Local testing supports a precise manufacturing industry

With greater requirements for precision and accuracy, Paul Cibotto of Test Machines Australia explains the value of having a local equipment supplier.

One of those phrases that really needs no repeating is “you get what you pay for”. And it’s a series of words that has all too often come out of the mouth of Paul Cibotto, CEO of Test Machines Australia.

Having viewed countless machines that have been imported into Australia to test products and materials, Cibotto knows that when the focus is on reducing costs, the outcome of cheaper, imported machines is poor-quality results.

“Quite often overseas manufacturers will have a domestic quality machine that is sold at a lower price. Now, when you buy on price, they’ll sell you a lower quality machine.”

Cibotto doesn’t begrudge those who choose the cheaper option. However, being a manufacturer of test machines himself, he knows what to look for.

“Visually, the machines will all look the same – the wheel can only be round. But what’s inside the wheel is what matters. You’ll have different quality motors, servodrives, and load cells and this plays a big part in their long life.”

While the price differential may be attractive up front, thinking in the long term, the difference balances out.

“You might save 10 per cent of the price by getting the cheaper parts, but when the equipment is two years into the running all of a sudden it’s not worth it, because now you have to replace it with parts and labour at Australian prices,” said Cibotto. “The other thing is, when you buy from overseas, it can come with pirated software, so the Windows operating system may not be genuine, or so old that is it no longer serviced by Microsoft or the software manufacturer.”

Beyond the product itself, Cibotto has seen issues arise when manufacturers turn to the support that was promised when they purchased their overseas product.

“When something goes wrong, you need to talk to somebody,” said Cibotto. “The first thing you do is you call the company or you call the agent. Now, when you buy something from overseas, you either need to contact them in their time zone and quite often in their language, or send an email and wait. Quite often you will be talking to the sales team, who then have to translate to the engineers and vice versa. For example, you can only relay your information across to them about what you think is wrong, and they then have to try and guess what the problem is and how to fix it.”

Without local technicians, diagnosis of the issue has to occur remotely, and the purchaser is obligated to do the work to rectify the problem. This presents a significant issue of liability, as Cibotto highlights.

“If the operator starts trying to do the repairs themselves, whether it be under instruction or not, if they make a mistake, or there’s a mistake in the communication or translation, who is liable for the extra damage that is caused? If the operator electrocutes herself or injures himself, then who is liable? Is it the manufacturer? Is it the person? Is it the boss of the company?”

The human element
With these questions unresolved, Cibotto recommends turning to a local manufacturer of testing equipment, such as Test Machines Australia.

“We can send out a technician the same day, or the next day, whether it be Australia wide, who can then work out exactly what it needs and then get you back up and running straight away,” said Cibotto.

The timeliness of a fix also presents a cost saving, one that would otherwise have to be worn by the company if they had purchased an overseas product without local support.

“When you’re in a production factory, you’re relying on the results of that machine to continue your production run,” said Cibotto.

“When the machine’s not running you’re effectively making products that are unqualified and can be going out the door untested. If you make the wrong, product and something goes wrong there’s that cost. You can send your products outside to get tested, which is extremely expensive and defeats the purpose of buying the machine in the first place. So, yes, you might save a couple of thousand dollars but it has cost you a fortune and you don’t even know if the thing is working properly or not.”

Cibotto knows the difference between a locally made or supported machine and a cheaper product purchased from overseas. One of Test Machine Australia’s services is fixing other brand products that have had a fault or failure.

“We spend a lot of time fixing other company’s machines. I went to another machine where just after the purchaser bought it, the electrician looked at it and they put an interlock on it, saying the machine cannot be turned on or powered up until it was made electrically safe,” said Cibotto. “The electrician said, ‘This doesn’t meet the Australian standards, and we’re not allowing it be powered up until it’s been changed.’ All of a sudden the machine that they’ve just bought they’ve had to pull apart and rewire to make it electrically safe for Australian standards. This blew out the costs of the low initial purchase price to well over the cost of an Australia sourced machine.”

Meeting Australian standards
The standards that Australia sets and the requirements of local manufacturers to be fastidious when it comes to the testing of their products, has only increased as the industry has shifted from high volume, high throughput manufacturing, to specialised, precision equipment. Here, the need for accurate testing equipment, such as the series of Kyowa Strain Gages that Test Machines Australia offers from the Japanese manufacturer, is even more pronounced.

“Australia has now gone away from a lot of manufacturing, but what Australia is now very well renowned for is the R&D side of it,” said Cibotto. “We have a lot of intelligent people and we’re developing high-quality products for the world. What’s happening with the new high dollar prototyping that is going on, they’re now fitting the strain gauge to the prototypes and using a higher quality logging software to do the testing.”

Cibotto has seen this shift occur in his own client base, as the orders are coming less and less from large steel manufacturers, for example, and more from research institutions and university laboratories.

“We’ve been involved with the Formula SAE program, a race car program led by tertiary students. We’ve assisted them with strain gauges, displacement measurement devices, and data logging devices so they can then test their carbon fibre parts to ensure that have the strength required to do the task that they want to do,” said Cibotto. “They’ve learnt a lot about their carbon fibre, or their product development, while being able to test the products in actual real life use.”

Accuracy at this point in the production process is key, as the products tested at universities will go on to be applied in commercial cases based on their innovative qualities.

“With these people learning the manufacturing techniques they can then build a more efficient product, which then be extended into larger things whether it be bridges, houses, or vibration-proof buildings. Products that many years ago would fracture and break, we’re now developing products that have a flexibility in there, or a higher strength with a lighter weight,” said Cibotto.

Being involved with this kind of R&D and innovation is core to what Test Machines Australia do. As Cibotto highlights, those that work at the company come from a context that is intimately connected to the process of manufacturing.

“We don’t come from a sales background, we actually come from an engineering background,” he said. “We used to manufacture these machines ourselves so we know what they are, why they are, and how they need to be, as opposed to selling out of a catalogue or being a distributor.”

This history allows Test Machines Australia to provide a full suite of services, tailored to the individual needs of each client.

“We provide repairs and calibrations to all brands,” said Cibotto. “We also provide a design service. The machines themselves need specialised fixtures and designs. We custom design what they require and manufacture them as well.”

Test Machine’s range of products include both locally manufactured devices as well as machines from brands such as Tinius Olsen and Kyowa, which are locally calibrated to meet Australian standards.

Keeping it local
“While some of our machines are manufactured overseas, they are manufactured to our design,” he said. “We have a strict quality standard that includes permanent life codes on the software. It includes licenced software so the Windows operating system is a genuine product.”

When installing these machines, Test Machine provides the fittings needed to ensure that the unit is set up properly for each application.

“Quite often those machines will require other sorts of other equipment to work with them, whether it be sample preparation, cutting dies, presses, measuring devices, all those sorts of things we can supply. If you’re building a lab, we can supply everything in one package,” said Cibotto.

Once a customer has decided upon the product and solution they require, Test Machines Australia can provide and install it all at their facility, the next step is to ensure that those who are going to be using the system are fully prepared to get the best results.

“We also do installation and training as well,” said Cibotto. “You’re not just buying a box that gets delivered and an instruction manual, but we’ll come set it up, install it, and train you on your machine, with your samples.”

Having been in the industry for over 20 years, Cibotto and his team know how to get the most accurate results from their products.

“We will then apply our expertise to how you can get repeatable and reliable results. There’s no use having a machine that’s so complicated or complex, because then it gives unrepeatable results due to operator error.”

With Australian manufacturing becoming more specialised, it is this knowledge that Cibotto has built up over a career and imbued in his organisation, while being locally available, that marks out Test Machines Australia.

“This morning a customer came and wants to test locks on doors,” said Cibotto. “He’s after a specialised impact tester, so it’s not just your normal off-the-shelf type tester. He is setting up a standard that he wants and then we will design a specialised machine to suit his application.”

As Cibotto noted “there’s nothing really on paper saying exactly what it is,” for this customer, so it is contingent upon Test Machines Australia to develop this solution.