100-year industry leader Nilsen champions the new heartbeat of manufacturing self-sufficiency

A century-old company at the heart of many of this country’s major electro-technology projects, Nilsen Australia, is championing the return to local manufacturing of technology vital to our local and national interests.

Founded in 1916 – and with more than 1000 skilled workers across operations in every mainland State – Nilsen has been involved in many of Australia’s landmark projects, ranging from Australia’s Parliament House to the Collins submarine fleet, as well as major State and National construction, infrastructure, commercial, and security programmes.

Its activities extend the length and breadth of the country through a host of major airport, health, marine, retail, resources, commercial, and social and community infrastructure projects, including upgrades of the MCG and completion of New Royal Adelaide Hospital in South Australia in recent years.

“The changing times in which we are now living – and the supply chain and self-sufficiency issues arising – are pointing Australia along the path to understand the challenges, uncertainties and opportunities we face going forward,” says Nilsen Division Manager, Switchboards, Joshua Case.

“The new normal that we are facing has opened industry’s eyes to what we should be doing here, in terms of expanding our core workplace skills and capabilities so we can achieve locally the top technology, quality, safety, and service we need to progress as an industry,” he says.

Nilsen has been an industry innovator in manufacturing and technology – as well as a champion of top Standards, quality, and safety compliance – since its founding by Oliver J Nilsen.

Today the company is led by the fourth generation of Oliver J Nilsen’s family, with Mark Nilsen taking the company forward in its objective of being a leading electro-technology company operating throughout Australia delivering installation, maintenance, and manufacturing services from inception to replacement.

Josh says Nilsen’s focus on whole-of-life value gives its products the durability and sustainability to succeed long-term in even the toughest and highest technology environments, such as those encountered in advanced engineering for projects ranging from National defence facilities, Brisbane Airport Link Tunnel, to projects of the country’s biggest miners, including BHP and Rio Tinto.

“Local manufacture, built-in quality and safety assurance are so important today – perhaps even more than in the past, because we see what can happen to disrupt supply in such a relatively short time,” said Josh Case. “Our company is strongly focussed on local manufacture and is expanding this as we address shortages of skills essential to progress while managing overseas component supply chain issues.”

“We share the growing belief that Australia has to get back to greater self-sufficiency as a nation, and expand the space where Australian engineering is recognised as among the world’s best, which it has always been. Our place is high on the quality and value scale – we can’t afford to join the race to the bottom because that’s not where we excel and not where enduring value resides.”

“What happens when things go wrong with poor engineering? What happens when your supplier is on the other side of the world, and something fails – or if the cheapest product was cheap because it was later found to be non-compliant with Statutory standards? Too many questions, too many risks.”

“Adherence to Standards and safety compliance is not an option for switchboards manufacture in Australia – they are a statutory obligation for all switchboard manufacturers – and something customers have a right to expect,” says Josh, who directs Nilsen’s central manufacturing facility in Adelaide, from which clients are supplied nationally by the Division’s experienced core of 65 personnel.

Originally an electrician who honed his skills in project management while advancing through the Nilsen organisation since 2014, Josh Case is an unwavering advocated of advanced compliance and safety standards, which have been implicit in the multiple NECA (National Electrical Contractors Association) awards the company has won – including three last year, involving the South Australian GPO Exchange Tower Development and the Viterra Port Lincoln upgrade. Nilsen also won the NECA perpetual Trophy.

He is a supporter of the National Electrical Switchboard Manufacturers Association, NESMA, which leads industry awareness of the latest safety and compliance issues, including the new AS/NZS 61439 Standard Update, which is the most important change in the low voltage switchboard design and manufacturing industry for more than 20 years. Compliance with the new Standards – and widespread support and education through NESMA about their importance – is critical at a time when managing energy, safety and sustainability are more important than they have ever been before, says Josh.

“As electro-technology manufacturing in Australia grows stronger, there are many aspects of the new Standards of which everyone in the industry –including our customers – should be aware. For example, the provisions relating to safety and temperature rise now demand new footprint areas for switchboards for them to be compliant. Provisions such as this are an obligation upon all local manufacturers – they are not an opt-in or opt out, they are a statutory requirement, and we all have to work on the same level playing field.”

“Customers need to have confidence that their suppliers know of such provisions that are mandated throughout Australia – they need to know they are not dealing with someone far away who doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Because non-compliance will come back to bite both the supplier and the customer who suddenly finds that his technology is non-compliant.”

As an industry leader, Nilsen has been developing leading edge designs since the inception of the switchboard industry, the most current design being the modular N Series. Technology such as the N series is submitted to an ongoing regime of testing that ensure it continuously surpasses the relevant industry Standards and delivers Nilsen’s mantra of best whole-of-life value.

“With over 85 years’ experience in switchboard manufacture, we specialise in reliable, high-performance switchboards that offer best value over whole-of-life performance,” says Josh. “This philosophy and practice serves us well, because not only does it deliver the best outcomes, but also it curtails risk and advances productive uptime. Our philosophy has remained constant over generations because we are a family owned business that takes the long view on quality customer partnerships, delivering top value response to individual customer needs.