Perrott Engineering, a family-owned company in Far North Queensland, has made a strong statement with a major investment in the latest Okuma multi-tasking CNC lathe that is one of the largest and most advanced machines of its type north of Brisbane. Managing Director John Perrott spoke to AMT about the investment and his plans for the company. By Graeme McLean.

AMT: Tell us about the origins of Perrott Engineering.

John Perrott: Perrott Engineering was formed by my wife and I back in 1974 as a one-man welding and machining business in Atherton. As the company grew, there was a need for us to be nearer to our larger clients so we established a branch in Cairns in 2001, later closing the original business and transferring the operation entirely to Cairns. Today the company employs more than 36 personnel covering a range of skills, and has grown into a specialist hydraulic and lubrication service business and a precision component manufacturing business servicing a broad range of industries across Australia, Papua New Guinea and southern Asia.

AMT: What are the current principal areas of business that Perrott Engineering is established in?

JP: Marine and mining are our main fields with major contacts in these areas both locally and overseas.

AMT: Is export business important to your company?

JP: We have clients throughout Australia, and export represents a significant percentage of our business. It is currently running around 15% but has been as high as 40% in past years due to the installation and services we provide.

AMT: Quality output is obviously important to your clients.

JP: We place quality as our number-one priority. Perrott Engineering is ISO 9001:2015 accredited and our systems and individual components are designed to comply with relevant standards or Class Society Rules such as ISO, DNV, Lloyds, BV. ABS, API, and so on.

AMT: You mentioned your concern regarding the availability of skilled staff. How are you addressing this issue?

JP: Over the years successive governments have not recognised the importance and value of TAFE training to industry and the Australian economy, and whilst this is now being addressed to some degree, it has left a void in skilled tradesmen across all industries. To address this we have established a close working relationship with schools in our area, talking directly to teachers and careers advisors on the opportunities for young people within engineering and manufacturing. This, coupled with student work experience programs, is working well for us and we train young people ourselves. We take on at least one new apprentice each year and currently have three under training and a fourth starting shortly.

AMT: With assistance from the Queensland Government Manufacturing Hubs Grant program, you recently invested in an Okuma Multus U4000-2SWx1500 advanced CNC lathe with an OSP-P300SA control. Why did you choose Okuma?

JP: Service and support in Far North Queensland for these advanced machines is critical. I researched this purchase for more than two years, speaking to many people in the industry, and the Okuma name always came up in relation to high-quality precision output and exceptional service, training and technical support for the product. I also took a considerable amount of time looking at the scope of the machines available, to ensure the one selected met all of our requirements. The Queensland Government Manufacturing Hubs Grant of more than $624,000 represents approximately 50% of the overall cost including tooling, so it is a big investment for our family business.

The Queensland State Government investment of more than $30m in regional manufacturing, to assist local manufacturers’ transition to advanced manufacturing via Industry 4.0 technologies and business processes, is something that we have welcomed and will allow us to competitively manufacture a wider range of products for national and international markets. Unfortunately COVID-19 and border closures have delayed the full commissioning, but this is now well underway along with comprehensive training.

AMT: You mentioned service and technical support, which in Far North Queensland can be an issue.

JP: The ability of Okuma technicians to attend to any issues by on-site attendance, or to quickly resolve a problem via remote access to the machine, provides us with a great deal of comfort so the distance from their base is not a problem and their service is just exceptional. As you will appreciate, if a problem does arise, it involves time and money, so quick access to technical support is invaluable for clients in the Far North. The commitment and professionalism shown by the Okuma team, especially Steve, Karl, John and Kerry, throughout the two-year project has been outstanding and reassures us on the commitment we have made.

AMT: Have you had a long relationship with Okuma?

JP: This is our first Okuma machine and it is by far and away the most advanced we have in our precision machine shop to date.

AMT: Although it is early days what are your experiences with the new Okuma machine so far?

JP: Trial programs we have been running reduced the time on one job from 54 minutes to just 17 minutes on the Okuma machine, and in general terms we are already experiencing reduced manufacturing times by at least a half to a quarter. The versatility of the machine is something that is exciting, and we are still getting to grips with it. It is certainly, we believe, the most capable and advanced machine of this type north of Brisbane.

AMT: Do you see this acquisition allowing Perrott Engineering to compete internationally more effectively and prevent jobs being sent overseas?

JP: We will undoubtedly become very competitive and we are already aggressively looking at extending our business in hydraulics, defence, and also expanding into completely new areas. Given this new engineering capacity, the time savings and so on, particularly on short runs of high-quality precision components, which is our area of expertise, we will be very competitive. With 92 tools built into the machine it enables us to change tools quickly and efficiently to run short runs very competitively. Manufacturing in Australia is currently experiencing a resurgence and with our country needing to strengthen its sovereign capability, there are signs of products previously manufactured overseas returning for onshore production.

AMT: You currently have a staff of 36, do you see opportunities for further employment?

JP: With the new machine we have already created two new positions and expect a further five positions within the next 12 months in the design and logistics areas as well as on the floor.


AMT: What has been the reaction of your staff to the commissioning of the new Okuma Machine?

JP: We have now separated our hydraulic and machining operations and established a precision engineering division in a new building, partly due to space restrictions and overall development of the business, with the objective of expanding the precision machining division even further. The hydraulic design, sales and service division has remained in our existing premises.

There is an air of excitement within the staff witnessing the quality output and precision of the new machine plus the opportunity it presents to learn new skills. The investment in such an advanced machine provides our staff with a confidence boost for the future and heightened job security.

We are planning to host an open day for our key customers in the near future so that they too can be enthused by the opportunities the new Okuma lathe presents. There is no doubt that the company’s capability statement will be expanded as a result of this major investment.