Celebrating Australian Made: approaching a century of collaboration

The next profile in our Celebrating Australian Made series — sponsored by Australian Made — is Jack Thompson Engineering. Cole Latimer speaks to the company’s general manager, Nick Fergus.

For close to a century a passion for powering Australia’s people and manufacturing industry has been the driving force behind Jack Thompson Engineering, a heavy industry machine shop that is focussed on rebuilding the concept of Australian Made.

JTE has been providing high quality engineering services since starting in 1934, when it was founded by Jack Thompson, who passed down the business – and the focus on close collaboration to create solutions – through multiple generations and locations.

The company is primarily a heavy industry workshop, providing machining and design fabrication and engineering.

JTE general manager Nick Fergus explains that JTE has a wide range of capabilities for an SME, as it has one of the country’s largest machine shops, and can operate within small to very large machining capacities.

“That’s what sets it apart, as in Australia there are few machine shops that have scale and capacity that we have,” he says.

“Not only the psychical size of facility and lifting, with two 20-tonne overhead cranes, but also the type of machinery we use, such as 12-metre milling machines, a lathe with 1.5 metres to diameter and eight metres between centres, as well as a three-metre horizontal borer…a lot of our equipment is fairly large.”

On top of this their capabilities include jobbing work, conventional and CNC machining, milling, as well as specialist welding services, such as submerged arc, MIG, TIG and pulse arc welding.

Fergus says despite changing hands in 2020 and expanding its services, the family-owned ethos and focus on working closely with their clients remains ingrained in JTE’s DNA.

“It’s a really collaborative process in the projects we work on with clients, to get those end results, to get those tailored solutions,” he says.

Fergus says the equipment and the ability to do more is only part of the equation, because at the end of the day it is the people who make the difference, and this is why that family-owned mindset and the ‘Australian Made” spirit means so much.

He said that’s why his own family-owned business bought JTE and Parken – a specialist manufacturer of drilling machines and linishers, which has been operating since 1937. These businesses have unique Australian capabilities and products, so keeping them operating, and retaining critical skills in Australia, is crucial for Fergus. 

“JTE was a competitor of our business, but after years of operation they were closing their doors, so we needed to step up to keep their business running to ensure Australia has access to their facilities and the skills of their people, it’s the same reason we bought Parken,” he says. 

JTE’s latest major project is supporting the refurbishment of the Snowy Hydro’s massive turbines. There are currently 33 turbines at the hydro power dam, generating 4100 megawatts of electricity, with 14 turbines undergoing refurbishment.

Fergus adds that the power industry is a major market for the company.  

“We’re playing our role in supporting Australia’s renewable power industry, by helping to refurbish ageing assets and bringing them back to life, including potential improvements,” he says.

“For the Snowy Hydro project, we’re refurbishing their current main turbines, not the new turbines that are part of the Snowy 2.0 project. 

During a refurbishment project like this, they’ll pull their turbines apart for scheduled maintenance, sending various components to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) like turbine designers. but more commonly now, local businesses who are supporting these ongoing maintenance and asset repairs.

“So, for this project we will get these older assets and get the specifications for the turbines, strip them down, do quality assurance checks on all the parts and if we find any variations or gaps we put it to client on how to best bring the asset back to specification” Fergus says.

Fergus says more companies are – and should continue – looking local and consider Australian made, as the solutions are in their own backyard.

“We get a sense of big projects looking to local suppliers to provide prompt responses, better lead times and to minimise risks to logistics, it’s important we grasp that opportunity in manufacturing and support that moving forward,” he says.

“It’s not about the dollar drive but a solution and reliability drive, that local support, manufacturing will use to thrive.”

Pictures: supplied
Celebrating Australian Made is an editorial series by @AuManufacturing, created in cooperation with the Australian Made Campaign Limited for Australian Made Week.

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