Australian manufacturers are generally shy about their achievements.
If you take one popular old definition of public relations – “doing good and telling people about it” – as true, then you might say they struggle with PR.
We recently highlighted an example of how companies can improve their use of social media, OZM, which has done well in generating leads through Linkedin. There are others that show you can go a long way with clever self-promotion. If you’re doing good, you may as well tell people about it.
Eilbeck Cranes goes back to 1907, and is the country’s leading producer and supplier of cranes. It manufactures at around half-a-dozen sites, with a Melbourne factory a recent addition, and employs roughly 260.
It added a machining division in 2015, which has grown rapidly since, and is preparing to add a second machining site. It is headed by Charlie Eilbeck, the fourth generation in the 100 per cent Australian-owned family business.
Eilbeck Heavy Machining Centre’s LinkedIn account is, to editorialise for a moment, bloody marvellous, and other manufacturers could learn a lot from its positivity and its approach.
It’s authentic, un-stuffy, and fun. “Proud to have designed and built this in Australia with Australian Steel! Thanks for the support West Gate” reads one update, accompanying a picture of a giant 250-tonne crane.
“12,000 x 1mm holes with a 3mm counterbore in 20mm stainless steel plate. Another great job done and a proud tradesman!” reads another.
“Drum Boy is stoked! 17 drums finished, and now to do the flanges. Our turning capacity is 4000mm x 1200mm swing” reads another.
(Drum Boy, a gentleman who relocated from Burma and who has been at Eilbeck for two-and-a-half years, features regularly, and almost always with a giant smile and thumbs up.)
It’s one thing to do great work, and it’s even better if people know about it. Better still if you’re making enormously-sized, fairly photogenic equipment for big-name projects, and if you can celebrate your employees at the same time.
Brent Balinski spoke to Eilbeck about the company’s recent work and how he puts it forward. The conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity’s sake, follows below.
@AuManufacturing: Please tell us about what you do
Charlie Eilbeck: We started in 1907. We bought out Wright and Gibb, a business in Swan River in West Australia. And we had the largest iron foundry in Perth, and worked as blacksmiths and were exporting out of there. From then, through the generations, we made a lot of sawmilling equipment and hauling equipment. Tom Eilbeck, who is the owner and my father, took over the business in ‘75 and in the 1980s took it into cranes. We made cranes in one of our competitor’s factories and tried to become an agent for them, but they knocked us back. So we went to Europe and picked up another agent, Abus Crane. They’re a global leader in overhead cranes. At the moment they’re building over 122 cranes a week out of one town. They’ve been part of the reason for our success.
We sell their product. They’re like a catalogue company — they say “this is what we offer.”
@AuManufacturing: And you specialise in the made-to-order jobs
Charlie Eilbeck: Exactly. We have two product lines, the Abus product. We buy all the mechanical components: the blue parts, the hoists, the motors, the control panel, and we build the structure. And if we can’t offer their product we design and build from scratch in Australia. We use Australian steel, plate steel from BlueScope and OneSteel. We support the local industry. Everything is designed in Sydney or Perth and manufactured here. We’ll take on any challenge. We built cranes that went into the Arctic Circle last year, simply because no-one else wanted to do it. We brought all the steel in from Northern Europe to fabricate it. It was all high-tensile steel, Weldox 700, a special grade steel. It was a big learning curve and very complex. The cranes had to operate in minus-36 and had to live in minus-52. So pretty bloody cold. And we’re doing a lot of work overseas, in Indonesia, Africa, the Middle East.
@AuManufacturing: Your updates are always fun and seem to get a good amount of traction. Tell me about your use of Linkedin
Charlie Eilbeck: I love what I do. Every week I send a sales report to our internal sales people and say, “This is what I’ve gained from Linkedin this week.” I don’t have a wife or a kid, so I’ve got more time for it I suppose. I was on Linkedin adding people and talking to people on Sunday night, and I did the same thing last night. On Monday morning I had three brand new machining enquiries, up to $50,000, and I had a six-crane tender that became available in West Australia and a one-crane tender in Orange. And that was from one night on Linkedin. There’s so much out there that’s untapped. Especially out in the sticks, and I don’t have time to fly out to the middle of Australia.
A lot of people know us because of all these happy people and a great product and this enthusiastic environment, and I love coming to work. I start at 5 o’clock every day and make sure I’m here when the team starts, make sure the coffee has kicked in – I’ve got to be pumped by the time they get here, which I usually am.
We’re a company that doesn’t pay on how many years you’ve worked or what’s on a piece of paper, we pay and reward on your drive, your punctuality, how you’re involved in what’s around you, and obviously your skill set is a major part.
Our youngest guy in here, besides the apprentices, is 25, and he is the foreman of the shop. He’s the only guy in here that can run every machine back to front, because he’s motivated and driven enough to ask to work each and every one until he’s mastered it.
Our operations manager started here as a welder. So you end up where you want to be in this place, and you reward people with the right attitude.
We’re hard workers, don’t get that wrong. Every tradesman in here is doing 55 – 65 hours a week. No-one is doing less than 55 hours, including myself. We don’t say 38 hours plus, we hay 55 hours plus. We’re pumping it out, I’m here 12 hours a day. I had lots to do on Wednesday. So I did 14 hours. It’s what we do. If there’s shit to be done, then we get it done.
@AuManufacturing: You have around 220 employees I read. Is that accurate?
Charlie Eilbeck: 260 and rising at the moment. WA is picking up. The mines are strong. A lot of civil works in the east in the last five years. A lot happening now with the Snowy 2.0, and we’re tendering into that. In Whyalla there’s a lot of investment in the steel mill. We’re tendering for that, and will be up against international competition. We’re the only Australian player looking to that or are even capable of making those cranes. We are trying to pick up the casting cranes for the hot metal handling – nothing like that ever made in Australia before.
@AuManufacturing: Tell me about the sense of pride that comes with a family-owned manufacturing business
Charlie Eilbeck: We are cleaning the place on a Friday afternoon. It’s a showroom and reflection of our company. With a clean, attractive environment it’s easy to sell to our customers. If I can get them here, it’s almost a sale already! I’m OCD and my dad’s OCD and want our jobs to be perfect. We’ve been around 112 years because we are so focussed on producing a high-quality product. We take pride in our work, won’t let second-class go out the door, and that’s why people buy from us. We’re never going to be the cheapest in the market, whether it’s selling machining or selling cranes, but we produce the longest-lasting in the market, we support our customers, and we look after local suppliers. We have a signwriter across the road we’ve supported for many years. They are not the cheapest option, but they are a little family business. We would pay them to come across with a paintbrush and do our cranes, which was three times more expensive than getting stickers from China, and we kept his business running. We support our local suppliers. Australian steel obviously costs a bit more, but it’s what we do. We’re not hypocrites.
We just honestly love building stuff. Whether it’s this or anyone else’s jobs. We just really love manufacturing.
@AuManufacturing: What do you think about the overall level of pride in Australian manufacturing? Do we need more of it in general? Would you like to see more companies make celebrate when they’re doing worthwhile projects, whether it’s on Linkedin or elsewhere?
Charlie Eilbeck: I speak for myself. I love promoting it, and I keep promoting it because I’m getting success out of it. I’m gaining huge successes out of Linkedin.
I try and push this on our internal sales guys all the time. I’m very motivated. My name’s on the building which helps. I pay for the most expensive version, which costs a bit. I’ll find a company or an industry I want to be involved in, I’ll google them, and I’ll search for the project manager from whatever company, I’ll add them all and then I’ll start messaging all of them. I recently got into a massive company, messaged everyone in there – 50 or so people. And then the next day apparently everyone was walking around saying “Who is this Eilbeck company? Someone go and talk to them, for god’s sake.” [laughs.] But now we’re involved and we’re a key supplier.
We have a lot of long-term employees. Not many people leave, which is a reflection of our culture. Almost all of the tradesmen in here we took to Bangkok and Tokyo a few months ago, took them to a few factories. We invest a lot in our people, because at the end of the day they’re our biggest assets.
All these guys are constantly getting approached on Linkedin and we haven’t had any take a job. If I come in on Saturday we’ll buy them all bacon and eggs. We take them out for dinner a few times a year, go out drinking and whatnot. For Tom’s 60th a while ago, we flew 60 employees to Thailand and we all went over there for five days and partied up.
@AuManufacturing: What are your plans to continue the growth you mentioned earlier?
Charlie Eilbeck: We are a leader in cranes and have a 60 per cent market share in Australia for standard cranes, 75 per cent or greater in special cranes, which is our core business. And now we are up and coming in the machining industry and want to lead in that as well.
We’re horizontally and vertically integrating within the company. Our philosophy is everything we make, we put back in. Well maybe not everything, but a good chunk of it. This machine shop has been a big investment.
If you look around now, everybody is cleaning, doing maintenance, because that’s what we do on Friday afternoons. Everything is looked after and there’s a lot of pride in our workplace: a clean place and a clean job.
This has been a big investment and has allowed us to build the custom cranes, which has provided good growth in our business recently. The other side of selling a manufacturing service irrelevant to cranes. So we are making other companies’ equipment, which they are not capable of making themselves. And that is growing tenfold. We fabricate, machine, assemble. We can do mechanical and electrical fit-out if needed, painting as well. We offer a turnkey solution. With this workshop growing so much and in a short amount of time – if you average it out, we are putting on somebody every two months for the last three years. We’ve got more guys joining at the moment. Two apprentices are here at the moment.
There’s actually three father and sons in here. We’ve got to keep them apart. [Laughs]
With this place growing, we are building another shop in Sydney, which is going to be a machining and assembly workshop, and will be the most capable in Australia. We’re putting in a horizontal floor borer, which will have a 13-metre x-axis with a six-metre y-axis and an 80-tonne rotary table. No-one in Australia has something that size. And we’ve just purchased a six-metre multitasking lathe as well, which is pretty high-end equipment.
We’re investing some big money building this factory from scratch. We’ll have 160-tonne lifting capacity. We’ve got some core customers which we are trying to narrow in on, also to facilitate the build of these big custom cranes which we are tendering for. We see five good years of work in Australia. There’s a lot getting built, and we have high hopes for the Australian manufacturing industry, and we may as well invest in it.
@AuManufacturing: Last year you missed out on a contract for the Osborne shipyard. You’ve just gotten on with it though.
Charlie Eilbeck: We had one night out to drown our sorrows, but you just have to get on with it and move on forward. That was a shame. Tom, the owner, spent two years on that project. Two years of his own time, between 30 and 70 hours a week tendering the project. They were huge cranes: 70-metre spans, 200-tonne lifts. We thought we had the job and only missed out by, from what I understand it, a couple of per cent. But anyway, that’s in the past. We were annoyed we missed out on an Australian contract to an overseas manufacturer, but we’re moving forward.
@AuManufacturing: What excites you about the future, and what projects are coming up?
Charlie Eilbeck: Seeing the business put people on month after month and continually invest back into ourselves, that makes me pumped as well. Because seeing what my old man has done in 30 years, he’s taken it from a small company with a few people when he took it over to 260 people and the longest-lasting crane company in Australia and dominating its industry. That’s what gives me drive. I want to help take over another industry – maybe this machining industry, but I don’t really know. Looking at these blokes coming in to work every day happy – look at Drum Boy over there, he loves being here – and seeing us grow as a team, putting on apprentices and father-and-sons, it’s a good feeling. It’s a feeling of pride that we are investing in Australian manufacturing. That’s what makes me tick, really, being able to continually grow the business, and try and outdo my old man, somehow.
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