When it comes to leading from the front, there are not many Australian companies that can match the capabilities and focus of HI Fraser. And it's these attributes that have made it a niche manufacturing success story, writes Branko Miletic.
Way back in 2010, Manufacturers' Monthly reported on HI Fraser and how it had "put Australian manufacturing back on the world map." This was in response to its extensive and complex work on the then newly-announced Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) ship build project.
According to the story, HI Fraser was eager to showcase its talents and "saw the AWD project as a unique opportunity for SMEs with strong applied engineering capability."
Fast-forward to 2015, and the Sydney-headquartered company has certainly continued to lead Australian manufacturing out of the muddied trenches of old-style industrialism – not least in the area of defence manufacturing and maintenance.
Testimony to this is their latest win – both commercially and in terms of accolades – in the form of the Submarine Escape and Rescue Service (SERS) – an in-house designed and built containerised Hyperbaric Suite comprising two Deck Decompression Chambers connected to a Transfer-Under-Pressure Chamber.
Basically SERS is a one-off solution for the Royal Australian Navy that contains two air transportable containers that provide the submariners in all seven integrated diving locks of the hyperbaric chambers with environmental control (heating/cooling/humidity control) as well as diving quality breathing air.
This project alone has in the past month managed to get nominated for two categories in the recent Endeavour Awards along with winning three of the 12 categories in the 2015 Zenith PACE Awards including the coveted 'Overall Project of the Year' trophy.
But these wins were neither accidents of convenient statistics nor illusions of creative sophistry; the company that was set up in 1955 has become the poster child of what Australian manufacturing could be.
Speaking about the AWD project, HI Fraser General Manger Chris Williams noted that, "They are core to our business which is the provision of design, manufacture and maintenance of gas, fluid and waste systems to marine platforms."
However no company is just the sum of its theoretical capabilities – it's the quality of its staff that also comes into play.
"Ours is a diverse business that needs a contingent of staff that is technically competent, can learn very quickly, fix technical problems, do the difficult stuff – basically be highly technically aware."
"We, in reality need our men and women to be hydraulic system whisperers," noted Williams, albeit somewhat jokingly.
And then there is the issue of diversification. Whilst for Australia's manufacturing sector, niche manufacturing may be the mother of success, diversification could be seen as her first born child.
For HI Fraser, this diversification has come in the form of a range of defence product-inspired spin-off products such as vacuum toilets for the hospitality industry, the Burrendong Dam Intake Tower and Fixed Wheel Gate upgrade and the Coles Supermarkets EVAC Vacuum Collection System and Condensate Riser improvement.
"Over the past 20 years, we've recognised that there's no barrier to what we can do in Australia. But to be successful, we need to behave like an exporter so as to be able to sell to other Australian companies," said Williams.
So if the past month is any guide, then HI Fraser is definitely on a trajectory to even greater commercial successes.
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(From July's edition of Manufacturers' Monthly)