If you’re going to face a problem in business, this is probably the best one to have: a product range that’s so popular that you’re forced to pull out all stops to keep up with global demand.
That’s the challenge for Melbourne-based manufacturer ANCA, whose latest innovative offering – cost-effective tool grinding technology that is also easier for operators to use – is selling quicker than the company can make it.
The FX Linear tool grinder range was released in late 2014 and the company will end the 2015 financial year with an increase of over 22% in sales and a jump in staff numbers.
It’s just the latest successful innovation for a company that was founded by two passionate engineers, Pat McCluskey and Pat Boland, in a spare room in Melbourne in 1974.
The two Pats, who met while working at an ammunitions factory, in the early days focused on developing world class Computer Numerical Controls (CNC). At the forefront of this technology early ANCA work involved retrofitting old machines from manual to CNC.
“Even before we started ANCA, Pat and I have always been driven simply by wanting to get machines to do things better,” explains co-owner Pat McCluskey.
“The FX Linear is a perfect example of that philosophy. The significant new technology development is producing the sort of results that our customers are after.
“We developed the first cylindrical linear motors for tool grinders for this range and in conjunction with other features, such as a new control system, the resulting superior tool finish has made this a popular machine.”
The company was the first to design and manufacture an Australian CNC. As the business evolved, it found its niche in sophisticated tool grinding machines, which it eventually took to Germany, a country that was considered the centre of elite tool grinding technology.
Fast-forward a few decades, and ANCA is now a world-leading designer and manufacturer of high-precision grinding machines, software and automation accessories.
The tool grinders that ANCA produces are widely used by companies involved in creating components used in medical, automotive, defence, aerospace, pharmaceutical and manufacturing sectors. Those products include iPhones, planes, cars, whitegoods and medical products such as knee joints and bone rasps.
ANCA recently opened its new, larger European headquarters, investing four million euros (about $5.8 million) to keep pace with growth in its export markets. The first German office was established in 1991.
The company’s global headquarters remain in Bayswater North in Melbourne, where about 400 staff – including 100 engineers – operate a sprawling site that includes seven adjoining factories and a dedicated research and development team. ANCA also has a manufacturing site in Thailand and offices in the UK, Japan, China, Brazil, India and the USA.
While 99 per cent of the business’ revenue comes from overseas, from companies including Boeing, GE, Rolls Royce and Johnson & Johnson, its high-end machines are still manufactured in Melbourne.
Aside from an ongoing push to innovate – 9 per cent of turnover is funnelled back into R&D – the company also places a heavy emphasis on training. Facing a potential shortage in the niche skills needed to manufacture its machines, ANCA started its own apprentice training centre at Bayswater North, in affiliation with the Australian Industry Group Training Services.
“Finding the staff with the specialist skills required to build CNC machines, or the mechatronic, software and other engineers also needed is a constant challenge”, says human resources manager Wayne Young.
“The apprentice training centre has been very successful, we currently have twelve apprentices and some that have finished and that are working in the factory, or overseas.”
“We also hire many Industry Based Learning (IBL) students from universities and have a very multicultural workforce. This is because there is movement between the global offices and because the industry is a global one so we look globally for the right skillsets.”
At the recent opening of its new German offices, co-founder Pat Boland told guests that “the ANCA philosophy is to push in two different directions, one being engineering excellence, with 25 PhDs working in our R&D centre and close co-operation with universities around the world.
Mr Boland said the other crucial part of the company’s success was “practical trade skills”.
“Machine tools have to be built ruggedly and they have to be reliable and easy to use for the tradespeople around the world that operate them. I think that push from an academic sense and a trade sense has been one of our important cultural features.”