Exceeding all expectations
Article by Barbara Schulz
When Gerry Warrington decided to turn his back on his homeland Scotland in 1980, he was determined to find a better life and better opportunities in Australia. And he did.
Starting as toolmaker in Heidelberg, Victoria, Mr Warrington nine years later decided to quit life as an employee and go out on his own. He leased a 380m2 factory in Heidelberg, where he was the company’s sole employee for about 12 months with only his Okuma LB15 CNC lathe as company. “I made everything myself and my regular workweek was at least 15 hours a day, seven days a week,” Mr Warrington says. “But I was not only working in my factory, I was also living there in a caravan!”
“Living in the factory meant the machine could run almost all day and night,” he continues. “Once the machine was set up and running, I could quickly go ‘home’ and catch up with some sleep for an hour or so.” Mr Warrington started his business with manufacturing chain components and picked up more and more local customers and while the company was growing, his son Derek joined his father’s company after finishing school.
His hard work paid off and as revenue increased, he folded the money back into the company, expanding its capabilities to the point that virtually anything anyone needed could be handled by Kewder Engineering. The company gained more and more traction and years later Kewder Engineering outgrew its original space and moved two doors down in the same area where it is still located. The current footprint covers some 3300m2 and the number of employees has grown as well, with 50 people now engaged in manufacturing everything and anything. “I currently have one apprentice in fitting and turning,” Mr Warrington says.“I would like to have more, but they are very hard to get.”
Kewder’s customers are spread across industries including the medical, communications, food, or manufacturing industry in Australia. “We specialise in developing cost-effective products from prototypes through to full production of components with small to medium batch sizes with components from 1mm to 900mm in diameter and up to 3m in length,” Mr Warrington says. “Depending on the requirements we also manage whole projects involving the supply of machined, fabricated and assembled products to our customers’ production line specifications. “Kewder also specialises in re-engineering of parts where the drawings are no longer available. “We reproduce our customers’ parts with tolerances of up to 0.005mm which we achieve by hard-turning only. We don’t grind.”
To achieve those tolerances and high quality, Mr Warrington constantly invests into new Okuma machine tools. “I don’t think there’s any privately owned company in Australia or even in the Southern Hemisphere with a bigger Okuma machine park,” Mr Warrington says. “We have recently installed our second Macturn 550 which is the biggest in the Okuma range and is whopping 3m between centres.” For Mr Warrington and his son Derek the 5-axis multi-function machine was Kewder’s 25th Okuma purchase. However, Mr Warrington does not stop there and invested $2m over the past 12 months into a Multus B300W and a B400W, which has just been installed. “I started with an Okuma machine and ever since stuck with Okuma,” Mr Warrington says. “Instead of filling the shop with all sorts of machines with different controls and everything else, we now have the same control on all machines which makes it easier for the operators.”
Meeting customers’ expectations
“We maintain our business by always living it up to our customers’ expectations,” Mr Warrington explains his investments. “You’ve got to invest in these machines today. We still run a Tornos machine for the high-batch jobs, manufacturing small parts. But that market is lost to low-cost countries such as China, so we moved to the bigger machines and manufacture small batches in one set-up.” To increase capacity, Mr Warrington has already ordered yet another Okuma double-column machining centre with 5-sided machining capabilities for parts measuring 6.5m x 3m.
For Mr Warrington, 5-axis machining is clearly the future. “Machining all components in one set-up eliminates a large amount of non-productive time caused by using let’s say three different machines for accomplishing the same job. Moreover, our customers very often come to our factory and have a look at our machining capabilities to make sure we manufacture their components the best possible way – which we do.”
Mr Warrington also credits his success in part to the fact that Kewder is able to make most deliveries within the shortest time. Kewder’s ISO9200 certification is also a plus, “because that allows us to have conversations with potential customers that we wouldn’t be having otherwise,” he says. “We are very competitive in terms of our pricing and when you factor in the quality of our work and our quick delivery times, that makes our whole package very attractive.”