You don’t survive almost 30 years as a small manufacturer in Australia without knowing how to adapt and innovate.
And that’s what Melbourne’s Cablex has done in spades, growing from a small business producing computer cables in the 1980s, to a globally recognised manufacturer of custom cables and harness assemblies.
Cablex was founded by Michael Zimmer in 1985 in his family’s garage, and initially produced mostly computer cables, before the industry started to become more global and many companies began producing cheaper products offshore.
Director of business development and co-owner, Heidi Krebs, says it was around that time that the federal government began encouraging companies like theirs to build up their capabilities through offset programs. For example, if the Australian army needed more helicopters, the government would require a certain percentage of the aircraft to be made in Australia.
As a result, the large overseas companies building such aircraft had to start looking further afield for partners.
“Global OEMs (original equipment makers) would come to Australia and look for capability that would support their offset requirements. That was just fabulous for us,” says Ms Krebs.
Cablex seized the opportunity to reinvent the company, and invested in building up their skill, capability and equipment to serve the aerospace and defence industries.
While those particular offset programs no longer exist, Cablex’s capability in that area means it is still heavily involved in aerospace and defence, supplying cable harnesses and avionics bays for military and other aircraft. It’s involved with companies including Boeing Australia, BAE Systems and Airbus Military.
Cablex is also the preferred supplier on the Australian government’s yet-be-confirmed Thales Hawkei armoured vehicle project, and is currently working on the F35 joint strike fighter aircraft.
Ms Krebs says transport is another source of work for Cablex’s 160 employees in Melbourne and 10 at its second base in India.
Cablex installed the backbone network cabling for the myki ticketing systems on more than 400 trams across Melbourne, along with complete electrical systems for more than 50 Melbourne trains.
In India, Cablex staff are working on cabling systems for trains, with the train network continuing to grow across the country.
Ms Krebs says it may be the obvious answer, but the success of Cablex is really down to being innovative and strategic and investing in its workforce. “We have created an industry specific, highly trained, sustainable and production ready workforce, which ensures complex manufacturing procedures and stringent quality requirements are met,” she says.
Women currently make up more than 60 per cent of all staff, well above the Australian engineering/equipment manufacturing average. Women are also very well represented at management level and above, with 50 per cent being female.
Meanwhile, more highly skilled employees are set to follow, as Cablex begins to receive applications from people formerly employed by the troubled automotive industry.
Ms Krebs says many of the skills are extremely transferrable, as those involved in the automotive industry understand lean manufacturing principles and are used to working in a manufacturing environment.