Performance When It Counts

Click to view in E-Magazine | Click to view Brochure

-By David Barratt

For four decades, Chess Engineering has been supplying diverse industries, including rail, food, print and packaging, water, general, engineering, aviation and transport maintenance with its own unique engineering solutions. Fully capable of designing, fabricating, and installing its products – whether they be individual machine components or large industrial systems – Chess has what it takes to deliver “performance when it counts.”

Chess undertakes a wide variety of engineering projects, from the overhaul of parts for railway carriages for the “majors” to bespoke rail carriage kitchen builds, to large-scale food processing equipment and mining infrastructure. The company’s wealth of experience and top tier team of engineers enables it to create solutions for various industries while its long list of repeat clients speaks to the high quality the company strives to maintain.

Chess continues to grow as a company as it expands its area of focus into new and exciting market sectors, having invested significantly in plant and material upgrades whilst developing a foothold in overseas markets including South East Asia and New Zealand.

The wholly Australian owned firm operates as a single unit with two distinct but interconnected divisions, each with its own specialisations. The focus of Chess Engineering is design, fabrication, machining, fitting and installation for clients across a variety of sectors, particularly rail and food technology. Chess Flameproof, meanwhile, designs and converts a variety of equipment so it can be used in hazardous, flammable areas. Equipment includes diesel and electric forklifts, elevated work platforms, sweepers, generators, Motors, etc.

“Chess started as a general engineering job shop in the mid seventies,” Stephen Facer, director of Chess Industries. We had customers such as Kellogg at the time, and about nine years ago, in 2003, I bought the business myself and we’ve since directed ourselves into the rail industry, our largest market.”

Stephen identifies the rail industry as a solid, long-term, stable industry that is utilised by Australians every day, making it an excellent area of focus for the company. “We have a very broad range of customers, but our main market is rolling stock and rail infrastructure equipment. Food technology is our next largest activity area, followed by a range of other markets including infrastructure, water and so forth.”

The Chess Flameproof division specialises in modifying mobile materials handling equipment for work in hazardous and explosive environments. “Chess Flameproof,” explains Stephen, “works largely with forklift trucks so they can work in hazardous areas, such as where there is a great deal of dust, or munitions dumps, chemicals plants and those sorts of areas; we’ve been doing this for about 30 years.” Stephen describes the relationship between the two divisions as a “hand in glove.” They are two separate divisions, but work very closely together, generally on a supplier – customer basis with Chess Engineering often manufacturing parts for Flameproof.

Both divisions share common central services such as financial, accounting, and IT services and co-operation is very high between the two divisions. “There is sufficient separation for people to run their own show, but for us to be close enough to each other so we still feel as if we’re one family.”

The Flameproof division is growing right alongside Engineering, making inroads in overseas markets as well as expanding current services from forklifts out into compressors, engines, and other industrial equipment.

Stephen attributes much of the success the company has experienced to the strong culture amongst its people and their focus on quality and safety in all they do. “We have a pretty low turnover of staff at all levels. We have people that join us and last quite a long time,” he says of the longevity of his employees. Chess is highly supportive of its staff, and as a company is able to offer a large variety of consistent work. “The culture is, I suppose, slightly conservative, but it’s my job to stir things up and maintain a high energy within the company.”

Staffs are also encouraged to contribute through ideas and experience. “Our focus is very much oriented toward satisfying the customer, so we’re an organisation that wants people to be able to roll their sleeves up and take on activities that aren’t strictly within their job description.”

The company’s safety profile is second to none in the industry, and its strong focus in this area has kept the firm above the pack in terms of safety ratings. “We make a great effort to maintain our safety standards and perform quite noticeably above industry average.”

But Chess’ culture is expressed not only in terms of employee support and high safety standards; the company also reaches out to the broader community by supporting national not-for-profit groups and maintaining a high percentage of apprentice workers, giving back to Australia’s sought after skilled trades industry.

“We try to take on about 10 per cent of our trade workforce as apprentices,” says Stephen. “We think it’s important to seed our own company with great tradesman, and also put something back into an industry that is bleeding skilled staff.”

Stephen recognises a lack of skilled trades workers in Australia as a significant issue that many employers in the industry face. “At different times it’s hard to get specific types of skills,” he says of the industry landscape, noticing that certain trades seem to ebb and flow, sometimes leaving positions difficult to fill. “The skilled trades availability is fickle, and it is getting harder to find good skilled tradespeople.”

Chess continues to support Australia’s trades by supporting products, which also helps the business to continue to grow in the face of the OEM imports that some companies use. “The major part of our business is creating and / or refurbishing parts for rail rolling stock, which is about 70 per cent less expensive than bringing new OEM parts in, and clients end up with a better product.”

“Quality is remembered a long time after the price is forgotten,” is a lesson many clients learn the hard way. And apart from being able to provide a higher quality product at a better price point, Stephen points out that the company’s custom engineered solutions can be delivered significantly faster than when clients order OEM parts from outside of the country.

Stephen is working toward continued growth for the company, and relies on the strong relationships that have been built with clients over the last forty years to keep the company winning jobs. “We’ve had some customers for well over 30 years, and all that time we have been winning jobs quote by quote from them on the open marketplace. It helps keep us in the real world,” he reports.

As the business evolves, jobs are often being found in new sectors, although the company’s focus remains heavily in the stable rolling stock market. The quality Chess is known for continues to bring it new success as it branches into infrastructure, mining, and other market areas. “We’re undertaking infrastructure work for roads, and after we had our first job installed seamlessly we’ve been winning quite a lot of work ever since.” The company has also been impressing new clients in the food processing industry, as the success of a major recent project suggests. “We just project managed a large dairy processing plant, and the customer has been very pleased with the results. We took an open book approach with that customer. This further demonstrated our flexibility as we worked toward creating the best solution for them.”

And it is this success and client satisfaction that Stephen considers the true test of any company. “The best recognition for us is the way the same major customers keep coming back to us. That is the best testament we can have. We do our best to achieve a high level of quality, we’re fastidious about safety, and we look after our staff reasonably. Most importantly, if we can listen to the customer and provide more than they have asked for, we have created some sustainability for ourselves.”

It is these four qualities – understanding the customer and the focus on quality, safety, and staff – that have seen the company through a forty year evolution to become a reliable engineering solutions provider in the rail, food processing and other key markets. The open-minded approach Chess has allows the business to evolve continuously and therefore remain competitive and relevant in a tough marketplace.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

October 19, 2018, 6:25 AM AEDT