As Alstom prepares to bring rail manufacturing back to WA, suppliers such as Hofmann Engineering In Perth are seizing the supply chain opportunities. By Carole Goldsmith.

As Product Specialist and Operations Engineer at Hofmann Engineering, Karl Hofmann manages the company’s rail portfolio, and he’s looking forward to working on the Alstom METRONET project with his rail team. Hofmann Engineering will commence manufacture of bogie frames for the project’s railcars at its Bassendean manufacturing site in east Perth early next year.

“The Transfer of Technology process between Alstom and Hofmann is now being undertaken,” says Karl. “This includes detailed manufacturing plans that needs to be prepared before the bogie production commences. That’s what’s being undertaken at the moment and we have a team of six people working on this phase of the project.”

As a global business headquartered in Perth, Hofmann Engineering is well equipped to handle large railcar bogie frame orders. It also manufactures bogies at its Bendigo factory for Public Transport Victoria’s High-Capacity Metro Trains. The first of these passenger trains entered service in Melbourne’s train network in December 2020, and will be rolling stock for the METRO Tunnel when it opens in 2025. Among its other rail projects, Hofmann Engineering also manufactures bogie frames for Downer’s Yarra Trams, in addition to locomotive bogie machining and heat treatment for freight locomotive manufacturer UGL.

Explaining about the bogie and its production process, Karl says: “The bogie, which is the steel chassis of the railcar, measures approximately 4m x 3m and is half a metre tall. It’s a fabricated bogie design made primarily from plate material, cut into shapes using a plate cutting machine before being welded using a state-of-the-art welding robot. Following this, a five-axis gantry milling machine will be used for final machining and inspection of the bogie frame.

“The manufacturing process is fully integrated in our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that implements all of the necessary manufacturing controls to ensure that the bogie has been manufactured correctly. From start to finish, it will take the rail production team approximately three months to make a batch of 12 bogies (one trainset).”

Hofmann Engineering is one of Australia’s greatest business success stories. Two brothers from Germany, John (Karl’s grandfather) and Erich set up a small toolmaking shop in a Perth backyard in 1969, thinking that there would be a future in gears. It’s come a long way since then, and is now one of the largest gear-making operations in the Southern Hemisphere.

Today John’s son, also named Erich, is at the helm as Managing Director, and the company has close to 600 employees, including 350 at its Perth headquarters. The rest of the workforce are located across four manufacturing sites across Australia, its three international manufacturing sites in Chile, Peru and Canada, and at its offices in USA, India and China.

Engineering certainly runs in the Hofmann family. Soon after graduating as a mechanical engineer in 2016, Karl spent six months as an engineering intern at five different companies in Germany. He says that the knowledge and experience of German advanced manufacturing he gained was invaluable for his subsequent career at Hofmann Engineering, which he commenced after returning to Australia.

Regarding the future plans for the family-owned company, Karl says: “We are doing a lot more work in the mineral processing, defence, aerospace, rail and renewable energy sectors. We want to continue growing the business, and are currently extending the Perth factory to cope with the current and anticipated demands. All the company’s profits are put back into the business, with many of the family members working here. In the next 10 years, the target is to work hard to increase the current $170m business value to become a half-a-billion-dollar company.”

The way the company is going, it will achieve that successful outcome quickly.