Features

Enhancing manufacturing capability

With around 145 years of combined history, Hardman Bros and its subsidiary R&I Instrument and Gear Co. are looking to the future to improve their specialised capabilities. 

Over the course of the last seven decades, the Victoria-based and family-owned manufacturers, Hardman Bros and R&I Instrument and Gear Co, have been gearing up to enhance their manufacturing capabilities.

This collaborative effort has not only withstood the test of time but has also resulted in the establishment of one of the most diverse workshops in Australia.

The combined legacy of 145 years reflects a shared commitment to innovation and excellence, culminating in a powerhouse of manufacturing expertise.

Their success can be accredited to several robust investments in collaboration, new equipment, and a forward-looking approach to embracing new technologies.

Their ongoing capital expenditure (capex) program is a strategic move aimed at not only enhancing their current manufacturing capabilities, but also expanding into new markets and cultivating a broader customer base.

“As part of our growth strategy, there’s a real capex programme in place now to underpin the growth of the businesses, and find new customers,” said Andrew Rowell, general manager at R&I Instrument & Gear Co.

The collaboration between Hardman Bros and R&I Instrument and Gear Co has resulted in a unique synergy, offering a diverse range of manufacturing capabilities.

Their specialised, and in some instances rare machinery, reflects years of dedicated investment and commitment to their craft.

“Gear cutting is a niche of both Hardman Brothers and R&I,” said Rowell.

“R&I can cut down to an extremely small diameter, gears that would go into a wristwatch for example, and Hardman Brothers can cut gears up to 1.6 metres in diameter.”

Looking ahead, their capex project is a pivotal component of their growth strategy. It seeks to elevate current capabilities while embracing advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, positioning the companies at the forefront of innovation in gear manufacturing.

As they upgrade capabilities, every facet of the process is scrutinised for its potential impact, ensuring a seamless integration of legacy machines with cutting-edge technologies.

“Moving forward, as our capability upgrade project rolls out, we will be aligning further with a much higher capability to our customers expanding our service offering, consolidating what we already manufacture, and provide an add on at the same time,” explained business development manager for R&I and Hardman Group, Steven Ullness.

“The plan is to rapidly leverage that expansion within both businesses.”

This evaluation, coupled with a focus on innovation and growth, positions Hardman Bros and R&I Instrument and Gear Co as would-be trailblazers in the manufacturing industry, ready to leave a lasting imprint on its evolution.

Current Capabilities

Situated within 10 km of Dandenong, Victoria’s manufacturing hub, R&I’s manufacturing facility co-located with Hardman Bros stands out for its diverse capabilities.

Spanning almost 7,500 square metres of floor space on a five-acre site, the hub offers a range of in-house computerised numerical control (CNC) services.

The facility’s expertise includes gear cutting and CNC gear grinding with dimensions reaching 800 mm x 650 mm width.

Other services encompass 5-axis simultaneous milling, CNC surface grinding, CNC slotting, cylindrical grinding, precision honing, and horizontal & vertical broaching, including FROMAG keyway slotting up to 800 mm.

“Over the last five to seven years, we have invested heavily into five axis CNC machining,” said Rowell.

“We’re in the process of ensuring that we can meet current demands and make demands as we grow and expand our presence.”

In the realm of metrology and inspection, the facility also employs advanced tools like MicroVu and Optical comparators for vision inspection.

The Brown & Sharp coordinate measuring machine (CMM) with NIKON software and RENISHAW PH20 probe ensures precise measurements within an envelope of 900 x 1500 x 800 mm.

Not only do these companies boast great shared manufacturing capabilities, but their collaboration enables them to provide unique services.

“With around 140 machines used for gear cutting, and machining supporting our existing and potential customer base, we can either lead with our current capability, or promote with the fact that we’re a world class manufacturing facility in our own right,” said Ullness.

The incorporation of technology, advanced machining, and fabrication capabilities from both Hardman Brothers and R&I operates in tandem, allowing both companies to produce individual components and assemblies into larger systems.

Ultimately, this enables the companies to manufacture advanced components, but also assist their clients with the fabrication and assembly process.

“We’re able to provide complex components, individually, and we also have the ability to provide full blown complex assemblies as well,” said Ullness.

Manufacturing for various industries

The two companies boast expansive capabilities, and currently operate across various industries, producing specified products tailored to distinct requirements.

Noteworthy is their facility in Victoria, the companies have distinguished themselves as one of the sole specialists in fine pitch gear manufacturing in Australia.

“At the moment, we have specific strategies around aerospace, defence, medtech, foodtech and support to mining rail and energy sectors” said Hardman Group chief executive officer, Simon Bell.

“Regarding the manufacturing industry as a whole, we are very focused on our existing clients and our future Customer acquisition strategies.”

Maintaining AS9100D accreditation, essential for aviation, space, and defence applications, the Hardman Group facility operates as a reliable partner, offering end-to-end solutions and collaborating on R&D projects from prototype to production.

Holding the AS9100D certification since 2016, with a recent reissue in September 2023, underscores the company’s dedication to meeting high standards in aerospace and defence manufacturing.

“We have a differentiation within our AS9100D certification, we are registered for assembly of electro-mechanical power transmission products including related repair, overhaul and provisions of spares which further enhances our services,” said Ullness.

The Hardman Group has obtained ISO9001 accreditation in the 1990’s, which emphasises a comprehensive approach to quality management.

In adherence to defence industry protocols, R&I complies with Defence Industry Security Programs (DISP) Entry Level requirements, emphasising a commitment to robust security measures.

Actively participating in industry networks, R&I is affiliated with associations such as AMTIL, ODIS, AIDN, Australian Defence Alliance, and Victorian Defence Alliance in Aerospace, Land Systems, and Maritime.

The company also engages with industry platforms like ICN (Industry Capability Network) and BENCHON to foster collaboration and connectivity within the manufacturing ecosystem.

With a history of enduring partnerships, R&I has served as a trusted partner for key aerospace and defence customers, including BAE Systems Australia, EOS Defence Systems, Trakka Corp Pty Ltd, and AVT Australia (formerly UAV Vision), with partnerships spanning from 7 to over 25 years.

The Hardman Group also sources machinery from leading suppliers like DMG Mori Seiki, Hermle AG, and STAR Micronics.

Contributing to workforce development initiatives, The Hardman Group collaborates with Chisholm Institute, particularly through the Local Jobs Program and Training.

These partnerships secure these companies as stalwarts in the industry, uniquely equipped with a century and a half of cumulative knowledge.

As they set their sights on the future, the collaboration between Hardman Bros and R&I Instrument and Gear Co. underscores a commitment to enhancing and expanding their specialised manufacturing capabilities.

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