Stuart Martin reports on the Redarc portfolio of accessories and control systems.
A doubling in size is not the aim when it comes to diets or debt; but when you’re in business, it can be a good thing.
Sustainable organic growth is a well-worn phrase in the automotive industry, but many don’t manage to achieve it.
The staff at Redarc − which started with a handful of people 40 years ago and now boasts more than 200 staff − talk about growth in such terms with cautious optimism.
The fact they’ve maintained manufacturing − while expanding the size of the factory − in an industry awash with shutdowns, speaks volumes for its workforce.
National sales and marketing manager Ben Marsh said the factory expansion could potentially increase manufacturing capacity by as much as 250 percent. The expanded capacity reflects where the company aims to be in five years, with widening export market opportunities among variables to be considered.
“The objective we’re planning is for five years’ time and to cater for that problem we have to expand, although in reality we currently only run one shift,” he said.
Prior to the 3000 square-metre expansion, the plant in the Adelaide suburb of Lonsdale was known to run at levels as high as 140 per cent of capacity, but materials became a problem − “if we went overnight and did two shifts, then it became a supply issue to get the gear in.”
Mr Marsh said it was a feature of Redarc that, despite obstacles, the company would always figure out how to keep working and move ahead.
One of the more recognised staples of the brand in recent times has been its trailer brake control units, an integrated controller that hides within the dashboard in an installation that limits cabin intrusion to a small dash-mounted dial.
Adjusting the brake application of the trailer is a simple turn of the dial, rather than the old-school slider-equipped units often installed under the dashboard.
The rest of the product range − power inverters, solar power kits, chargers and voltage converters among them − has also grown strongly. These are products that allow for easy power generation and storage in everything from camper trailers to B-Doubles.
“Brake controllers have been solid for us. It’s been growth across the board with a lot of different products,” Mr Marsh said.
The product range has come a long way from the humble beginnings of Redarc Electronics, founded in August 1979 by electronics engineer Bob Mackie. It began as a design and manufacturing business for vehicle ignitions and voltage converters.
In 1997, following Bob Mackie’s sudden death, Anthony and Michele Kittel teamed with Michele’s father, Denis Brion, to buy Redarc. When Denis retired five years later, Anthony and Michele purchased his share of the business.
From a small business based in a house in the southern foothills of Adelaide, the company now employs more than 200 people, with six of the original eight staff still working there. It was recognised for its ability in 2014 when it won the Telstra Australian Business of the Year.
During a brief tour in the days leading up to the official re-opening of the expanded warehouse and factory, there was an atmosphere of confident efficiency among the workforce. Almost all aspects of the business are visible − to each employee and to visitors.
Now 40 years strong, the $22m investment strategy to scale up the business and expand the Lonsdale factory is a solid statement for the future of the company, enabling the introduction of new state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and systems, the installation of sustainable power infrastructure, new staff recruitment and ongoing investment in their highly skilled workforce.
The workforce interacts easily, working in product-specific areas and rotating regularly through different workstations to maintain a broad skill base. They acknowledge with a nod and smile the interested interloper in an ill-fitting hi-viz vest and safety glasses, before getting on with the task at hand.
The nearby help desk is staffed by about half a dozen people, who can quickly locate any of the design and manufacturing staff needed to solve a customer issue. It’s a short walk and a chat, rather than the phone call, message or email that might take days to resolve a problem.
Redarc claims the research and development of its products is funded by 15 per cent of the company turnover, and it’s a level of investment that has paid off. The company has one warranty claims staff member and while a specific number wasn’t nominated, the warranty rate claim percentage is in the single digits.
The Redarc brand has come to represent innovation and quality in the aftermarket industry and, more recently, in original equipment electronics – producing, for example, 13,000 towing brake controllers a month for both the aftermarket and car makers’ accessory catalogues. Its arsenal includes voltage systems for the OE truck market − Volvo, Mack, PACCAR and Isuzu among them − as well as aftermarket heavy-vehicle systems.
The aftermarket product range has long been the brand’s staple, but more recently it has expanded its OE manufacturing and added work for the Defence manufacturing sector. The growth in this sector resulted in Redarc appointing a full-time Defence coordinator as the industry looks for maximum local content.
The expansion of Redarc, including the acquisition of NSW company Hummingbird Electronics, has resulted in annual double-digit growth. While the staff are coy about revealing too many financial details, the company identified a 2020 target of $100 million in revenue and 230 staff; at the time of writing it was suggested “we’re not far off that now”.
Managing director Anthony Kittel said the upgraded facility would enable Redarc to expand its current workforce to 300 by 2024.
“We have been growing strongly in recent years by targeting the North American and European automotive aftermarket with our dual battery chargers and our award-winning Tow-Pro Elite brake controller,” he said. “We are now actively diversifying into other markets, including Defence and medical devices.”
Mr Kittel said Redarc had been able to “buck the trend” against the offshoring of manufacturing in Australia through a programme of significant reinvestment into research and development, staff development, and training.
Developing its export markets is the next chapter in the brand’s expansion, with Europe and the US showing strong interest in Redarc’s catalogue of power products.
While the brand’s brake controller, a dominant player in the OE and aftermarket realm, is among its more well-known products, the 12-volt and solar ranges are proving popular in new markets for Redarc.
Redarc marketing manager Tennille Reid said US market interest was growing in genuine off-grid power supply systems which allowed for charging on the move.
“It’s a big growth market for us, we’re doing a lot of trade shows in the US; that’s where a lot of the interest is,” she said.
“We’re trickling through … they’re a long way behind in terms of the way they camp and travel over land. Here in Australia we’ve had to evolve as an industry quickly because, to get from one side of the country to the other, there are not a lot of places where you can plug in. They love the idea of not having to connect.”