Sheet Metal Specialists

A D Coote & Co.

A D Coote & Co is an all-Australian company celebrating its 60th birthday this year by continuing to do what it does best and do it to the highest standards. Despite the constant jeremiads, manufacturing in this country does remain possible, and A D Coote & Co is a prime example, even if the company does use overseas facilities as a top-up. Inventories are low – perhaps a shade too low, really – order books are bulky, albeit never actually full, and the long-serving staff of the company is supplemented by judicious use of 457 visa staff because, otherwise, they would never find enough people to get the job done.

A D Coote is a manufacturer of sheet metal products and is best known for its lighting poles, although there are many other facets to this intriguing Perth-based operation. For one thing, it has been centred for nearly forty years on a single 1.5 hectare site in Welshpool, to the southeast of the city centre, in what today is a prime location with little or no room to expand. For another, it resists all temptations to grow beyond its means or to become part of a major conglomerate, or to spread its expertise too thin and wide. The way sales and marketing manager Peter Craig tells it, it’s sometimes a bit crazy and it does appear to grow a bit like Topsy, but one way or another, the team gets the job done, well and on time, and the only consultant in sight is the one that does the pre-QA audits.

Des Coote actually set the company up in 1952, establishing A.D. Coote (Sheetmetal) Pty Ltd fourteen years later, having seen a demand for plumbing materials – downpipes, guttering, etc – and bought a machine to press them. A bigger machine and galvanising capability followed, and from there came the capacity to produce steel lighting columns, pressed and then welded into their octagonal shape. The latter proved hugely popular and soon eclipsed the plumbing materials; there are very few suppliers of poles in Perth, according to Peter, who has been with the company some 18 years and worked in the industry before that. “We quickly gained something like a 50 per cent market share and since then we have expanded our product range. We now sell all over WA and into South Australia and Victoria,” says Peter, having secured contracts with major power companies in those states. That expansion followed the achievement of QA status – an investment that has proven well worth it in the long run.

It’s a safe bet that most people don’t think much about lighting poles – until they hit one with their car. There is a lot of design in there, not just a simple tube stuck in the ground with a bulb on top. A D Coote manufactures a wide range of columns, supplying not only locally around Western Australia (where it is the main supplier to Western Power) but to all states in Australia as well as overseas. Columns range from small decorative poles for domestic installations to large floodlighting towers for sporting grounds as well as for other uses including communications and power transmission. Consequently the team knows a thing or two about the latest frangible street lighting columns, the most used in Australia being the slip base and impact absorbing types. The former is intended to allow the column to topple as a car hits it, the base shearing in a controlled manner and the column itself passing over the car to hit the ground, and is used in locations where there is little likelihood of pedestrians.

Where pedestrians are likely to be walking, the company employs the impact absorbing variety of pole, wherein the base remains firmly planted in the ground whilst the column progressively collapses over the vehicle, slowing it down relatively safely before capturing it. The lower section of these columns has a crumple zone that is sacrificed as the vehicle slows down and comes to a halt. These columns are supplied as a base plate mounted or in-ground mounted configuration.

For the last eight years, A D Coote has been importing some of its poles from China to ensure timely supply, especially to Western Power. “We have had a very successful relationship with this manufacturer,” says Peter, and the company has brought in more than 50,000 poles so far, mainly the smallest of the units supplied for minor roads’ streetlighting. The government has a large programme under way to replace wooden poles in the Perth area, and usually carries out around three such projects in a year, each of which may involve an order for 600 or more poles, perhaps supplemented by another hundred or so of the large poles for a highway. All have to be corrosion proof and most are powder coated. For many applications, especially further north in Karratha, Port Hedland and Dampier, cyclonic designed poles are specified; being much heavier, most of these are also imported rather than made locally.

A D Coote enjoys a “very good relationship with electrical wholesalers who offer our poles,” and also supplies products, in any design and specification, to mining and resources sectors. The company has just secured a contract with a consortium consisting of Lightsense Aust, Calibre and Ansaldo – STS for Rio Tinto to develop special columns that will illuminate its world-first Autohaul driverless train project in WA, for example. Lighting for a driverless train? Not exactly; the poles will be placed at road intersections, where the client is keen to ensure maximum safety and security and will install two columns equipped with cameras and number-plate recognition equipment (for the sole purpose of identifying any vehicle involved in an incident) in order to record any incident and also make sure tracks are clear at all times. These cyclonic design poles will be manufactured in the Perth plant.

In an ideal world, says Peter, everything would be manufactured in Perth. The company has enjoyed good fortune in terms of exchange rates while importing, although transport costs have mushroomed and, he says, “we would prefer to make things here. We are seeking more labour to be able to increase production even further – because we can cut and bend the steel plate quicker than we can weld, even with the specially (in-house) developed automatic seam welders that can operate at up to a metre per minute. We can see that the future is more and more production.” Fortunately, the factory is set up to be fast-reactive and flexible so it can adapt for rush orders or other changes. For the foreseeable future, “we will need the assistance of the overseas facility to ensure we can deliver when the client wants it.”

Lighting poles is only half the A D Coote story, of course, although it accounts for a large percentage of the company’s turnover. The other half of the Welshpool facility is given over to ‘jobbing’ sheet metal fabrication in aluminium, stainless steel and many other materials. This arm of the business turns out products such as bus stops – in a rainbow of colours, mainly for Adshel and shipped throughout Australia – bicycle shelters and conveyor components and is extremely well equipped, with a fleet of new overhead cranes, a 50 tonne press for lengths up to 9.1m, a 150 tonne press up to 13.5m and a 100 tonne aluminium pressing facility up to 3.6m long and 6mm thick. Design support, a full CAD service and delivery are all part of the comprehensive A D Coote experience.

Peter says the company is considering a number of options such as moving or expanding, but “it would be a large undertaking.” There seems to be a consensus that it’s preferable to be bustling and busy, balancing the orders, instead of making the big-company, corporate moves that might take away the immediacy of the company’s service offering and the personal element of the client relationship. Victims of their own success? Not exactly. “We can always find a way to deal with new orders.”

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?

November 21, 2018, 3:46 AM AEDT