A machine on a mission

Photo: ELGi

Aiming to fulfil an ambitious goal has led to ELGi Equipments adopting a people-centric approach in Australia. Manufacturers’ Monthly explains.

Shaking up a market which supplies one of the critical products for manufacturing and industry more broadly was undoubtedly going to ruffle some feathers. As Greg Gillespie, national sales manager at ELGi Equipments Australia described, the global manufacturer of compressed air technology is aiming to do just that.

“ELGi’s mission worldwide is to be the second largest compressor company in the world by 2027,” said Gillespie. “The company set that mission in 2017, and so far, it is going to plan.”

While that target spans the global compressed air market, Australia is not forgotten as part of that growth, and the company has committed to growth in Australia through the purchase of Pulford Air and Gas, an Australian designer and manufacturer of compressed air and gas systems that has been operating since 1925.

“For us to do our part of that global mission our aim is also to be the second largest compressor business here in Australia, in terms of turnover,” said Gillespie. “So, you need a fairly aggressive approach to achieve that, and ELGi’s acquisition of Pulford Air and Gas was one of the steps towards achieving that.”

While on the numbers the strategy may be aggressive, when it comes to interacting with customers, Gillespie describes his team’s sales approach as a human-centred one.

“People buy compressors from people.”

This has led to ELGi having one of the largest number of sales technicians in Australia of any compressed air company. This network enables ELGi to establish itself in the Australian market.

“As distributors of ELGi products, we do it one person at a time,” said Gillespie.

Although the ELGi name may not be as widely known as other brands, the global reach of the company has led to larger companies being quick on the uptake of the brand’s range of oil free and oil flooded compressors. Manufactured from start to finish at ELGi’s plant in Coimbatore, India, the control that the company has over its product is something that Gillespie emphasises with customers

“The product is 100 per cent controlled by ELGi, from the casting of the air end and the components to the machine being tested and leaving the factory; it’s all done in house, whereas a lot of competitors are pieced together with parts from all over the place,” said Gillespie.

However, the ultimate test is how the machine will operate when in use.

“People are more concerned about what happens after they bought a machine,” said Gillespie.

 A wide network

Speaking with Gillespie at ELGi Australia’s office in Sydney, the boardroom overlooks a warehouse split in half between spare part and product storage and a full overhaul facility for air compressors.

After purchasing Pulford Air and Gas, ELGi retained the company’s local service capabilities, something they bring to the ELGi offering in Australia, along with another 15 service centres around the country.

“We now have the capacity and the experienced staff to be able to technically support dealers locally or distributors locally, whether it’s building up full feature machines to Australian specification or doing major overhauls, we can do that here,” said Gillespie.

Where service cannot be done on site, ELGi will bring back a piece of equipment to the nearest service centre and service the machine with the 100 years of local experience that they have built up.

“Large machines you tend to either pull the air end out or pull the whole machine out and send it back to a workshop. You just physically can’t do those overhauls on site,” said Gillespie. “Air ends are big and heavy, you don’t pull a rotor out or the air end physically out by manpower, so overhead cranes are required to do those overhauls.”

Retaining Pulford’s experience is not just about the physical infrastructure, but the knowledge and expertise that have built up.

“Pulford has 25 technicians, full time, nationally. Fifteen are based here in New South Wales, and when we add the ELGi distributor network in, that number would be near 40,” said Gillespie. “Every compressor business in Australia, whether they’re a multinational or a distributor, would say finding and retaining good service technicians is one of the biggest challenges.”

Confronting this issue has led ELGi to ensure that the foundations that it inherited from Pulford remain.

“We have a really core group of long-term employees and service technicians,” said Gillespie. “We have a number that are in excess of ten years, we’ve got two that are in excess of 20 years, so when you have that ongoing consistent and knowledge base, we can build upon it.”

Ensuring core efficiency

While Pulford previously serviced a number of brands of air compressors, when Gillespie was able to visit ELGi’s factory in India in 2019, it made a lasting impression on him.

“The factory totally blew my mind and the expectation that I had was totally exceeded. Standing inside their factory you could be anywhere in the world; Germany, Belgium, here in Australia. The factory is world class.”

Not only does the factory assemble the machines, but the company has vertically integrated to bring the manufacture of components in house. This has been in support of the company’s overall goal to be the second largest air compressor company by turnover.

“There’s no chance of achieving the mission without that level of quality. Their plant is purpose built and their staff are purpose trained, they have their own trade school, and they have a 100 per cent retention rate on their workshop floor. A job for life,” said Gillespie.

The investment in quality was recently recognised when ELGi won the Deming award. The award, administered by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers, recognises a company’s total quality management (TQM) implementation. Gillespie describes the win as a step towards the organisation’s overall goal.

“TQM was seen as a necessary part of the mission to become the number 2 compressor company in the world, because you won’t become to be the second largest player in this industry without a quality product.”

For customers in Australia, this recognition filters down to the operation of the machines. Driving this efficiency is ELGi’s focus on manufacturing.

“In the development of their products, ELGi has focussed on producing the most efficient machines that they possibly can, which gives us as a distributor a unique selling advantage,” said Gillespie. “We will put our machines up against anything in the world.”

In servicing the local market, ELGi Australia have taken the qualities of the machines and fitted them to Australian conditions. Where necessary, ELGi Australia have gone a step further, developing containerised solutions for offshore and remote clients, or adapted the machine’s control interface for digital integration.

“Even though we are owned by a multinational manufacturing business, we still think and operate like a small business,” said Gillespie. “We can be quite flexible in what we do for customers and the solutions that we offer with the knowledge and then the space in the workshop that we have.”

Now, Gillespie is working on taking innovation in Australia back to the rest of the company, such as looking at the opportunity for gas generation alongside air compression, while adopting the latest innovations the company has to offer.

“The new oil free range is something that’s going to really shake up the market. It’s new technology and it’s one of the most efficient oil free options on the market. The long-term goal with that water injected product is to actually have it replace lubricated machines.”

In the meantime, ELGi Australia are connecting customers to their product, one person at a time.