No risk, no gain
Though the economy was in the doldrums, Australian entrepreneur Tristan Opie didn’t wait for better times, but instead invested in new machinery. A courageous decision that paid off.
Seventy kilometers to the west of downtown Sydney rise the Blue Mountains — a major attraction in eastern Australia. The mountains owe their name to the many eucalyptus trees on their slopes. They emit a volatile oil that, in the sunlight, bathes the scene in a bluish haze. “It’s a great area to live and work in,” says Tristan Opie. You will find his company at the foot of the Blue Mountains, in the town of Emu Plains. Opie Manufacturing produces complex parts for the construction and automotive industries.
Tristan Opie is the third-generation CEO of this family-owned company. After completing training in the firm, he worked for several years at construction sites to gain hands-on experience. This was an unusual turn in his career but was intended to broaden his own horizons. Even today, it helps him to understand his customers better.
Tristan Opie gladly departs from well-worn paths and this is demonstrated by a story from the year 2010. At that time the Australian economy was literally down and out and, like many other sheet metal processors, Opie was suffering a drought of orders. But instead of slashing costs and waiting for the upturn, Opie invested in a TruLaser Tube 7000. “A very risky step at that time, because just a very few customers realized the possibilities opened up by using the laser to work tubes. But I was sure there was a market for this service.”
And so he gathered all his fortitude and ordered the machine. Landing the first orders was hardly easy, since most of the potential customers worked tubes themselves, traditionally by sawing, drilling and milling. “The laser has major advantages when compared with these techniques, since it replaces several steps in the work. In addition, our TruLaser Tube 7000 is so fast that we can achieve considerably lower costs per item.”
Opie worked hard to make his clientele aware of these benefits. “A lot of persuasion was required and we undertook an active advertising campaign.” It was a while before the machine turned a profit, but Opie’s perseverance was ultimately rewarded. Today no other machine on the shop floor shows utilization rates as good as the TruLaser Tube 7000. That is why Opie has already ordered the next machine. It is to be delivered in the summer of 2014.
High-tech machinery for complex parts
A second TruLaser Tube 7000 and a new TruMatic 6000 will be augmenting the equipment at the factory, where automation is playing an increasingly important role. A LiftMaster delivers sheet metal continuously to a TruLaser 5040 while a BendMaster takes care of materials handling at a TruBend 5170.
With this equipment, the job shop in Emu Plains can make up a wide variety of aluminum, stainless steel and mild steel parts, in two ten-hour shifts. “In Australia there are many small sheet metal processors with one or two machines. They can produce simple parts at very favorable prices. To set ourselves apart, we have adopted a different path, using high-tech machinery and combining various processes. In this way we can offer even very complex parts from a single source,” Opie explains. “I always tell our customers: ‘If others cannot deliver a part, we certainly can’.”
A well-rehearsed team
To fulfill this promise, Opie draws on a dedicated team. About half of his 52 employees are on the shop floor, operating the machines. The other half works in the office and makes sure that there is no needless friction in production. A team of engineers simulates, for instance, almost every part in advance, using 3D software. “This makes us very fast. We can deliver the right part to the customer without having to build a physical prototype beforehand.”
Opie knows only too well that even the best production operations will not automatically be used to the fullest. That is why a sales staff of nine rounds out his team. “That is a relatively large sales department for a company of our size. But in a country as large as Australia, the customers aren’t all in one spot. That is why we have to travel to them and convince them in a personal conference,” Opie explains. This commitment pays off. This job shop even supplies customers at the other end of the continent.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in spring 2014.