Broens has been one of the best known names in Australian manufacturing and engineering for decades. Now, following a period of instability, its South Australian arm is under new management and is being reinvented and rejuvenated for a new era.

Broens began operations in Sydney’s south-west suburbs in 1979. Thriving as a manufacturer providing subcontract toolmaking and general engineering services, it soon diversified into sectors such as automotive, aerospace, medical, mining and heavy industry. In 2007, it took over two companies in Elizabeth, northern Adelaide – Static Engineering and Calbic Engineering – and consolidated them to form Broens SA. By then, Broens was a globally respected provider of design, manufacturing and engineering solutions, exporting to more than 16 countries and involved in projects such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. However, towards the end of 2016, the company was placed into liquidation. At that point Adelaide City Engineering Pty Ltd came into the story.

Adelaide City Engineering was formed in 2003 by Timothy Lillie as a new venture. The aim of the business was to provide quality services with continual improvement to its customers while also providing a safe work environment for its employees. Adelaide City Engineering strives to offer Australia’s most comprehensive service & repair facilities including special-purpose machine design and manufacture capabilities, and existing machine redesign and improvement. It has extensive experience and ongoing involvement across a wide range of industries, including mining, agricultural, marine, transport, construction, manufacturing and steel processing. It also has a branch in Perth to support itscustomers in the steel , mining and paper sectors in Western Australia.

When news emerged of the Broens liquidation, it offered an opportunity for Adelaide City Engineering to further diversify and expand. In December 2016, Lillie was contacted and asked if Adelaide City Engineering would be interested in any plant and equipment. Lillie and a group of valued employees visited the Broens SA site.

“We found the equipment to be complementary to the Adelaide City Engineering business,” says Lillie, Managing Director of both Adelaide City Engineering and now Broens SA. “So we went ahead with the purchase of all the IP and the plant and equipment in Adelaide.

“The acquisition allows us to further support our customers by increasing our extensive manufacturing facilities and expertise,” Lillie adds. “Importantly, it also opens up the potential to break into defence markets, allowing us to continue our diversification and future-proofing program. Defence was an area Adelaide City Engineering was keen to and in which Broens was a long-established player.”

As part of its five-year vision and business plan, at the end of 2015-16 sector Adelaide City Engineering decided to venture into the defence sector. In 2016 it employed a Business Development and Key Account Manager to start this task, as well as purchasing land at Techport.

Lillie explains: “When the opportunity to purchase the IP, plant and equipment at Broens in Adelaide came up, this allowed Adelaide City Engineering to enter the defence sector immediately. Components and equipment for the defence industry are still being designed and manufactured out of Broens SA: all their aircraft-loading equipment and special-purpose equipment. This is why it was such a good fit, because it was in an industry that Adelaide City Engineering wasn’t currently in, but had transferable capability and knowledge.”

To support the move, Melissa Parr has been employed as Defence Business Manager. Parr has an extensive background in defence and automotive manufacturing including a 12-year stint at a major Defence Prime. Parr expands on the reasoning for the drive into defence markets.

“Despite the fact that the acquisition side of the defence programs tend to run for quite a long time, the through-life support can run for 10-20 years beyond that initial term,” says Parr. “With the service capability gained through Adelaide City Engineering , we can be a valuable asset as an industry partner.”

Lillie, Parr and the team are confident that in combining Adelaide City Engineering and Broens SA’s respective strengths, the new business will have a lot to offer clients in the defence space.

“The broad capability that we’ve got here, bringing Adelaide City Engineering’s capabilities together with Broens, can offer quite a diverse range of products and services from design to delivery and ongoing support,” says Parr. “That’s attractive to the defence primes and all of our customers; we can act as an industry partner rather than just a supplier or sub-contractor.”

“We offer turnkey solutions and form partnership with our customers and suppliers,” adds Lillie. “It’s really a one-stop shop for our customers because of our comittment, networking and the alliances we have with other great companies throughout Australia and the world. This allows our customers to be able to work with one supplier for there project.

Technology and processes

While the Broens acquisition clearly offers a substantial array of new opportunities, it has not been without its difficulties. For the team at Adelaide City Engineering, developing an understanding of a whole new sector in such a short time was by no means easy.

“The team at Adelaide City Engineering deserves special thanks, as does the Business Development and Key Account Manager, for all the hard work bringing this together,” says Lillie. “We have also lost good people during these challenging times, and have learnt life-changing lessons. There’s been a huge learning curve in how the defence industry works, what they require and how they do it and still return profits back to the company. It’s definitely different to the other sectors.”

There were also challenges in integrating the two businesses with their differing organisational cultures. According to Lillie and Parr, Broens was dominated by processes that could hamper its ability to make profit and to meet customer requirements with the sort of agility that Adelaide City Engineering has long prided itself on. The new management has been conducting an extensive review of processes across the business, with a strong emphasis on moving towards operating with Industry 4.0.

“We’re looking more broadly into how we can service our exsting customers and the upcoming defence programs,” says Parr. “Industry 4.0 is going to important for us in the future, so we’re preparing for that now. There’s such a wide range of defence programs that are available at the moment, across land, air, sea. The technology of Industry 4.0 is going to be essential moving forward.”

One aspect of this is the company’s involvement with Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform, which comprises a raft of 3D design, analysis, simulation and intelligence software. The team recently spent time in Paris doing a lot of training on the platform, and Dassault personnel from France will be working with Broens SA to upgrade its procedures. Implementing this software allows the company to support its customers better, giving them a clear understanding of their projects.

Broens SA also uses the Iscar Matrix tool management system. For Lillie, developing close collaborative relationships with suppliers such as Dassault, steel suppliers, engineering companies, tooling suppliers. As part of this, Iscar is vital.

“We look at all of our suppliers as partners,” he says. “The good thing about the Matrix system is that it’s actually working in with all of our improvements. It will talk directly to our job costing system, to our invoicing system, to our purchasing. It works well with our ERP system. And that’s great for us – for tracking costs and for traceability as well. We aim to be running a paperless system in 12 months.”

Jason Allen, Managing Director of Iscar Australia, echoes this point: “That relationship is crucial, it’s vital to the growth of both companies. And the Matrix system also provides a foundation for Industry 4.0, collecting that big data and storing it in the Cloud; utilising the information for continuous improvement and performance tracking. The next step would be bringing in RFID chipped tools, which is the release we have now for toolholders, creating connectivity from machine tool to measurement to Matrix. By creating new efficiencies around that, we reduce human interaction with the tool, ultimately elliminating any chance of error.”

Revitalising a brand

Lillie believes that the situation for manufacturing in Australia remains tough. He cites skills shortages as a major issue, and Broens SA and Adelaide City Engineering are taking decisive steps to tackle the problem for itself

“We have to get a lot smarter in how we do things,” he says. “The biggest key to sustainment and success for the future is training. It’s going to be so important to train staff, keep bringing apprentices through the group. We’re recruiting a full-time trainer to upskill our people, and we will collaborate with hign schools and other companies to cross-train.”

Lillie’s company is a member of the Australian Precision Manufacturing Group (APMG), a network of manufacturing companies and organisations who meet regularly and look for ways to co-operate and thereby grow the industry. Broens SA and Adelaide City Engineering have had discussions with the APMG about ways the member companies can work together on cross-training staff, sharing skills. The group is also engaged in seeking areas where its members can access global supply chains by collaborating.

“Moving forward, it’s only going to get stronger and stronger, with people working together,” says Lillie. “It’s so important in the sectors we’re in, that we get a strong team and work together to offer the end-customer a total package and provide the customer a greta product and a easy experience. When we’ve spoken to various companies overseas, that’s what they’re interested in – a one-stop-shop. We might deal with 20-30 different partners, but the end-customer is dealing with one.”

Meanwhile, Lillie and his team are in the midst of a major rebranding campaign. This will see the creation of a new overarching umbrella group brand, to be announced later this year, while its three core divisions – Broens SA, Adelaide City Engineering, and Static Engineering (which specialises in ground support equipment) – will continue to exist as sub-brands. It’s a strategy that gives a new identity for the new enlarged group, while retaining the strong individual identities of its component businesses.

“Adelaide City Engineering has a respected name in the sheet and coil industry,” says Lillie. “We are the leaders in Australia for any of that larger equipment for the steel industry. Static has got a fantastic name for ground support equipment. And Broens has a great name for defence.

“The most important asset we have is our employees,” adds Lillie. “To ensure employee retention ,we have developed a worklife balance for our trades to allow 50% work and 50% home life balance. We believe family and balance must come first. I enjoy being a leader of a workforce that continues to grow in experience and enjoy what they do and where they work. I enjoy the enthuisiasm of this work group and am excited what we can achieve as a group in the future.”