Adapting a business to meet industry trends helps companies stay fresh

The industries taking up automation in Australia have changed over the past three decades. This is something Mikael Paltoft, managing director of Treotham Automation, knows all too well. He started Treotham with the goal of targeting two major players in Australia in the 1990s – white goods and the automotive sector.

Paltoft moved to Sydney from Sweden after visiting Australia twice before deciding to immigrate. Having worked for his father’s company, which sold mechanical relays, he looked for a gap in the market that would allow him to use the partnership he already had with igus, which specialises in energy chains, polymer bearings and cables.

“I did a bit of background research on products I sold in Sweden to see if there was a market for them. I did find there was a market for it, even if it wasn’t that big at the time,” he said.

“When I came there were two main industries that had value for those products. Unfortunately, these industries don’t exist in Australia anymore.”

Those industries were the automotive industry and white goods. The automotive industry was popular in Australia in the 20th century through the opening of local plants by international manufacturers such as Ford, Holden and Toyota. But by 2016, these companies had announced they intended to cease production in Australia. An Australian government budget review from 2014-15 on the Automotive Industry Package explained that the automotive industry used to have a long history of government support. But, as tariff assistance to the automotive industry declined after 1984, a series of industry-specific budgetary measures were implemented to help the industry adjust. The Productivity Commission considered that ongoing industry specific assistance to the automotive manufacturing industry was not warranted.

With the automotive industry, along with white goods, declining in Australia, Treotham was one of many distributors that had to change course in order to stay on top.

“There is nothing that I was doing in the beginning that I am doing today. It has changed a lot,” he said.

But, it changed for the good of the company and other industries. Now, Treotham focusses on industries such as the entertainment sector, which includes museums and sports stadiums. The company also works in the mining, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and food industries, supplying conduits, smart plastics and chain solutions to Australian businesses.

Following Europe’s way

When Paltoft started his business, he focussed on two product groups – igus’ energy chains and PMA conduits. “They had been used in Europe for a few years, but not really in Australia. There was a lot of work to get them off the ground to show all of the businesses the benefits of these products.”

In the 1990s, Paltoft noticed a lot of companies were using metal conduits, which were heavier and pricier. Meanwhile in Europe, companies started using more efficient products made of plastic and nylon.

“A lot of aspects when I came here were based on the US market. All the cables were oversized for a PLC wiring, for example.

“That’s all changed. Australia has now adopted more of the European way of doing things,” said Paltoft.

When change helps growth

From working on his own for two years, Paltoft now has a staff of more than 30, with Australian offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and a New Zealand office in Auckland.

Some of the changes Treotham has gone through include building a dominant online presence where customers can get all of their information through the Treotham website, while still maintaining a face-to-face presence as Treotham has expanded its service offering.

A fully equipped workshop facility with factory trained service and technical engineers provides fast and reliable service and custom-built solutions for special applications.

“After installation, we can also offer a service package where we go onsite and inspect the chain they have running for wear and tear. We create a maintenance program for them.”

Using the latest products and technology, Treotham is able to install equipment that can be easily monitored, which ensures the most suitable preventative maintenance plan is in place.

“The easiest way to explain it is when people use a Fitbit. They can monitor how much they are walking or how much sleep they are getting. We can now monitor how healthy your products are,” said Paltoft.

For example, with the help of sensors a company can detect whether motors are overheating.

“If you use new technology you can also streamline everything. You can save a lot of power and electricity,” he said.

Treotham can help businesses find a way to transfer multiple media such as water, power or air into one particular chain. “We work for the person making their machine in a garage, to large companies,” said Paltoft.

The company stocks products from more than 30 suppliers such as igus, PMA, Euchner, Wenglor and Ilme. Most recently, Treotham has partnered with Lapp, which specialises in cables, connectors and cable glands.

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