With four decades in business, Queensland electronics manufacturer Digilin Technologies successfully diversified into lighting, and went on to change the shape of the industry in Australia.

Brisbane-based Digilin designs, engineers and manufactures LED, lighting control and fibre optic products for commercial and architectural projects. Digilin has provided solutions for some of Australia’s most iconic buildings and landmarks, such as the Melbourne Arts Centre, the Adelaide Convention Centre and Brisbane’s Kingsford Smith Drive. Surprisingly, and despite its success in the industry, Digilin didn’t even start out as a lighting company.

The story of how Digilin got to where it is today is really a story of electrical engineers who never stopped looking for the next big challenge. Founded just over 40 years ago in a small workshop in Brisbane’s West End, Digilin first operated as an electronics service and repair centre before developing its own electronic devices. The first Digilin-branded product was actually a high-end audio processing device designed for recording studios. During the 1980s, the company developed a variety of other electronic devices for many different industries, such as scoring systems for bowling alleys, and seismic survey equipment for mining and geological exploration projects.

The company’s first foray into lighting was in the mid-1980s, when the company was contracted to build a signalling system for Queensland Rail (QR). Digilin designed and assembled a combination of custom electronics, fibre optic cables, halogen lightsources and specialised lensing for the sophisticated system, which delivered critical signals to train drivers along the entire QR network.

This successful deployment was the catalyst for working in an industry that would define its future. Digilin went on to employ fibre optic lighting technology on various other projects throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, such as designing decorative lighting for displays and public spaces for Brisbane’s Expo’ 88.

One of the most challenging projects that the company was involved in during this period was the illumination of the 166m-tall Melbourne Arts Centre Spire. Digilin custom-manufactured specialised lightsources and supplied over 6kms of fibre optic cables for the project. Seeing the performing arts icon lit up after its completion will always be one of the company’s proudest moments.

During the mid-1990s, LED technology began to take monumental strides in performance capability, delivering substantially more light than their predecessors and using less power than ever before. LED, which had been used almost exclusively as indicator lights for decades, was suddenly becoming a viable alternative to traditional light sources. As Digilin had been designing electronic controls for years and already had expertise with LED, it found itself uniquely positioned at the leading edge of a technological revolution.

In 1997, Digilin was contracted to the Mall Music project in Sydney, where they manufactured LED luminaires for what would become both the company’s and Australia’s first commercial LED luminaire installation. Impressed with the results and recognising the immense opportunity that existed, Digilin pivoted its attention to focus exclusively on LED, fibre optic lighting and lighting controls.

In the years that followed, the global lighting industry flipped on its head as lighting became electronic and traditional light sources quickly began to disappear. Digilin’s proven success in LED and fibre optics, and its ability to manufacture the electronic controls they need to achieve optimal performance, took the company around the world to work on some of most ambitious architectural projects of the era, such as the Sheik Hazza Palace in Abu Dhabi, The Petronas Towers in Malaysia and many of Australia’s new Casinos.

Another pioneering project was a facade for Century Tower in Dubai, at the time the tallest residential tower in the world. Digilin custom-designed and manufactured a set of colour-change luminaires, which could be controlled by a remote DMX system to generate dynamic colour sequences. These types of decorative facade installations have since become ubiquitous, but back then it was a truly ground-breaking engineering achievement.

A hands-on approach

Two decades and hundreds of projects later, Digilin is still at it. Today the company is run by Tremaine Wrigley, who formed a partnership in 2013 with its founder John Davis, before eventually taking over as Managing Director when Davis retired. Despite competition increasing over the years as high-end imports from Europe and cost-leaders from China entered the market, Digilin continues to thrive within its niche by offering a comprehensive portfolio of advanced lighting and control products in combination with project-specific solution design and manufacture services.

“What really sets us apart from other lighting manufacturers is that, at our core, we’re electrical engineers that specialise in lighting and lighting controls rather than the other way around, and this allows us to take a real solutions-based approach to our project work,” Wrigley explains. “In collaboration with our distribution partners, we engage with clients to understand their project’s challenges at a conceptual level from the very beginning.

“Manufacturing both lighting and controls is also quite unique. There are very few companies in the world that do this, and we certainly don’t know of any other in Australia. An incredible amount of technical expertise is required to produce quality solutions in either of these categories, so generally companies will just focus on one. Once again, it’s only because we started out as specialists in electronics that we continue today as a manufacturer of both.

Conversations with other sales support teams might often end with directing clients towards a product purchase decision, whereas for Digilin the focus is on the outcomes and the experience for everyone in the supply chain.

“To offer this level of service we need highly trained and experienced people, as clients will frequently come to us because there isn’t a solution available on the market that suits their needs,” says Wrigley. “In these cases, we will custom engineer a lighting solution specific to their particular project from scratch. Our support team will then liaise with our engineering team to provide advice and support the client through installation and commissioning. In this way, we’re more than just a lighting manufacturer, we’re a technical solutions partner. This is what allows us to seek out the most complex lighting projects and engineering challenges, as Digilin has done since its inception.”

Digilin now operates out of a facility in Brisbane’s Murarrie, which houses its engineering department, testing lab, electronics workshop, production floor and sales office. It continues to operate primarily in the commercial market, with a particular focus on public spaces, theatre and entertainment, workplaces and education. To remain competitive within its niche, Digilin invests heavily in R&D, its team’s technical skills, and specialised engineering equipment and production machinery.

Looking forward

Despite a challenging first half, 2020 ended up being an exciting year for Digilin. The company celebrated its 40th birthday, built and launched a new website, underwent a visual rebranding, and spent its first year at the new Murarrie site it moved to in 2019. Although its production pipeline experienced a slowdown at the onset of the pandemic, with many projects being put on hold due to the uncertainty it created, Digilin took this as an opportunity to double down on its commitment to innovation, while keeping staff busy by diverting resources from operations to bring forward projects in its R&D pipeline. Now that the projects have returned, Digilin is busier than ever, having added many new staff members to its production team since the beginning of the 2021.

Digilin has always embraced the benefits and challenges of onshore manufacturing, opting to support its client base with Australian-made innovations and local support. In a continuing escalation of its commitment to this approach, Digilin recently announced the launch of its DRUM initiative. Standing for ‘Digilin Releases, Upgrades and Modifications’, DRUM is the company’s bi-annual release of its most recently developed products, technical upgrades and range additions from its R&D pipeline.

Four new products were released this May by Digilin in its first ever DRUM, including a cutting-edge electronic lighting driver, a sophisticated control interface, a high-output exterior downlight and a high-frequency dimming device – all designed in Brisbane by its team of electronic engineers and industrial designers.

“Each of these new products is a physical manifestation of our commitment to innovation and continuous improvement and we’re thrilled with the final results,” says Wrigley. “DRUM is our way of showing the world that it’s possible to innovate and manufacture locally, as long as you find your niche and leverage your strengths. With our new expanded facilities and the Digilin team increasing by the week, we’re now looking for new ways to grow, including entering new international markets.”

Alongside its upscaled R&D activities, the company is searching for ways to increase local sourcing of its inputs.

“Wherever possible we like to source locally for the obvious benefits that it brings us,” says Wrigley. “We find that Australian manufacturers have a high regard for quality, so we know we are sourcing components that meet our standards for performance and reliability. Like us, other Australian manufacturers are quite nimble and the opportunity to work closely with them to source specialist parts aligns with our production strategies. We form very strong relationships with our suppliers and we recognise how important they are to our entire operation.”

Looking to the future with optimism and a product portfolio that is growing stronger than ever, Digilin now plans to bring its homegrown innovations to the global stage by expanding its export activities, with a particular interest in the Middle East and South-East Asia.