Having overcome some big challenges in its 25-year history, Frontline Manufacturing is now a thriving manufacturing business operating from its plant in Meadowbrook, in Brisbane’s southern suburbs. The company recently invested in upgrading its specialist technical capability with the purchase of a state-of-the-art Deratech press brake, supplied by CMTS Sheetmetal Machines.

Matthew Ellis is a true inspiration to the Australian manufacturing industry. He established Frontline Manufacturing in 1996 when he was just 26 years old . In 2010 he lost it all when the Queensland floods destroyed his business and the insurance did not cover the loss. However, he successfully rebuilt the company and subsequently sold it to a larger company that shares his belief in Australian manufacturing. This financial support has seen Frontline grow into a 40-staff operation.

With investment in new machines such as the recently acquired Deratech Ultima 1500/6100 press brake, the company’s future looks ever brighter. Ellis spoke to us about the company and the new machine.

AMT: Tell us about Frontline Engineering?

Matthew Ellis: I started Frontline in Queensland in 1996 with the aim of manufacturing pressed components. We started making componentry for the Australian manufacturing industry, and over the years we have grown to have a substantial manufacturing service that is highly respected.

Lately we have been trying to establish Australia as a hub for military-grade armour-plate products. These are the metal plates that are placed in military vehicles to protect soldiers from the danger of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). The sheetmetal material used in this industry is very expensive and needs specialised expertise, equipment and technical ability to work with. There is folding tolerance that must be met. Because of the flexibility of the steel, it needs a lot of tonnage to fold. Get it wrong and the sheet is wasted at great cost.

We needed to update our technology if we were to establish Frontline in the armoury plate industry.

AMT: What brought you to CMTS Sheetmetal Machines?

ME: One of our engineers went to a manufacturing exhibition in Melbourne where he came across the CMTS stand. They were displaying a range of machinery including the Deratech range. It was while striking up a conversation with Michael Schneider (Director Sales and Service at CMTS) and Bjorn Rabiot (Managing Director of Deratech Industries) that we decided to look further into Deratech’s technology. We found them knowledgeable, and they seemed willing to help us out in our endeavour to establish Frontline in the armour plate industry.

AMT: Tell us about the machine you ended up purchasing.

ME: We decided to buy the Deratech Ultima 1,500-ton, 6,100mm machine. The Deratech Ultima is a CNC-controlled synchronised press-brake equipped with a multi-axis CNC-controller with angle programming possibilities. It has a CNC-controlled mechanical crowning system and a fast and accurate backgauge on ball screws.

This machine has the capacity and intelligence to work with the armoury plate steel. It has a laser angle measuring device that measures and controls the angle as it is folding. As mentioned, any mistake when folding this material will be costly. This laser technology manages the fold accuracy; therefore, there is no material loss and reduced costs.

AMT: How did the installation go?

ME: It was a massive project just to get the machine into Australia. With COVID-19 everything coming in from China had stopped. Everything required exemptions from the Australian Government. This was like a minefield because of all the restrictions in place.

The staff at CMTS did so much work for us on this. They even had to bring in an engineer from Belgium to help with the install. They were outstanding; I can’t praise them enough. It took at least a year with everyone working together to get the job done. There were times where the CMTS team were in tears trying to get things done, but they did, and we really appreciate their efforts.

AMT: It sounds like it’s been a significant commitment on your part.

ME: Frontline Manufacturing is taking a leap of faith by investing in this machinery. We need to build a capacity that we believe will pay off. Our aim is to build the “Australian-Made” sector, and to do this we need to gear ourselves, ready for what we believe will be a growth in this sector. This installation was a major project for us, and it was good to have the CMTS team getting us there.

AMT: Why is investment in technology like this so important for the Australian manufacturing industry?

ME: It is using this technology that allows Australian manufacturers to save on costs and therefore become more competitive globally. It’s amazing what Australian manufacturers can produce, and if we can be competitive there is no reason why things can’t be made here in Australia. So, we went to look for what machines are out there to make this happen. We had assistance from the Australian Government, so it is also important to the Australian economy to make this work.

It is important for manufacturers to invest in their business with capacity, machinery, technical knowledge, and people. Frontline Manufacturing’s new owners believe in the business and have put their efforts and capital in so that they can grow and lead new industries such as the armoury plate technology.

We need to promote the idea that “Australian-Made” is worth it for all of us. In doing this, our government must also take the leap of faith in Australian manufacturing. Australian manufacturing is some of the best in the world and we now have the opportunity to do so with our lessening reliance on China. We all need to look internally to see what we can do. Australia is in a perfect storm right now, and as a country we should start looking at what we can manufacture here.