An Illuminating Feature

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-By John Boley

That there is much more to lighting than old-fashioned bulbs is never more evident that when talking to Colin Goldman. He is general manager of Famco, a lighting specialist that can claim – among many other feathers in its cap – it illuminated Melbourne’s Crown hotel and casino in a novel and beautiful manner.

But more of the Crown shortly. Famco started life in a small office in Melbourne in 1961. It was first known as Rham Commercial & Custom Lighting and specialised in original innovative designs. Specialised factories carried out all of the manufacture to Rham’s specifications and among these factories was Fitzroy Art Metal, a company which had entered the lighting field at the turn of the last century with the manufacture of gaslight brackets.

By 1962 it was closing down and the remaining five employees, some of whom had worked for the company for 40 years, applied to buy the business. The name was then changed to the acronym FAMCO, but it has always remained Fitzroy Art Metal to those in the industry. In the years that followed the company moved three times to new and larger premises, acquired adjacent properties and purchased or established other companies in street lighting, plastics, shop fittings and electronics.

In 2004 Rham/Famco was sold to the HPM Group of companies which in turn was bought by Legrand in 2007. Famco functions as an independent business unit within the Legrand group, which is a publicly listed company on the French stock exchange. By April 2012 Famco will relocate its manufacturing operation to join other parts of the group in a new state of the art building currently under construction at Prestons in New South Wales.

Colin took us through the process of one of the company’s more fascinating projects – the world’s largest LED chandelier, which graces the new atrium of the check-in hall of the Crown hotel.

“It’s a project we tendered for around mid-2010 and were successful. This was a project that had to be completely constructed from scratch. Designed external to Famco, Crown sought local and overseas manufacturers and invited quotes by tender for the project. “All we had were drawings and impressions of what the end product had to look like. We then had to go and design from scratch the product itself which consists of more than 40 chandelier lanterns. These are illuminated by four boards in each lantern of LED lighting and on each of those there are about 60 LEDs. The lanterns hang off the chandelier. Then there was a lot of intricate design work involved in the actual physical construction – using mainly aluminium. Beams and arms had to be laser-cut to achieve the required finish.

“We had to construct from scratch all the main body of the chandelier, which when stripped looks a lot like the shell of a rocket ship. It was very intricate work because we had to make sure we complied with all the lighting requirements of Crown. They wanted the beams lit so we had to use LED lights on some of the circular supports to shine up the rods of the internal structure. And we had to make sure we had reflections on curved surfaces to bounce back off the chandelier onto the lantern itself.

“It was quite a challenging product for us; we had obviously never made one of this size and proportion before because it was a one-off, and we managed to do it pretty well on time and to spec. We just had two meetings with Crown to discuss a couple of variations the designer wanted us to incorporate, and they were the only meetings we needed. Then we had the whole project completed within six months and it’s now hanging. This project was very motivating for our dedicated staff that called on all our in house engineering and manufacturing skills. I am very proud of our specialist team who performed each task of this project to maximum competency and without them, completing the project would have been impossible.”

One of the challenges the company faced transporting the finished project to the Crown. This unit measures seven metres by seven – it would not fit through Famco’s roller doors and neither would it fit in through the doors of the Crown. “So we had to construct and build metal trolleys and the components were laid on the trolleys and wheeled into the Crown. After that, we were allowed a window of ten days to actually build it like a Meccano set from down on the floor of the hotel. It was certainly challenging!”

Colin recalls there was a large black curtain intended to block the work from the view of people in the atrium. “But anyone could have stood there and watched the progress of the chandelier being put together. We actually did it in about eight days and it was very rewarding when we pushed a button and the whole thing was mated to the base plate in the ceiling where it’s now hanging. The only thing that hasn’t been done yet is the periodic cleaning of the unit. That’s very easy – you just push another button and the chandelier just winches its way down to eye level where you can clean it and then return it to its position.”

It goes without saying that this was a very unusual project. Normally Famco’s business is in what Colin would call the mid-range. Too small and it’s difficult to justify economically, and too large and there is the potential to tie up the production facilities for too long; but aside from the extremes, Famco will go anywhere and do anything lighting-related.

The product range is quite diverse. According to Colin, “the main advantage of Famco over competitors is that we build to specification. We do everything in-house – we start with raw aluminium or steel and actually bend, cut and construct housings, then paint them, add the control gear and wiring to the luminaire and pack it and ship it – all manufacturing being done in Collingwood.”

The advantage is that “anyone can come and consult with us and tell us what they are looking for in lighting and we will make it up from scratch providing detailed drawings, samples, specifications and so on which they can take back for evaluation. When they are comfortable with the final product they can then place an order for production.”

There are not too many companies who can offer both emergency and standard lighting as a package, says Colin, “and once we alert customers to that they tend to take note and make use of our capabilities.” However, this does not mean the expertise is expensive for, as he points out, there are many companies out there and “we have to go to market with competitive prices.”

Adherence to regulations is a big part of Famco’s offer. “We make sure that our products comply with all SAA and safety regulations, plus there are a number of performance requirements, especially with emergency lighting. These are constantly under review; we are a member of the Lighting Council of Australia and we participate in their monthly and quarterly meetings so we keep abreast of changes as they come through from the regulators.” At present there are many changes being made not only in safety but also efficiency with MEPS (minimum energy performing specifications) on luminaires, “not to mention new BCA building codes that were released recently, so we have to provide luminaires that meet those standards as well.”

Famco’s key staff have over 200 years cumulative experience in lighting. Projects such as Parliament House in Canberra selected Rham/Famco to supply the special light fittings they required. This involved the design, manufacture and supply of over 18,000 items in over 400 special designs. This was just one of many examples of the expertise and ability of the Rham team to satisfy customer needs. More recently Famco has supplied lighting to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, the new Museum of Victoria, Melbourne Park Hyatt hotel, NSW and Victorian Railways, Canberra University, Eureka Tower, Paramatta Rail Tunnel, Austin/Mercy hospitals, Freshwater Place, 50 Lonsdale St, Lavarack Barracks, Auckland Hospital and many others.

The company has picked up a number of Meritorious Lighting Awards and Luminaire Awards given by the Illuminating Engineering Societies of Australia and New Zealand.

Famco supplies a diverse range of lighting products to suit project requirements, but also can provide its own range of standard lighting products for general and specialised lighting requirements in commercial and architectural fields. Famco markets its extensive range of imported and Australian made products in all Australian states and New Zealand, through its own sales offices, affiliated offices, agents, wholesalers and lighting distributors.

Famco has a long and successful history of involvement in the specialist area of project lighting.

The company’s philosophy is that the best products are developed as a result of the cooperation between an intelligent user and a capable designer and manufacturer who is able and willing to commit resources to develop a suitable product and ensure that the criteria of form and function are achieved.

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September 26, 2018, 10:00 AM AEST