Décor Engineering is a classic example of an Australian manufacturing firm that has shown its ability to forge valuable opportunities by taking on new markets. By Nina Hendy.

The real stalwarts of the manufacturing industry have a clear understanding that there is always a fine balancing act between being a well-established brand that is known to many, and being recognised as sitting at the cutting edge of innovation. A privately owned company, Décor Engineering has managed to achieve this delicate balance, elevating it to an enviable position as an industry leader within its own specific niche.

Based in the bayside suburb of Seaford, in Melbourne’s south-east, Décor has strong, long-established foundations in the Australian car manufacturing industry. The company began life in 1970, back in the days when there were no fewer than five car manufacturers operating in Australia. Those five car-makers all required hundreds of different parts that needed masking and painting, so Anton Derlet set up Décor to meet that need. Derlet began his business operating out of his garden shed in the early days, before moving to a factory site a year later as it became clear the fledgling company would need to begin scaling up production. Over the course of the next decade the company continued to enjoy strong growth providing spray painting services and manufacturing paint-masks.

In the 1980s, George Reisacher, a skilled tinsmith and engineer, came onboard and bought into the company, further developing its capabilities with regard to highly accurate masking for painting complex shapes, delivering a degree of precision that had previously been almost impossible to achieve. He designed and built copy routers for the machining of the wood trims for a variety of models of cars, as well as all production tooling and fixtures.

Reisacher’s arrival was followed in the mid-1990s by Cedric Lazarus, who also took a stake in the company and brought with him a wealth of experience in manufacturing and business management. The company purchased its first two vacuum metallising machines soon after that, as it began to supply metallised products for markets such the homewares and signage sectors. Décor also started the manufacture of decorative wood trims for higher-end car models, such as the Ford LTD, the Ford Fairlane and others.

In 2006 Tim Dash and wife Natalie purchased Décor and maintained the strategy of continuously developing new products, while still retaining the expertise and years of experience present within the company. Tim brought with him more than a decade of automotive experience accrued during his time with GM Holden, along with an extensive background in information technology and electronics. Natalie has also been heavily involved in the business, bringing with her 15 years of experience in the printing and scanning industry.

The company has enjoyed a strong record of success in terms of low staff turnover, with most of Décor’s personnel having worked for the company for more than 15 years. This ability to retain its people has been to Décor’s advantage, as they have regularly proven themselves to be multi-skilled, dynamic and adaptable to the changing needs of customers.

In more recent years, Décor began to realise that the Australian car manufacturing industry was in trouble, and that it would eventually cease to exist. In readiness, it has focused heavily on developing new markets. It developed spray and metallised conductive coatings for the electronic industry in conjunction with top aeronautical companies. It was also one of the first companies to introduce the physical vapour deposition (PVD) plating process into Australia. This process is an environmentally-friendly process that involves no chemicals and is a direct replacement for the electro-plating process. Décor now derives less than 2% of its sales from the automotive sector.

A talent for adaptation

Décor has utilised its capabilities and areas of expertise across a wide variety of different products over the years, including wood trims, upholstery, door trims, glue and fabric components. In recent times, it has established a new venture, Ecochrome, introducing an environmentally friendly chrome plating arm to its business.

Ecochrome was set up to address the growing demand for chrome-plating services, which had been attracting strong interest from the market. Tim says that he could see that the local market was clearly showing a strong need for chrome-plating services well before Décor decided to make the commitment and make it available in Australia. Ecochrome is the only company in Australia with this technology available to the broader market. While it has been available in the US and Europe, this is the first time it has been available on Australian shores.

The process enables Ecochrome to coat any type of plastic with real metal inside a vacuum chamber. This is a cutting-edge process that is a greener and significantly faster alternative to electro-plating chrome. It has a further advantage, in that other metals such as stainless steel, brass, titanium and various other metal alloys can also be used.

“Our limitation is only the size of the part we can fit into our vacuum chamber, which is close to a metre square,” says Tim. “However, they are able to process many hundreds of parts in one day.”

Unlike electro-plated chrome, with the Ecochrome process, the coatings do not lift, peel, blister or bubble. Moreover, it is a dry process with no use of chemicals, instead employing plasma to metallise the products.

“This is a decorative PVD process that’s quicker and less costly than electro-plating,” says Tim. “With the use of different metal alloys, we can achieve a wide range of colours and gloss levels, and a full or translucent finish. Being a low-temperature process, most plastics can be done without any warpage, and glass and metal parts can also be coated.”

Tim explains what occurs in the vacuum chamber during the Ecochrome process. At high vacuum, a plasma is created using argon gas, which displaces metal from a sacrificial target and deposits it onto the parts that are to be plated. By changing the gas to nitrogen, a nitride of the metal can also be deposited.

“This technology is used for cosmetic, conductive and reflective coatings,” he explains. “These industries include automotive, marine, lighting, signage, homewares, furniture and others.”

For example, the Ecochrome process has been used on glass and sunglasses for many years. It can coat plastic mirrors for cars, or the face shields of an astronaut’s helmet. The process is also, Tim adds, ideal for the gaming industry, in areas such as the coating of LED chaser lights.

Current customers for this process include the automotive and marine industries, and manufacturers of products ranging from lighting, signage and lighting reflectors, through lawn mowers, perfume and cream bottle caps, to garden pots and office furniture, just to name a few.

As for the future of Décor? Tim already has plans to purchase another PVD machine to meet the needs of other emerging markets and keep in the forefront with the latest PVD technology. The future is looking bright, that’s for sure.

“The growth potential for both Décor and our Ecochome service is growing all the time,” says Tim. “And we look forward to servicing the market here into the future.”