Tightly knit team at Blacktown City Switchboards takes a long, personal attitude to technology and quality

Blacktown City Switchboards founder, Mohamad Ladha, left, built the business over more than 40 years, with a clear focus on quality product with personal touch and attention to detail – a legacy that Director Mark Betcher, right, plans to continue with the company’s close-knit team

New technology is a great tool for switchboard manufacturing – but the processes and progress it makes possible must be driven by individual and team commitment to quality engineering standards and personal attention to customer needs.

“Technology is great – it has brought significant changes in the way we manufacture and do business, and it is invaluable in helping us absorb changes sweeping through the industry,” says Blacktown City Switchboards Director Mark Betcher.

“We welcome and use new technologies because our customers benefit from its great possibilities to speed design response to changes occurring throughout all our markets, such as green energy, solar power, and the need to conserve power.”

“All of this is good – but we never want to lose sight of the foundation on which this business has been built for more than 40 years – supplying a quality product to local industry with our personal touch and attention to detail,” says Mark, who works in a close-knit team with Company Founder Mohamad Ladha.

Mark was a qualified electrical tradesman representing a large electrical engineering products company when he caught the eye of Mohamad, an electrical engineer whose life journey took him from his native Tanzania to graduation and work in the UK before moving to Australia.

“I was looking for someone with the right attitudes to quality and teamwork who was truly committed to delivering benefit to customers. In addition to the best skills, I wanted someone who would achieve things for his customers, his company and his industry, and Mark has done that for as long as I have known him.”

Over the 30 years they have been together – including the last 20 for which Mark has been a Director – the company has grown together though its tightly focussed team of 10-12 skilled people whose individual attitudes and achievements are acknowledged and valued in a harmonious and satisfying professional environment.

“Quality goes deep in this company, because we are all pulling in the same direction,” says Mark. “This co-operative approach to getting it right happens from the concept to the detail, whether we are producing a little 350 amp board for an individual application, or a 4,000 amp heavy duty mains distribution board.”

“A focus on quality and versatility is very satisfying to us all here, as like-minded people. Though it is an intangible, attitude adds great capability and ability to meet response times when we are undertaking projects of whatever size and engineering complexity. “

“While new technologies expand our ability to do our job, it is the human element that ensures that is done properly, rather than just quickly.”

-Mark Betcher, Director, Blacktown City Switchboards

Getting quality right the first time

Blacktown City Switchboards’ Paul Quinn providing the human element that has maintained the company’s reputation for quality for more than 40 years

Blacktown City Switchboards handles jobs as diverse as retail and commercial buildings, schools, childcare, hospitality, electrical generation, mining, process control for the food and beverage industry, water, and wastewater.

While most of its business is centred around Sydney, the company’s good name, versatility, and word-of-mouth can have it completing projects down the South Coast one day and up the Snowy Mountains the next.

“We like to say that when a switchboard goes out our door, that’s the last we want to see of it, because we want it to be 100 per cent correct the first time. And while we love the new technologies we use to help us, we take personal responsibility for maintaining the quality design that goes into these systems and the result that comes out.”

“We design for the long-term – we have customers who come back to us after 20 years who want to update something we produced back then and we still know who they are and where their drawings can be found. Usually the switchboard isn’t the problem – it’s going perfectly – but they just have new functionalities that their business must respond to, and they have sought us out to help. Some of them say, ‘when we look at the switchboard, we know immediately that it is one of yours’.”

“Keeping our team tight and our standards high pays off for everyone – our team is professionally satisfied, and we maintain a strong skills base, even during these times of skills shortages. Our customers are happy too because they know a strong team is always there to give them personal service. Often they will be dealing with the person who built their switchboard years ago and can go straight to work in upgrading it.”

Supporting the industry

Mohamad Ladha and Mark Betcher both have a strong commitment to the switchboard manufacturing industry of which they are part.

“You get back from the industry what you put in – none of us works in isolation as switchboard manufacturers.”

“We are all in the same business, after all, and we want to see our industry’s standards high and our reputation is a proud one here and overseas,” says Mark, who is a hard-working honorary treasurer of National Electrical Switchboard Manufacturers’ Association, NESMA.

“Back in the days before NESMA, there were a lot more cowboys in the industry who would feed unsuspecting customers equipment that was lower standard and cheaper to make. The results were that their customers were taking safety, compliance, and traceability risks without realising it.”

Standards changes

This has changed a lot in the last 20 years that NESMA has been about, through its industry information, education and representation to regulatory bodies, though there are still patches where there still needs to be further agreement about compliance.

“For example, in some areas of the country, there are those who believe that compliance to AS 3000 is their primary, if not only, legal obligation. Some appear to believe the provisions of Standards such as AS/NZS 61439 are too hard, and they don’t understand them – even though this the most important change in the low voltage switchboard design and manufacturing industry for more than 20 years.”

“The paradoxical thing is that AS 3000 references AS/NZS 61439, so you could logically suppose that if you are adhering to one, you must adhere to the other, as the big majority of the industry are doing.”

Cooperative approach

Mark Betcher and NESMA favour co-operative approaches to resolving such issues, reaching out not only to individual manufacturers, but also to the whole chain of people involved in industrial, commercial and infrastructure fit-out.

“Conflict seldom solves anything – understanding, education and negotiation are the way forward. This involves not only manufacturers – we don’t exist in a bubble – but the full range of our fellow professionals in related industries.”

“In the past, all the disciplines involved in a project might work in comparative isolation from each other, rather than through a communicative chain of responsibilities, extending from architects, designers, engineers, builders and sub-contractors.

“Now there is a much better interaction of disciplines, with education expanding each other’s understanding of roles, standards, compliance, traceability, and risk management. Switchboard manufacturers are an important part of this pool of knowledge – especially with energy conservation and green energy grids arriving as key issues for the years ahead.

“As we do in our own BCS company, my colleagues in NESMA favour education over opposition, sharing over isolation, because we are all in the same industry and we all have to work together to achieve the common good.”