A commitment to upskilling workers and growing both its client offering and certification range have all been vital to Precision Metal Group’s success. By Brent Balinski.

Welding – excuse the cliché – is in Jason Elias’ blood.

Raised by a blacksmith/welder father, Elias took up the torch at 12 and went on to an apprenticeship at Transfield Services (now Broadspectrum), before founding Precision Metal Group (PMG) at the beginning of the millenium. Elias is passionate about nurturing welding skills, and his company’s tag line is “servicing a dying trade with a new generation.”

It’s not just welding at PMG, but the varieties of welding they handle are many: orbital, sub arc, pulse, robotic, and more conventional methods. Chasing growth through different kinds of projects has also led the NSW-based company to amass a long list of certifications, each of them important in proving they’re up to the job as a supplier.

The company’s two decades of growth, which saw its headcount reach a high of 52 in March, have been, according to Elias, the result of “chipping away and … just adding more and more services over the years”.

“Clients have seen the need to add more products to their range, or have even been at the point where there was a gap in their manufacturing facility,” he explains. “They would ask us to look into it, so we would look into buying new machinery – advanced machinery, upgraded machinery – so that we constantly stay above the marketplace so we can stay competitive.

“Laser equipment, laser measuring, co-ordinate measuring machines (CMM), laser cutting, robotic welding, automated press brake machines with robots. New CNC multi-axis machines and laser scanning and drafting software. These are the things that we’ve got on order and that we have to stick with,” he adds, referring to the disruption stemming from the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

“As we added machinery, we also added the personnel to the business at the same time, and that’s how we’ve been growing over the years. In the past four or five years we’ve been focussing on international certification so Australian manufactured components can be recognised on the international scale and not just to Australian standards.”

Professional development has been vital as well, he adds. PMG opened a welding training and qualification centre last August, offering qualifications in AS5351 CC3 (necessary for infrastructure work), ISO 3834 part 2 (for mining and defence) projects, and DIN2303 (a German military standard, for work on armoured vehicles.)

“That’s been the focus from day one,” says Elias about training. “Understanding what the client needs, sourcing the tools and the knowledge and having that ‘one-stop shop’ service – whether it’s the customer service, product service, the design engineering service. You’ve got to understand what the client needs and try and offer them a solution for everything that might be possible.”

The ‘one-stop shop’ capability takes in on-site and off-site structural, welding and fabrication work; cryogenic tank inspection, repair and rebuild; and even machinery hire. Some of the industries the company serves include defence, oil & gas, construction, marine, manufacturing, mining, rail and agriculture.

“The welding engineering is our forte,” says Elias. “The maintenance and sustainment of manufacturing sectors – and that’s shut-down, maintenance on the plant and equipment, reverse engineering, Defence. And then infrastructure fabrication. They’re our three main things.”

The maintenance work roster features several big-name clients, such as CSR Building Products, for which PMG has become qualified as a principal contractor.

Focus on certification

According to Elias, his company is the only one in Australia with both the structural steel work fabrication and erection certificate AS 5131 CC3, as well as the welding certification ISO 3834–2 and DIN2303. Capability building for infrastructure work has seen PMG join a small group of “only three or four” companies with pre-qualification for Transport for NSW projects.

He believes that more Australian companies should spend the effort reaching PMG’s level of certification, “to allow the Australian manufacturing sector to support the big infrastructure spend across New South Wales and Australia as well.”

Recent projects include signposts for traffic signs on the Scone bypass, fabricated and supplied to NSW’s Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) agency, and new brackets to support tolling equipment in Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel. The company is currently supplying a total of approximately 27 tonnes of fabricated and painted steel to the Stockton Bridge step joint rehabilitation project, also for RMS, which is scheduled to continue through to April next year.

ISO 3834 certification for fusion welding earned the attention of Rheinmetall, project lead for the $5bn Land 400 phase 2 project, which will deliver 211 Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (CRVs) to the Australian Government. After the German-based contractor considered PMG among the potential local content providers, it became clear that meeting the DIN 2303 standard would be necessary.

“As they have their hurdles, we take those issues on and try and find a solution for Rheinmetall to basically have their Australian SME supply chain up and ready,” says Elias of the $2.8bn Australian Industry Content requirement to build CRVs. “We tackled that certification in under four months. We flew out the German certifying body into Australia. We are the first in the Southern hemisphere to hold that certification, and not just in Australia. We’re pretty proud of that, and that secures us a lot of work with Rheinmetall and also the export market for their supply chain.”

The first 25 CRVs are being built in Germany. PMG supplied prototype brackets to the first CRV, delivered to the Government in September. It has since expanded its work on the program to include battery boxes and blast attenuation seating frames. The latter is through a joint venture with German company Probatec.

“The certification, quality management system, policies, procedures – without them being in place, you wouldn’t be able to practice what’s required and what is the norm on an international level,” Elias adds. “Then you would just simply miss out, not able to supply the documentation to prove and trace your quality of work.”

Having to retool

It is virtually impossible to speak to a manufacturer or anybody else nowadays and avoid the topic of COVID-19. In the short term, the pandemic has drawn attention to the desirability of a manufacturing sector that is able to produce the medical equipment and other goods a country needs. Meanwhile, there is pain, of course, as well as numerous manufacturers heroically scrambling to pivot to in-demand products. What the longer-term effects will be is anybody’s guess.

For PMG, it has complicated a move to a new site in Wetherill Park, and has led the business to pursue new opportunities.

“We’re retooling because we have to retool,” Elias says, matter-of-factly.“We put a lot of effort in, in the background over the years for certification, restructuring the business, tooling, machinery, advanced manufacturing equipment – all to be competitive. And obviously the coronavirus has kicked in so now it’s, ‘Okay, what can we do with what we have to help fight the pandemic and ride the wave until things get back to normal?’”

Most recently PMG has developed a steel emergency deployment furniture range, flat-packed and tool-free for easy transport and assembly, as well as a rapid assembly mobile morgue and stretcher/body trays, and fogging or misting decontamination units. Like many other Australian manufacturers, PMG has put its hand up to help in the crisis, and is ready to do what it can if governments need it. The team at PMG also see positives in this situation: it has reminded the public that manufacturing matters. Let’s hope it doesn’t forget again.

“The negative is the coronavirus is hurting a lot of countries, a lot of businesses, around the world,” says Elias. “But the positive side is a lot of countries will understand the requirement of manufacturing in their own backyard and hopefully support everyone on the back end of the coronavirus, and we will come out stronger and wiser for it.

“In regard to where do we see ourselves at by the end of this year? If manufacturing keeps going and the Australian manufacturing sector grows – which there is a lot of potential for now since the coronavirus – we see this as a positive return to Australian-made products. That’s how we see it.”