome at these points. However, a metallic plate is applied to the ABS areas. Then an area of the front undergoes laser processing, making it translucent. After laser processing, the panels receive a final outer plating and undergo a visual inspection.

KTB has years of experience and extensive competencies in plastics manufacture, mouldmaking for injection-moulding and electroplating for interior and exterior applications and various surface finishes. KTB chose the ACSYS solution for its laser structuring. Brockmann recalls the beginning of the co-operation between the KTB developers and the specialists from the ACSYS technical centre.

“We had commissioned various suppliers to structure a prototype component,” he say. “Only ACSYS came close to what we were looking for. We were enthusiastic about the precision of the laser system from the very beginning.”

The solution was then created by means of painstaking tests in the ACSYS laboratory.

“We work proactively as an idea generator with great development, application, and service competence, and tackle every customer order with fresh eyes,” says Gerhard Kimmel, Managing Director of ACSYS. “The customer can feel this team knowledge when he comes to us with a task.”

ACSYS’s Barracuda system is used to process KTB’s components. With a spacious, easily accessible working area, the Barracuda is an all-rounder. For the KTB laser application, the system, made of high-strength steel, stands on a vibration-free machine base of temperature-stable granite. The laser process has several steps, in each of which a sub-area of the panel is structured with a fine diamond pattern (200 by 200 micrometres). The elongated panel area is also subdivided into sections.

“We have been testing the system for a year, and it is stable and very precise,” says Brockmann. “There are no edges between the processing sections, such as might be expected to arise due to traverse tolerances, for instance.”

The laser system is also equipped with a two-camera Live Adjust System (LAS) solution. The first camera provides an overview of the processing area, while the second camera is directed straight through the laser beam path, capturing the processing area and allowing a partial, high-resolution view of the section to be processed.

“In the last two years, we have developed the processing technology together and are very happy with the quality of the parts,” says Brockmann. “We recently bought a second laser system of the same type to secure our planned annual volume of 200,000 units.”

Series production started at the end of the second half of 2017.

“Ever since we started delivering our decorative panels for luxury cars to a German OEM, we have constantly received positive feedback,” says Brockmann. “We are very happy with the laser system.”

Cut To Size addresses industrial noise OH&S issues at the source

Noise can be a major safety hazard in industrial, production automation and metals processing plants, where the sound of heavy materials handling machinery operating can distract attention from the job in hand and drown out the sound of malfunctioning machines, alarm signals or warning shouts.

Noise exposure is also Australia’s most common preventable cause of occupational hearing loss, with Worksafe Australia estimating that a million employees in this country may be exposed to hazardous levels of noise at work. Damage to hearing can occur when noise levels are higher than 85 decibels, which is about the loudness of heavy traffic.

“One highly effective way in which the noise problem can be addressed at its root cause (rather than through hearing protective devices, valuable though they are) is in the substitution of engineering plastics in application areas where quiet running, low weight and low friction are advantageous,” says Pat Flood, NSW Manager for engineering plastics specialists Cut To Size.

Flood has more than 30 years’ experience in tailoring light, tough and quiet industrial engineering plastics to individual application needs. He says one of the most versatile materials increasingly substituting for more expensive metals is Wearlon. The Wearlon family of nylon polymers extends from the most commonly used and cost-effective PA6 semi-crystalline polyamides, through to especially formulated types such as PA12, which is used where greater shock loads and vibrations damping efficiency are required in rollers, gears and pinions.

Cut To Size manufactures machinery components from such materials for applications across Australasia from its head office in Sydney, where facilities include CNC machining facilities coupled with GibbsCAM and Solidworks software.

“Wearlon nylon is used across many industries to reduce noise and reduce machinery rail wear, with applications including food & beverage, mineral processing, agribusiness materials handling and industries that want to avoid corrosion or the need to use lubricants that can contaminate production,” says Flood.

Nylon rollers, for example, offer high wear resistance, low friction and lower noise where a part slides over the roller surface. Nylon rollers also offer savings in maintenance costs and, being non-corrosive, offer all-weather performance in outside installations, including mineral processing plants and logistics operations. Uses include beam trolley rollers, monorail rollers and turntable rollers, as well as vital parts on conveyors and belts.

“Cast nylon trunnion wheels can also be used to reduce plant operation noise and reduce wear on rotating barrels,” says Flood.

Nylon trunnion wheels can be used in noise- and vibration-prone applications where they support vertical barrel loads and dual thrust loads. Wearlon trunnion rollers protect their running surfaces while providing good damping of vibration and noise in applications such as rotary drum screens, wire cable windows, and rollers and guide wheels in transport vehicles, crane carriages, crane tracks, trolleys, storage and retrieval systems, as well as handling systems and applications with rolling movements (such as vertical conveyors, bucket elevators and trough conveyors).

Cut To Size extrudes components manufactured from nylon rod diameters below 50mm and casts them above this measure. Components made from sheet material 10mm thick and lower is extruded, while 10mm and above is cast.

“Cast nylon is better for machining the larger components, because it is slightly more ductile, has less internal stresses and has more consistent density compared with the extruded material in these sizes,” says Flood. “So, we use casting to deliver optimum long-term performance in larger components.”

While the Wearlon family often offers a highly cost-effective solution to noise, friction and wear abatement issues, Cut To Size also engineers components from a full range of engineering plastics from world-class suppliers, including nylon, acetal, PTFE, polyurethane and specialist high-performance products.

Specialist products include the Wearlon family of LiNNOTAM HiPERFORMANCE polyamides, which are partially crystalline, thermoplastic high-performance polyamides that, using carefully formulated additives and modifiers, have been specially designed for the demanding requirements of specialty components in machinery design.

These include production-critical applications, such as production automation and high-volume product processing and conveying, where downtime costs are considerable, and producers wish also to avoid the hazards of replacing heavier and more labour-intensive machinery components.

The high-performance polyamides are part of Cut To Size’s nationally available Wearlon ranges from Licharz, an international manufacturer and fabricator of engineering plastics. Licharz produces the globally proven LiNNOTAM family of light but rugged polyamides for easy machining and especially long service lives.

Digitalisation critical for the competitive edge

Manufacturing insights firm IDC believes that, by 2020, 60% of all enterprises will have fully articulated an organisation-wide digital platform strategy and will be in the process of implementing it. They predict that by then, 50% of the Global 2000 will see much of their business depend on their ability to create digitally-enhanced products, services, and experiences.

The question businesses need to ask is whether they are ready for digital transformation, and whether they’ll find themselves forging ahead, or falling behind? It’s time discuss how manufacturers can better prepare themselves for Industry 4.0 and take that all important step of digitising their manufacturing facilities.

Kevin Dherman, SYSPRO’s Chief Innovation Officer, believes the best way to prepare your business for Industry 4.0 is to implement an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that can pave the way for digitisation by providing real, working solutions that will enable manufacturers and distributors to leverage on new technologies and trends that are shaping and redefining the competitive landscape.

For this reason the SYSPRO team has worked hard to ensure that they have embedded the most pragmatic and useful features and functionality of Industry 4.0 into their latest ERP release. The inclusion of Industry 4.0 functionality in SYSPRO’s latest release helps to create more intelligent manufacturing processes by combining humans with machines, resources with processes and systems.

Manufacturers will experience the benefit of increased accuracy and speed of automated data collection from machines and devices, for the measurement of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Real-time status-tracking of equipment and jobs, and greater accuracy of job costings are now possible, and the software supports continuous improvement and visualisation of loss with out-of-the-box productivity and availability analysis and alerts.

The benefits of IoT

Imagine being able to arrive at your customer’s store to change lightbulbs just before they go out, or to regas their fridges before they stop keeping your customer’s perishables cool. The implications are huge. Not only will you be able to fulfil your service level agreements (SLAs) with your customers; you’ll also help them fulfil theirs too.

Implementing Internet of Things (IoT) technologies opens up a world of infinite possibilities for manufacturers; however, the resulting data needs to be carefully managed and processed, which is why it is important to implement an IoT-enabled ERP system. Not only will it facilitate more streamlined and automated business processes, thereby reducing the need for human intervention, it will also improve service delivery, and enhances the customer user experience. It will allow manufacturers to manage their warehouse inventory in real-time, using IoT sensors to monitor and track incoming and outgoing items.

More than that, by incorporating data pulled from auto identification tags that are tied to GPS-enabled connections that continuously update location and movement, it is also able to improve traceability across the supply chain. This allows for business intelligence and alerts to be automatically delivered directly to relevant operators and service agents.

“When developing features for our latest release we focused on improving on our automation and data exchange capabilities to support the Internet of Things and cloud computing, to provide users with unparalleled deployment and usage flexibility, and to supply ubiquitous, real-time information through device- and platform-agnostic software,” says Dherman.

Tapping into the power of AI

The coupling of ERP and artificial intelligence (AI) has allowed manufacturers to make sense of structured and unstructured data. Previously unidentified trends, exceptions, and anomalies in your business are brought to the fore, helping to improve decision-making.

The integration of AI means that detecting fraud or operator errors is easier, as AI identifies anomalies in customer or internal sales orders, requisitions and purchase orders, and then alerts the relevant people immediately. AI is also able to pick up trends in customer behaviour and then push relevant information to you, taking your ERP from a simple system of record, to one of proactive engagement.

The advent of Digital Citizens

The employment of Bots, or Digital Citizens, has numerous benefits in the manufacturing environment. The incorporation of AI into ERP software has facilitated the development and introduction of human-like chatbots, which answer – and even predict – customer queries quickly. The (AI) web robot resides within the SYPRO ERP ecosystem and streamlines business functions through natural conversations with the bot.

By employing a Digital Citizen in your business, you could provide your customers and your suppliers with an always-on, consistent and improved customer experience, 24/7, across the globe. Digital self-service agents provide insights and information, running price queries, stock look-ups, order status and more.

Opening the door to greater efficiencies

By embracing new, exponential technologies such as machine learning, AI, and Digital Citizens, and by implementing a future-fit ERP solution that allows for their incorporation, manufacturers can not only make the digitisation process easier, but also open the door to greater efficiencies and growth.


Ray Kirby is the Director of the new UTS Tech Lab facility in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). He spoke to William Poole.

AMT: Firstly tell us about the UTS Tech Lab facility

Ray Kirby: UTS Tech Lab is an entirely new facility in Botany in Sydney that we built to focus on research and to bring companies to work with us on research in this space. It will house post-graduate students mostly, post-doctoral students and PhD students, and it will also be a place for academics to come and work on their research and work on collaborative projects with companies. The place was formally finished in September. UTS has spent $60m on this facility; that includes the fit-out as well as the new equipment that we’ve put in.

What we tried to do is put in equipment that is as high-tech and as state-of-the-art as we can in particular areas, and then we’ve drawn together the different sides of engineering and technology. For example we’re bringing together the civil engineers and mechanical engineers, we’re bringing them together with computer scientists and electrical engineers, so that we’ve got everyone working under one roof. We think this will allow us to move forward with the development of technology in engineering, because engineering is going towards the integration of high-value technology into more traditional applications. What this will allow us to do is to link up with things like data analytics and data visualisation and so on. This allows us to approach engineering in a more co-ordinated way.

AMT: What sort of capabilities and facilities have you got at Tech Lab?

RK: What we’re try to do is to bring together the skills in our faculty, what we’re well-known for and what we’re leading at. UTS and our faculty are particularly well known for computer sciences, data analytics and robotics and those sort of areas. What we try to do at Tech Lab is provide facilities for the computer sciences and communications and networking groups, but then join them together with our engineering facilities.

We have facilities here for civil engineering; we’ve got a a reaction floor and a reaction wall where we can test full-scale structures, concrete and timber structures. We’ve got the facilities to fabricate concrete. We’ve got climate chambers where we can change the temperatures to test concrete through its cycle of different environmental conditions.

So what this facility allows us to do is to draw those engineering areas together with the computer sciences. What we hope in the future is to integrate our areas under the general banner of IoT (Internet of Things) so that we can integrate the testing of sensors and various other monitoring systems on real engineering artefacts and products. We would hope that’s of interest to people working in utilities, in infrastructure, in transport – things like Smart Cities; Smart Buildings; Smart Infrastructure – and those are the areas where that sort of approach will attract potential partners.


AMT: Can you shed any light on any notable projects that are already underway here?

RK: Well, not all our facilities are up and running; we are getting close to finishing. But the early adopters will include Sydney Water, with whom we are fitting out an iPipes lab, as it’s called; that’s a lab that will focus on doing smart pipes for Sydney Water. It will involve coming up with new ways and technologies to reduce leakage and failures in their piping system. That will be one of the first projects that we’ll start here, and over time we will gradually move some existing projects over here. But as Tech Lab opens, we are currently talking with partners to bring them in to do some new collaborative projects here.


AMT: What sort of work do you envisage doing with manufacturers and in what areas can manufacturing companies collaborate with UTS?

RK: By integrating our robotics team and our communications and networking teams, our computer sciences, we’re hoping to try and bring those technologies together so that we can look at Industry 4.0-type manufacturing technologies and move towards advanced manufacturing in that way. We will also have additive manufacturing down here, so we’ll have metal printers, plastics printers, we will also have concrete printing down here as well. Our intention is to do that. So over time, manufacturing becomes a natural focus for what we do here because it’s well suited especially to our expertise in robotics and sensor design, and moving that together with our analytics and so on.


AMT: There’s a big emphasis on facilitating collaboration with industry. How do you see that taking shape?

RK: What we see as our value-added here is our ability to innovate and provide new ideas and new solutions to problems. What we’d like ideally is for companies to come in and work with us. We have a big space in Tech Lab where companies can actually come and bring their personnel to work with us. We would like to bring some big multinational companies in, for them to bring their supply chain in, to partner with SMEs and also start-up companies, so we get this mix of people from different areas and backgrounds; we can put some students in there as well. From that we can kind of build this ecosystem where we can focus on innovation and that will add value for our industrial partners beyond what they would normally have access to in terms of doing traditional research projects with us.

We also hope to be able to offer companies access to our facilities. We’re happy for companies to come in and hire out our facilities if they wish; we can do consultancy work based in our facilities; we can do testing according to standards and so on if that’s what companies want.

But our ideal picture is companies working with us on research projects. What we hope to see Tech Lab do is to help companies through the process of moving from development of ideas, to proof-of-concept, to actual pre-commercialisation. We’ve got the ability to do some full-scale mock-up testing, so for example in manufacturing we could put together a small mock-up of a full-scale manufacturing facility or process, and we could then flesh out all of the issues or the problems, we could run through our proof-of-concept with that, so that by the time it comes out of Tech Lab, it is almost ready to be actually implemented in a real manufacturing facililty.


AMT: A lot of Australian manufacturers, particularly SMEs, often find themselves stumped on how to approach R&D collaboration in this way. How is Tech Lab aiming to facilitate that process?

RK: I think we’re all aware in universities that universities are often seen as challenging partners to work with because of their size and legacies. I understand that, from an SME’s point of view, working with universities can be daunting. We want to change that at Tech Lab, to offer a much more flexible, approachable way of working with universities. So we’re in the process of drawing up standard ways of working with Tech Lab.

Our approach is going to be to say to companies: “What are your problems, what are your issues?” We want to go to companies and offer a kind of solutions-based approach. And because we’ve got lots of different areas under one roof here, then we can say to companies we have the capacity and expertise to offer a solutions-based approach. We would ask companies: “What are your issues?” and “What’s your problem? What’s keeping you awake at night? What’s stopping you going forward where you need to be? How can we help you solve your problem? Here’s the way to work with us – which will allow us to deliver on that.”

We’re conscious that from our side we need to be easy to work with, we need to be able to turn around projects quickly. And we recognise for SMEs and especially start-ups that we need to be quick about that; that time is important. We’re working very hard to ensure our processes and our procedures are quick and responsive and agile and meet the needs of our potential partners.

AMT: You’ve come from the UK fairly recently. Having that perspective, what lessons that would you say Australian manufacturing can draw from the industry in the UK?

RK: I came from the UK 18 months ago; I spent all my working life there before I came here. In the UK manufacturing went through a pretty terrible time. It’s not unusual to see lots of manufacturing industries start to disappear, and we certainly saw that in the UK. And there’s a sense if that happens you can’t get it back, it’s gone forever. But it’s not the case. In the UK now they are starting to revitalise some of the industry by focusing on very high-tech new developments in manufacturing. This is high-value manufacturing. A lot of it is being driven by the defence industry and the aerospace industry and areas such as that, where high-tech, high-value manufacturing is important. And that’s been done by collaborating, getting universities and companies to collaborate together, to generate that new IP and that new technology. These initiatives are also heavily supported by the UK Government.

I think in Australia there is an opportunity to do something similar. I think Australia has some great universities, some great high-tech skills, has a great SME base. Australia shouldn’t think all of a sudden that manufacturing is something Australia can’t do anymore or that it’s something we should all be getting out of. I think in manufacturing we’re certainly moving towards the high-value, high-tech areas and with proper co-ordination and investment, I think that the future is potentially very strong. Especially for rolling out new manufacturing technologies into South-East Asia and so on, where Australia is seen as the technology developers, as a centre for innovation and tech.

What turned things around in Britain was government support. We recently had Professor Graham Wren from Strathclyde University over, who helped start the Catapult Centres (a UK government programme to promote innovation) in Britain. We spoke a lot about how that happened, and to initiate that, you need government support. So I think the future of manufacturing in Australia is potentially strong, but it needs support from government – federal and state. It needs that impetus. What has happened in Britain – and this is true of Europe as well – is that governments are now starting to reinvest in manufacturing.

AMT: What form should that government support take?

RK: In Europe governments were investing on a kind of a third-third-third basis. So if industry would put in a third, government would put in a third, and then the universities would attract the other third from various research projects. This allowed them to put together big projects that were ambitious. And I think what Australia should focus on is putting … well my view would be Centres of Excellence in manufacturing that are supported by government, but then clearly link in to SMEs and supply chains and so on, that support a greater wider network of manufacturing technologies.

I know this is starting to be developed through things like CRCs and so on, but I sense with CRCs that they are still a little bit low down on what in Europe we used to call technology-readiness levels – the TRL levels – and that CRCs are still too close to universities and not close enough to commercialisation. What Europe has done through the Fraunhofers and the Catapults is to move it up a few TRL levels so that the outputs from them are much closer to what industry wants in terms of commercialisation.

From my point of view, being relatively new to Australia, there’s still this focus on universities very much as the holders of fundamental knowledge, and that that’s very important, and that actually getting involved in translating that into industrial outcomes is almost seen as something that is not really what we should be doing. I think there’s a cultural shift that needs to be done and that universities have lots of untapped reserve in terms of helping companies.

AMT: What would you like to see Tech Lab working on in five years time?

RK: I would love to see Tech Lab being a host for digital transformation, IoT, advanced manufacturing, Industry 4.0, additive manufacturing technologies, and the translation of that technology into real industrial processes. I would love to see a mixture of multi-nationals, SMEs and start ups from New South Wales and across Australia, working together on delivering new technologies that are rolled out both locally, nationally, and also internationally.

What I want to see is ambition. We have potential to take up more space here, to grow, to lead the translation of university research into outcomes.We have to translate the outcomes of university research into real products, processes, commercialisation, much faster than what we’ve done in the past.

AMT: Tell us about your background and how you came to become involved

RK: I’ve been an academic all my life. I started my academic career in Britain; I’m a mechanical engineer by training; I did my research in acoustics and my research is generally in acoustics. Noise control and guided waves and structures. In Britain I worked in the mechanical engineering department at Brunel University, which is a technology university a bit like UTS. I was there for 18 years, I was head of mechanical engineering, and at that point I was kind of thinking it was time to do something different!

UTS advertised for a new position in my research area, which was acoustics. They were setting up a brand new group in acoustics. They were also moving into this place called Tech Lab, which looked quite exciting. It all looked to me like an exciting move and a change. And sometimes you’re just ready for a different challenge.

So I came over to join our new centre for audio acoustics and vibration and focussed on research, and then the job of Director of Tech Lab was advertised. I thought it looked like fun and I was fortunate enough to be successful in my application. So since January I’ve been in charge of Tech Lab; I’ve got kind of a split role: Director of Tech Lab as well as continuing my research. And I’m enjoying it. It’s a fantastic role; every morning I come in here and feel lucky I work at this place. It’s very exciting; we’re going to enjoy developing Tech Lab.

Keeping Kenworth moving

Kenworth Australia avoided delays, and saved millions of dollars in costs, through the use of 3D printing in collaboration with Objective3D Direct Manufacturing.

The size of the Australian continent, its geographically dispersed population base and the importance of major commodities to its economic output means that freight transport sector performance has a significant influence on national productivity and efficiency. Figures surrounding the industry are significant. Trucking handles more cargo than trains, ships or planes, carrying more than 2,100 million tons.

Moreover, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the trucking industry is worth over $40bn and employs 140,00 Australians. Trucks are an essential part of our economy. Without trucks, goods would never get from suppliers to manufacturers and into the hands of consumers. Just as the economy depends on the trucking industry, the trucking industry depends on high-quality equipment.

Kenworth Australia has built a reputation around superior-quality, custom-engineered trucks with proven reliability over 47 years of local manufacturing. It manufactures around 2,200 trucks every year for delivery, and has the largest amount of 2015 models on the market. So, when Kenworth was faced with a late design change that threatened the production timeline of its major selling truck lines, it couldn’t let tooling lead time get in the way.

The challenge

In May 2014, Kenworth had designed a new HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system with Delphi Automotive Systems on its “T” series of trucks, but a late tooling change to the under-dash ducting system meant the HVAC units couldn’t be fitted. The under-dash duct component connects the HVAC outlet bezel to an air distribution manifold on the underside of the dash. The tooling modification was necessary to accommodate both the new HVAC unit and incorporate a new design to improve airflow, assembly and suit the method of manufacture.

The duct component was originally set to be rotationally moulded out of PC-ABS, but the tool modification would take six weeks to complete, putting production of 320 trucks on hold. Kenworth was planning to assemble seven trucks a day for seven weeks from May into June. Halting assembly for even a day would potentially cost the company $2m in revenue.

“Parking half-assembled trucks, making the duct a ‘dealer fit’ requirement or delaying production was out of the question,” said Delphi engineer Ben Dejong. “We needed a process that could build the parts while the was tool was being updated.”

With an approaching deadline, a production solution needed to be found – and fast.

The solution

Delphi had been working with Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s global partner in Australia, Objective3D Direct Manufacturing, for over six years for various prototyping and injection moulding projects. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s Global Manufacturing Network consists of member facilities connected around the globe that have many of the same services and expertise as Stratasys Direct Manufacturing.

“We had already been working with both Kenworth, and with Ben and Delphi, on the prototypes to ensure assembly and fitment, ” said Matt Minio, Managing Director at Objective3D Direct Manufacturing. “Both companies had confidence in FDM technology, and it seemed like a logical progression to then scale up from prototype to a production solution. Our role then transformed from rapid prototyping shop into a just-in-time manufacturing supplier.”

Objective3D Direct Manufacturing’s project engineers recommended fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing technology to manufacture the ductwork for several reasons:

  • Material – Delphi wouldn’t have to change the material of the designed component. They could build it in the same engineering-grade thermoplastic (PC-ABS). Changing materials would have demanded additional design modifications and set back production again.
  • Speed – Objective3D Direct Manufacturing optimised the build orientation and packing to nest three parts across three Fortus FDM systems to manufacture nine parts a day, meeting production needs and reducing build time from 15 hours to nine hours.
  • No finishing – The ducts are considered ‘under hood’ components and purely functional (not visible), so therefore they didn’t require sanding, smoothing or any coatings. All the finishing team had to do is dip the parts.

“Speed was our main objective with this project,” added Hugh Tevelein, Objective3D Operations Manager. “We had to optimise everything we could to help Kenworth keep production moving. We worked to a 24-hour schedule with parts building overnight and then fitted to vehicles same day.”

The results

“Thanks to the capabilities and expertise of the Objective3D Direct Manufacturing facility and staff, we were able to produce end-use parts that allowed production to proceed unhindered, saving us from crippling delays,” says Dejong.

Objective3D Direct Manufacturing built 320 units over a seven-week period for Delphi until hard tooling was finished and ready to be incorporated into the production line. Putting production on hold for hard tooling modifications would have cost Kenworth millions of dollars and many unhappy customers. This just-in-time manufacturing solution allowed Kenworth to bring 320 vehicles to market on time and put into operation trucks that are vital to the economy. When there are bumps in the manufacturing road, engineers can count on 3D printing to maintain momentum and keep assemblies moving.

Jacob Harpaz – Love what you do

Jacob Harpaz is the CEO of cutting tools giant Iscar, and President of its parent company, the IMC Group of Metalworking Companies. He sat down for a chat with Barbara Schulz.

I found myself sitting down to talk to Jacob Harpaz in the cafeteria at Iscar’s head office in Tefen, Israel. Chatting with Harpaz, you would never think you were talking to a man responsible for more than 12,000 employees in 140 subsidiaries and 61 countries. He’s perfectly pleasant and charismatic, with achievements to his name few in Israel can match; yet he isn’t a spotlight-seeker.

Nevertheless, he has shaped his company like no other since joining in 1972, 20 years after its foundation by Stef Wertheimer, who had the foresight and vision to challenge an established industry. Iscar’s humble beginnings in an old shack in Nahariya, Israel, along with intense, hard work and commitment to continued innovation, have led Iscar to become an industry leader today.

Since 1982, Harpaz and Wertheimer’s son, Eitan Wertheimer, have run the company from one of the most rural and remote corners of the country, far from the commercial capital Tel Aviv. Harpaz’s office offers a commanding view of the region’s open spaces. His closest neighbour is a Druze village, and the rolling hills beyond that mark Israel’s border with Lebanon.

While he says he is happy to be the world’s No. 2 cutting tool producer, all Harpaz really wants is to be No. 1. That may take a while, because Sandvik Coromant is enormous. But the “Iscarites” are patient and are generating steady growth.

“The key is to love what you do,” says Harpaz. “Right from the beginning, I was in love with the mechanical part of the cutting tool. When I joined Iscar in 1972 as a student doing research, the company was hardly known.”

After his studies, Harpaz joined the company in the research and development (R&D) department. Had he ever envisioned being in the position that he is in today? Not really, he says, but he has always been ambitious: “I never thought I would work for Iscar for such a long time, nor be in the position that I am today, but I was ambitious and always aiming to achieve more; it was a big challenge to turn a very small company into the large one that we are today.”

When Harpaz joined the company in the early 1970s, 97% of Iscar’s sales were domestic. Today that is a mere 1%. The company has always remained privately held, and never publicly discloses its finances. Today, Iscar is the largest company in the IMC Group, which also has facilities in the US, Korea, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Italy and Japan.

The breakthrough came in 1982-83, when Harpaz became the Marketing Manager of the company. He realised that in order to be internationally successful, you have to think outside the box, travel a lot and work with local companies to actually tap into new markets.

“I realised that in order to gain people’s attention we needed a product that would be a breakthrough, something that people would ask for as an alternative to well-known names in the cutting tool business,” Harpaz recalls. “I think that R&D is driving the company and I can tell you that I am still the head of R&D, giving the guidelines not only for Iscar, but also for the whole IMC Group. You need to have a vision. I believe I have a feeling for what products can be sold in the market.”

You need your own people selling one product line

Harpaz travels a lot. The first time I met the man who became Iscar’s CEO in 1992 was at a seminar in Australia, a small market and quite far away; but he still insists on appearing there in person, and to have subsidiaries instead of distributors in all the different markets.

“You need your own people selling one product line, working for one company and not selling a basket of different products,” he explained. “In the early 1980s I started to open subsidiaries, but then I found it was hard to penetrate the Korean or Japanese markets and decided to work with a local company instead. Every time I started to work with a local company, it became an important part of us, and we ended up discussing an acquisition. It happened with Taegutec, Ingersoll, Tungaloy and many other companies that are part of the IMC Group today.”

In 2006, Warren E Buffett, the multi-billionaire investor, put up $4bn to buy 80% of the IMC Group of Metalworking Companies. In 2013, Buffett’s organisation Berkshire Hathaway completed the purchase of the IMC Group, paying $2bn for the remaining 20% of the Group. Harpaz emphasises that the acquisition never changed Iscar’s unique company culture.

But what is that often-cited unique company culture? Harpaz finds the question difficult to answer, but says that it’s an Iscar culture, not an Israeli culture.

“No matter if I am at Iscar Germany or Japan or any other subsidiary around the world I feel like I’m working here in Tefen; the way people are doing business is the same,” he explains. “We make everything easy, there is no Israeli culture as such, for us it is easy to adopt all types of cultures.”

Harpaz cultivates an open-door culture: “You will never see my door closed, it doesn’t matter how important the meeting is. Everybody can come in.”

He is a hard-working man, working at least 12 hours a day, six days a week. For him, to be successful you have to work hard and be good at what you do; and he expects the same from his managers and employees. And success proves him right. Almost all of Iscar’s managers have worked at the company for decades. They grew up together. They come, and they don’t go.

Elmass Australia marks 20th birthday

This year sees Elmass (Australia) celebrating 20 years in business, but the company, based in Brendale, Queensland, had an unusual start. The idea to commence a specialised contract broaching service was first hatched at Queensland University of Technology (QUT)’s Graduate School of Business.

Elmass founder Martin Forrer had to write a business plan for his final MBA capstone unit. He needed to find a market niche and formulate a business strategy, defining the resources, the nature of the business, as well as financial and organisational matters. Having studied engineering in Germany, it goes without saying the business plan was written for a company that matched Martin’s technical background.

Martin understood that to be successful, a balance had to be found between financial, competitive and human resources aspects of the business. Research had shown that a contract broaching service could be successful if the elmass technology, a highly efficient broaching process hardly known in Australia, was used. After graduating, Forrer took the business plan to local banks, but s the concept was ahead of its time, no bank was prepared to  finance the start up.

Determined to establish his contract broaching service, Martin contacted Elmass Schaffhausen, a leading Swiss manufacturer of broaching machines, and sent them the plan. The Swiss company agreed to a substantial investment in Queensland to introduce its technology in Australia and to expand its worldwide market. And so on 10 September 1998, Elmass (Australia) was founded as a joint venture, with Martin as local partner to Elmass Schaffhausen. Martin was invited to Elmass Switzerland for training on the products and their extensive maintenance procedures, and to learn about the new AFX machine series.

Back in Australia, implementation commenced of the structures and procedures to meet ISO 9002 quality standards. Equipped with only a few hand tools and a small mill/drill, Martin started a manual contract broaching service in Brendale. The initial phase was used to introduce the technology to potential clients and to quickly build a customer base. Three months later the first NC-controlled broaching machine, the P4-500 AFX, was delivered to the workshop at Kenworth Place. It was the first Elmass machine installed in Australia and only the ninth machine of its type worldwide.

Elmass initially targeted the low to medium volume market for internal keyways only. This allowed Martin to introduce the technology to local engineering companies and demonstrate its superiority. The company enjoyed the full backup from Switzerland, with head office providing custom-made tools and other services quickly to meet evergrowing local demand.

Soon Elmass was asked to make its first splines. A dividing table and suitable tools were organised and the company started to broach splines, hexagons, grease grooves and many customer-specific shapes. Demand for splines and hexagons was growing very fast, so Elmass invested in CAD programs and started to design and manufacture special tools locally. This eliminated the usual two-to-four-week delivery time and enabled the company to be ready for production in less than 48 hours, if the tools were not already on hand.

In 2002, Walter Bührer, Elmass Schaffhausen CEO and inventor of the elmass system, retired and sold the company. The worldwide manufacturing rights, patents and brandname were purchased by Verlie Group, a medium-sized, family-owned manufacturer of special-purpose machines, for which broaching was a welcome diversification. A new head office, Elmass Production, was created in Halle, Belgium, while Martin was offered a management buy-out for the Australian business.

Local demand for Elmass’ services grew continuously, causing some production issues, so the company relocated to its current address in Moonbi Street, Brendale. With just one machine to meet all the deadlines, Martin’s wife Vreni and daughters Sandy and Denise came onboard for a flexible afternoon shift producing keyways and splines. A Jones and Shipman surface grinder was installed to resharpen the cutters or to grind them to customer requirements. In 2005 capacity doubled with the acquisition of a second broaching machine. The P20-250NC machine was smaller, but still capable of broaching about 80% of the parts usually machined. However, it could also be upgraded with a third axis to broach splines automatically.

In March 2006 Elmass employed its first school-based apprentice. Sean learned quickly, was reliable and could soon work unsupervised to a high standard. When Sandy and Denise had to leave later that year, Sean was employed full-time.

To continue to grow and to apply best practices, Elmass participated in a Micro Business Review (MBR) delivered by QMI Solutions and the Queensland Government on behalf of the Probe Partnership. The MBR saw the company graded a ‘World-Class Rated Business’ – well above overall and industry sector averages. It also provided Elmass with valuable information on how to improve and grow. In response the company worked out a 12-month action plan that has shown good results. Elmass further automated processes and reduced overheads, with the efficiency gains passed on to the customers, avoiding any need for a price increase. To be even more efficient, Elmass also ordered a NC-controlled turntable for the P20-250.

In early 2008 Sean left to continue an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner. Soon after, Jesse commenced a two-year apprenticeship. Like Sean before him, he also learned fast, even running the workshop on his own for four weeks while Martin was in hospital.

To mark its ten-year anniversary, Elmass customers nominated the company for the Business Achiever Award 2008, in the category “Made in Pine Rivers” – an award Elmass went on to win against several well-known companies.

Managing changing conditions

In 2009 Elmass received a large order to broach 66,000 parts with indexed keyways. Amid this unprecedented demand, Elmass was hit with a temporary staff shortage. However, assistance came from longtime customer G&O Kert, whose third-year apprentice Ryan Beck came on board to help out. With Ryan’s assistance Elmass managed to clear their backlog and were able to deliver the keyways on time. In exchange Ryan was trained in all aspects of broaching, helping him complete the Unit of Competency in Broaching.

In late 2010 an order to broach 800,000 indexed keyways within 18 months was received. Elmass was able to bring Sean back and he was trained to be their leading hand. The large volume also demanded two new three-axis broaching machines. Martin went to the factory in Belgium to discuss suitable machines that could expand the business’s capabilities after the contract was completed. To stay ahead of competitors the decision was made to purchase a P36-700 NC, one of the largest three-axis broaching machines ever delivered to Australia.

Shortly after his return, an accident meant Martin couldn’t work for four months. Sean stepped in and managed the company as if it was his own. He expanded the workforce with two new apprentices to manage the increased workload. Both apprentices were trained on the P20, which was very similar to the new machines, meaning they were ready to operate them once they arrived.

Lots of planning and preparation was required before the new machines arrived. The workshop had to be reorganised to make room, with electrical wiring upgraded to pull twice as much current. Storage facilities had to be increased to hold sufficient parts for about two weeks of mass production, with loading stations built for both new machines to optimise floor usage and production.

The first machine, a slightly modified P10-250 NC, can reach speeds of up to 30m/min, and is designed to broach keyways or splines up to 10mm wide and 200mm long. The P36-700 NC featured several significant modifications, including a rotating platform that carried four stacks of parts, a second NC-controlled broaching head, and hardware and software modifications that allow the cutters and toolbars to be cleaned after every cycle. A frequency inverter was added to the hydraulic pump, increasing the speed of the return stroke and cutting dead time by about 20%.

Sean was given the opportunity to commission the second machine in the Elmass factory in Belgium. He was given detailed machine specifications and instructed to test every function, verifying that the machine could meet the defined hourly production rate under actual production conditions. For these tests, 1,800 parts were shipped to the Belgium factory. Sean recommended some minor changes to the system that proved beneficial to both the commissioned machine and for future product improvements. With the recommendations implemented, the machine has exceeded specified production rates.

Once both machines were installed and all processes were optimised, Elmass could produce 60,000 indexed keyways per month.

With the GFC, large volume orders fell away, and Elmass sadly had no other option than to reduce the workforce. A new business strategy was created. To expand capabilities and offer a unique service, Elmass converted the P36-700 NC machine into a standard broaching machine, allowing it to broach keyways up to 700mm long or splines, hexagons and other shapes up to 500mm long. Its size meant the P36-700 NC could also broach keyways or splines in blind holes in very long parts. The machine’s full frame height of 1,400mm can accommodate a combination of long parts and short toolbars to cut keyways or splines.

To differentiate from its competitors Elmass also introduced an at-call broaching service, which is highly appreciated in breakdown situations where a keyway or spline is needed as soon as possible to minimise production losses in plants. Customers can call and reserve a machine for a specific time, and are asked to email detailed drawings to reduce production time. These are used to set up the machine while the part is in transit to Elmass. On arrival it goes directly into the machine; the customer can wait in the coffee shop next door, then take the completed part back.

Developing young talent

Since its beginnings, Elmass has maintained a good relationship with QUT, as well as several other universities. Students at these universities have formed teams that design and build Formula SAE racing cars, and compete at international student racing events. These students often ask for advice in relations to splines. Elmass sponsors these teams by broaching their keyways and splines free of charge.

As a result Elmass has attracted interest from final-semester students, with many applying for work experience with the company. Being an engineer himself, Martin was qualified to offer three of these students the industrial practice required to complete their engineering degrees. The students were involved in design work, and in practical work in the workshop. They gained hands-on experience in how to use measuring tools, mark parts, grind cutters, determine material characteristics using simple methods such as the colour of sparks, and to program and operate broaching machines.

The students were also invited to participate in discussions Martin had with his customers about new projects. During these discussions the students were encouraged to present their view how to solve some aspects of the tasks. This was a welcome opportunity for them to use their skills in the real world.

Meanwhile Elmass is looking forward to exploring new business opportunities and the chance to continue to build longtime, mutually beneficial business relations.