Michael Lord, Product Development & Engineering, Trakka

Michael Lord of campervan and motorhome maker Trakka tells us about how technology has changed a company he has worked at since 1981, and how it is able to remain competitive through focussing on low-volume, high-quality products.

What is your job and who is your company?

I have the title of Product Development & Engineering for TRAKKA Pty Limited, an Australian manufacturer of campervans and motorhomes

What’s your role and how does it fit into the business/organisation?

My main role is the design and development of new products. Basically I take our team ideas and concepts and make them into manufacturable products. This covers all aspect of the vehicle design, from the overall layout of the vehicle, to the cabinets, though to the soft furnishing, electrical, plumbing and everything in between. The majority of my time is spent working in 3D mechanical CAD software.     

What does your organisation do well? What are your capabilities? Who are your clients?

We do a few things well. Part of that is the ability to manufacture low-volume, high-quality products for a niche market. We have to be creative with the design to be able to produce a quality product that can be built economically. We do this by working with specialised manufacturers for some components, along with our own in-house manufacturing.   

Along with being a manufacturer of our products, we also market the products and sell direct to our clients. Our clients are predominantly a retiring age market, having both the resources and means to purchase what we build, along with the time to enjoy it.  

What does your career path look like? Are there any highlights and/or awards along the way that you’re proud of?

I have spent my entire working life in manufacturing. Starting my working career as an apprentice and now spending the majority of my time behind a computer in CAD/CAM and similar engineering programs. My skills set have naturally evolved as we have adopted the constant changing technologies.   

I’ve had a rewarding working career. There is a certain satisfaction of seeing our customers getting enjoyment from our product. Personally I get some very positive feedback from within our industry on my work and our products. It’s always nice to see my work and our products shown in a variety of media.  Extra special when you get to see it on the cover of a magazine.

We were fortunate last year to have our product represent the marketing face of SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD products and continue to have our product as one of the images when opening their software    

What’s a typical day at work look like?

That depends a little of where we are in the design cycle! At the moment we are full on into new product development. So it is in the door and straight into 3D CAD (SOLIDWORKS) Currently, I’m working on multiple new product layouts & designs. This will soon turn into detail and preparation for manufacture. That might mean days of detailed cabinet work, working on an electrical harness or concept renders for sales and marketing.  There is never a dull moment.

What are some tools/techniques/tactics you use to do your job?

I’ve been in this industry and manufacturing for most of my working life, so there is the balance between the understanding of where you have come from and keeping up to date with the latest emerging technologies in products and manufacturing. We adopted 3D CAD and CAM systems many years ago.  We communicate with the workshop far differently now by utilising “cloud” technology. The offset with using technology is to still remember the human element, face to face communication is still critical.

Is there an issue in Australian manufacturing that’s not getting enough attention at the moment? Why is it important?

It might be more of a case that there are issues which are getting the attention for all the wrong reasons. Without trying to get too political, it is easy to look at the decline in manufacturing and the loss of trades and skills and point to globalisation as a cause. Whilst it is easy to blame governments, they do need to take responsibility for many issues facing industries, from the decimation of TAFE though to their lack of support in general. They also can’t be relied on to rectify the situation. This means that industries need to take the lead in marketing manufacturing as not only a rewarding career but one that is critical to the nation. Whilst that is the negative side, on the positive side we still have people and corporations that turn up every day and produce quality world class products.

What do you get out of your involvement with the Australian Manufacturing Forum?

It is important to keep abreast of what is happening in all areas of manufacturing, not just within your own industries. Knowing where to find components, who is providing what services, understand emerging technologies, not always related directly to what you do, is critical and can provide a competitive advantage. The Australian Manufacturing Forum certainly assists with that in providing a news and learning resource that fits within my daily schedule.


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