Gearing For the Future

Crown Engineering

Crown is a leading provider of small to large engineered gears, gearboxes, transmission parts and industrial components throughout Australia. The Brisbane-based company’s director Ray Suchting believes it may well have been brighter then, because these are not the best of times for either Crown or anyone else in this sector. “We are heavily involved in the mining industry and it is a bit quiet at the moment,” he explains. “However, hopefully there will be better times ahead.”

Manufacturing is not dead in Australia, as so many people seem so keen to queue up to claim. “But they are putting every kind of obstacle in our way.” Industries such as mining are over-regulated today, says Ray, to the point where a two-hour job will take eight hours because of the background bureaucracy. “Productivity is not there anymore. Compare that with the USA or Canada where they can do eight hours’ work in eight hours.”

You just have to go with the flow, he says. “We have invested heavily during the last few years in items such as state of the art machinery, and we run a pretty tight ship.” In fact, Ray adds, it was the strength of the dollar that enabled Crown to invest in such expensive and sophisticated machines. “Otherwise we would not have been able to afford such an investment.”

Crown Engineering was founded as a family business and remains so to this day. It has forged new ground in the Australian engineering industry since 1920 when Wilhelm Suchting and his son Doug opened a blacksmith’s forge in the area that is now the CBD of Brisbane. Back then, the business offered basic turning facilities. News quickly spread of its quality and customer service and, in 1923, the business moved into larger premises in South Brisbane and began manufacturing machined castings.

In the late 1940s, brothers Bill and John Suchting took over the business from their father Doug. Bill had a mechanical engineering degree and John had completed an engineering apprenticeship. Together, they recognised the growing market demand for sprockets and gear cutting, and set the business on a new path. In 1978, John’s son Ray bought into the company; today, he and his younger brother Ian are the directors. They have instilled their passion for engineering innovation into further developing the business, with the installation of a heat treatment facility, gear grinding and dimensional inspection, specialist CNC machines and a quality assurance department.

The short term future seems a little uncertain but Crown is able to hunker down and “batten the hatches” until those better times arrive. It is all about supply and demand; as the world moves on, demand will pick up. Ray believes industry has been hit by a kind of “perfect storm” comprising a strong dollar and a contraction in the mining sector. “A lot of manufacturers feed off the mining industry because there are only a limited number of alternatives,” he shares.

Crown is a general contract shop. “What sets us apart is our gearing ability,” Ray says. “We are a one-stop shop because we have our own heat treatment facility, our own fabrication facility and machine shops, and we can consequently take on jobs that other companies cannot do, almost all of it in-house. That is one of the things that has kept us going. The equipment we have is certainly world-class and the products we manufacture are equally world-class (products in this instance tends to mean components, to be fitted into other people’s finished products for sale around the world). Gearing is a big part of our business – probably 40 to 50 per cent. We get work from all over the country including as far away as the Pilbara.”

In lean times, Crown is able to depend more on its refit and refurbishment abilities. “There is a lot of rebuild work at present. A lot of people want gearboxes stripped and assessed, then new parts made as necessary, rather than ordering a new gearbox. That’s what it is all about in this climate.” One major client told Ray recently they are not allowed to buy any new machinery or equipment for the next twelve months, so they have approached Crown for increased service and refurbishment work. If things break down they make do or get items repaired. “We have seen all this before – it is just a repeat of history. This happened ten years ago, taking parts off draglines and shovels and putting them into other equipment to keep them going. It backfired on many companies when things recovered, of course!”

Crown does a good deal of work for the mining majors but also a lot for the manufacturers and suppliers of large equipment such as Caterpillar – Crown being one of that company’s largest parts suppliers in Australia, for shovels and draglines. Ray says Crown tries not to ‘compete’ with Caterpillar, supplying to the OEM rather than to the OEM’s own customers, the operators of the equipment who tend to knock Crown’s door in difficult times to see if they can get parts cheaper than through the official distribution.

Crown believes it leads the industry when it comes to quality assurance. Transparent traceability is a trademark – and the company is proud of its proactive record in this important area. At every step in the production process, stringent procedures are in place to ensure precision and give customers high quality products and services. Many clients regularly audit the quality system and products. End-users from the Australian mining and energy industries subject Crown’s designs and products to rigorous field trials and everyone working at Crown is “dedicated to complying with our clients’ quality systems – this ensures that our Quality Assurance programme is held in the highest regard.”

Within industry guidelines, Crown tailors its QA programme to suit clients’ individual requirements. “This gives our customers the assurance that the highest level of compliance has been achieved and that we meet the required standards and specifications for each and every project. Our Quality Department maintains the highest level of integrity and plays a key management role to ensure a smooth, efficient and integrated productive environment within our production facility. Our meticulous approach – which includes constant monitoring and improvements to our manufacturing processes – enables us to avoid possible non-conformances.”

All materials will be traceable, from purchasing through to delivery of manufactured components, including all testing and verifications on any fabricated, manufactured or gear ground components. Continual calibration of testing and measuring equipment is of course carried out as well as frequent verifications of dimensional inspection practices, gear metrology and paint specifications to ensure client requirements have been met.

Of course, Ray wants the Crown brand to become even better known. The company conforms to the usual 80-20 rule, with the majority of work coming from the minority of clients who are naturally demanding in their requirements. “So a company like ours tends naturally not to take on too many jobs because ultimately if you do, when you are busy with your OEM customers, you are in danger of letting them down – so we avoid that and pay for it at times like these when we could do with a larger customer base.” Thus Crown would welcome clients in a wider variety of industries. “We are certainly more diversified than we were ten years ago when draglines was 60 per cent of our business. We do some work in wind farms and other sectors but it is not always easy to find new business.”

There is simply not the scale of industry that one might find overseas and Crown is branching out, with some staff and clients in South Africa. “There is also work that can be done in New Zealand, and there is work in the sugar mills,” Ray explains. He and his team are preparing to improve the company’s marketing effort to find this extra work.

In the meantime, if it’s anything to do with gearing, transmissions, large machine fabrication or general machining, Crown has the ability – and the reputation – to perform.

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September 20, 2018, 5:28 AM AEST