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ADELAIDE-BASED automotive systems manufacturer Redarc Electronics collected the top manufacturing prize at the Australian Auto Aftermarket Expo awards presentation ceremony in Melbourne this month.

The top award for exporters went to Australian Clutch Services, another company based in the City of Churches.

Redarc makes a range of electronic systems for vehicles, its best seller being the Tow Pro Elite brake controller for electric trailer brakes.

Accepting the award, Redarc founder and chief executive Anthony Kittel said demand was growing so rapidly that Redarc was planning a major expansion of its Adelaide plant over the next three years.

The company has already bought the adjacent block of land and will add a further 2000 square metres of factory floor space, adding to the current footprint of 3500 square metres.

The current employee headcount of 150 is expected to rise in similar proportion.

Apart from the trailer brake controller, Redarc makes a range of products for recreational vehicles, trucks and defence vehicles.

Winning feeling: Redarc’s Victorian sales manager Tim Chivers (left) and special projects manager Rob Chadwick with the top manufacturing award presented at the Australian Auto Aftermarket Expo.

These include power management systems for two-battery installations, folding solar panel collectors, sine wave inverters to produce 240V when on the road, canbus modules and a host of other products.

Redarc manager of special projects Rob Chadwick – a former executive at Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited – said the company was about to strengthen its export push into Europe and the US.

“We have actually got a footprint in each market and we are growing that footprint,” he said.

Redarc is also a Tier 2 supplier in some offshore markets, selling components to another Australian company that handles the end assembly.

“There are other Australian companies who are able to supply a complete solution. We are part of that solution,” Mr Chadwick said.

The biggest export seller was expected to be the Tow Pro Elite trailer brake controller.

While many utes are rated to tow more than three tonnes, this requires a braked trailer and standard vehicles do not have trailer brake controllers.

“You cannot tow a caravan unless you have a vehicle that is adequately set up and currently the solution that is being offered by the OEMs requires the Redarc product to complete the range so you can tow at the capacities that are being advertised by the OEMs,” Mr Chadwick said.

Another growth area is defence, although Mr Chadwick was cagey about customers and products.

“Defence is a large opportunity for the company and it is obviously desirable for the Defence department to have local manufacturers with high local content. Redarc is able to fulfil those requirements,” he said.

Marketing manager Tennille Reed said a key distinguishing feature of Redarc was the fact that it reinvested around 15 per cent of its revenues back into research and development.

“At least 25 per cent of our employees are engineers looking at what products we will be able to release tomorrow,” she said.

Redarc has six engineers who are able to 3D print plastic parts and the company also makes use of 3D printed metal parts that are out-sourced.

“It’s a big investment, and that’s what allows us to be innovative in the marketplace. If we weren’t investing in R&D, then we wouldn’t be able to bring new products into the marketplace each year.”

Australian Clutch Services, another Adelaide outfit, received the gold award for excellence in export.

Owned by husband and wife team Brenton and Sophie Jordan, ACS exports a range of high-performance and heavy-duty clutches for use in sports vehicles and four-wheel drives. Exports represent 30 per cent of turnover.

Ms Jordan, who is the company’s marketing and export administrator, said the gold export award came after ACS lifted the prize for producing the most innovative product in the performance category for its new twin organic plate clutch for the Ford Focus RS MkIII.

Australian Clutch Services principals Brenton and Sophie Jordan

“We were the first in the world to release this performance upgrade for this particular vehicle,” she said.

“The features of the twin organic clutch are that it’s still good for people that want more horsepower in the vehicle, it can handle the heat and it is still nice to drive.”

The Focus RS clutch will be a good export product because far more of them are sold in Europe and the US than in Australia.

“There is a lot of buzz around the RS and the category of sports hatchbacks is growing rapidly in Europe,” she said.

“We wanted to be the first in the world with this clutch and we got in touch with Focus RS owners’ clubs in the UK to help us promote the product as well.

“We sent one of the first examples to a UK workshop to fit it to a car to make sure it was suitable.”

ACS was also fast off the mark in 2016 when it developed and produced a sports clutch suitable for the four-cylinder EcoBoost Mustang in the US.

The European distribution is handled by a Polish operator who also represents other Australian producers like Pedders and Disc Brakes Australia.

“That’s a good thing about the Australian aftermarket, people tend to work together. People see how they can help each other,” Ms Jordan said.

“The Middle east is a big market for us, a growing market. They have a really active car culture in the Middle East. Abu Dhabi is a good market, in Dubai we are working with a few different workshops that are selling the product for us.”

ACS has around 50 people working at its Adelaide plant, which houses the head office, research and development and the warehousing. There are sales representatives in each state.

Being a small company, ACS has come up with a clever way to test new products. The company maintains a fleet of new vehicles for senior employees and these vehicles are fitted with development products to see how they perform before being released for sale.

As for the outlook, Ms Jordan said ACS did not have a lot to fear about the impending closure of the Holden and Toyota plants in October, although she said the nation as a whole would suffer.

“People don’t realise how much it is going to affect and change everything,” she said. “It’s not only the workers, it is everything around them: their families, the service providers around where the workers live.”

ACS, which was never a supplier to the car-makers, would be targeting Asian markets more in the future, she said.

“In the future we are going to try and target the Asian markets. The good thing is we are getting a lot of support from the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association,” she said.

“They have a lot of contact with Thailand and Indonesia, and Austrade as well, so we can get help from those people to get to know the market better, which is really good for people like us.”

“And also America is going to be a big market for us. Last year we exhibited at SEMA in Las Vegas and the Performance Racing Industry show at Indianapolis and ACS will be going back this year.

“I have only a few segments of the market I want to target. One of them will be the Focus RS because the US competitors don’t do so much in that area.”

And ACS has reason to be optimistic. Export sales to the northern hemisphere jumped 50 per cent in the financial year to June 30, 2016.

By Ian Porter

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