An electrical industry leader who has witnessed first-hand for more than 25 years the changing tides of challenge and opportunity in the Low Voltage switchboard business says there is plenty to be optimistic about as Australia emerges from the current turbulent times – but some changes may be long-lasting or permanent.
Matthew Childs is Managing Director of AE Switchboards, a Division of Advanced Electric Solutions Pty Ltd, which serves major companies in sectors including food and beverage, packaging, retailing, agriculture, resources, mining and quarrying, recycling and waste and wastewater.
“One of our biggest industry challenges currently is supply of components and materials and their increasing costs. I believe this will continue for some time into the future – maybe not to the same extremes, but I have never seen prices come down,” says Mr Childs, whose experience extends from shop floor manufacturing technologies through to high-level finance and negotiation, business planning, business development, and sales and marketing.
“Customer needs must be at the forefront of our thinking and planning to cope with these issues and the current skills shortage. This evolving situation gives rise to opportunities for switchboard manufactures to review their current practices and to look to find solutions that are more cost-effective and/or engineered to overcome shortages – and ultimately to better meet the time and cost expectations of customers.
AE Switchboards serves some of Australia’s biggest and most sustainability-conscious companies who expect high quality product at globally competitive prices while adhering firmly to safety, compliance and verification requirements such as the relatively new AS/NZ 61349 Standard.
The proudly South Australian company operates nationally and has developed comprehensive in-house design and engineering facilities. These include full capability in electrical and control switchboards, network protections, and motor control, meaning the group can offer single-source supply for diverse energy control, distribution and generation needs.
“We believe also that we have a strong advantage in being a modular switchboard builder. We don’t custom-fabricate the cabinets and enclosures that we build into switchboards. Instead, we use various brands of enclosures in a variety of standard sizes and materials.”
“We carry a large stockholding of these enclosures, which allows us to design, engineer and build in a much shorter time frame than a fabricator could. Time is a huge cost factor, both to a supplier and, importantly, to customers who depend on prompt delivery of proven and reliable product to meet their project deadlines.”
“Our integrated back-office and manufacturing systems – along with our full ISO certification in environment, health and safety – provides our customers with a high-quality product built to industry-best practices and, importantly, offers customers full visibility on their job at every stage from quote through to delivery.”
AE Switchboards ensures its systems and processes are industry-leading and its commitment to quality, safety, and the environment, is second to none.
“We are finding the bigger customer companies –are well aware of the safety, compliance and verification requirements of the AS/NZ 61349 Standard but this is not always the case among smaller consultants and contractors.
Better awareness of the requirements of the standard
“Over the last 12 months – five full years since the Standard was introduced – we are still finding customers who are not even aware of it. And you can’t blame them for questioning the cost of compliance when the goal posts have shifted seemingly without notice.”
“Non-compliance is a very risky route, because if anything does go wrong and your switchboard is found to be non-compliant, apart from the obvious safety concerns, there is also the potential for reputational and legal consequences.”
“Importantly, in this time of supply chain issues, local manufacture is a safeguard against future problems and an assurance that service will be there when you need it.”
“AS/NZS61439 Compliant local product – which we pride ourselves upon – offers better whole-of life value and our customers can rest safe in the knowledge it is designed and built for Australian conditions and fully verified at every step,” said Mr Childs, who’s company is a member of National Electrical Switchboards Manufacturers Association, NESMA, which he supports in its campaign to get all manufacturers committed to the new Standard.
Behind all the business planning, Standards awareness, technology and systems, an enduring component of business success comes back to having good people and strong skills training, says Matthew Childs.
“I feel strongly that people are the key to our success. We are fortunate to have an enormous amount of experience in our team and our people are passionate about what they do and without fail aim for the best outcome for our customers.”
“I believe that our customers’ expectations – over the broad spectrum of projects we undertake each year – are met if not surpassed, and that they see us as an honest, ethical and reliable partner to their business. Our reputation, built by our people, is at the core of our ongoing success.”
NESMA is campaigning for industry-wide adoption of AS/NZS 61439, which it says is an important and complex document that responds to wide-ranging change (including technical, environmental and safety issues) for both manufacturers and their customers as they adapt to major change in the country’s grid and local power supplies.
The new AS/Standard 61349 is now the critical standard governing low-voltage switchboard manufacture, after a five-year transition from the old Standard, which has elapsed.