WOODTECH Group’s Ron Smyth started out machining components for a commercial joinery in Brisbane. Now, as a major supplier of machinery and equipment it would be a safe bet to say he knows the industry from the ground up.

The WOODTECH Group is one of the few remaining machinery and equipment suppliers that are wholly controlled from within Australia. Over the years the major players from Europe have bought out their Australian agents and now operate their own branches in Australia, selling their range of machines. WOODTECH Group is different in that they supply a choice of machines and equipment from a diverse selection of well-known brands from around the World. Supplier recently interviewed Ron Smyth about the WOODTECH Group and his involvement in the industry since he started out as an apprentice wood machinist in 1982.

Ron’s trade experience was spent machining joinery and cabinet components for a large commercial joinery in Brisbane. In 1984 the industry was just starting to ramp up with high-tech equipment and while the older employees weren’t keen on the new technology, young Ron was eager to learn. Ron’s early experience was programming and setting up leading brands like Morbidelli point-to-point CNC; Giben beam saws; HolzHer edge-banders and Griggio equipment. Because of his enthusiasm and commitment to the technology, he was made foreman in the fourth year of his apprenticeship, responsible for leading 22 people in the factory. It was here that Ron learnt that the industry was changing, and that technology would be the ‘workforce’ of the future.

Shortly after completing his apprenticeship Ron was approached by Wickman Australia’s Michael Dicker to join his service team. It was here that Ron developed his appreciation for service and understood what this means to the industry, both as a user and as a provider. Wickman closed their doors in 1992 and two years later Ron started at Allwood Machinery with John Cover and Jake Martin where he served for ten years. When Allwood was sold to Biesse in 2001 Ron continued, first in sales and then as Managing Director when John and Jake left two years later. After twenty years with Allwood/Biesse, Ron left in 2013 to buy into the WOODTECH Group where he is now Group Managing Director.

The WOODTECH Group’s turnover is based on 70% machine sales and 30% service and other industry support. The group currently supplies over a dozen different brands of machinery from all corners of the globe. Ron calls it an “Independent group of experienced partners” where every brand is of equal importance. While no machine dominates, the Anderson brand currently accounts for the highest turnover with sales of over seventy routers every year! The group also sell some of the highest performing machines available in the Schelling and IMA product. These are used extensively at Nobilia Kitchens in Germany where one of their two factories produce 120,000 more kitchens every year than the whole of Australia does. Supplier is informed that Nobilia spend 70 million Euro’s ($112 million Australian dollars) every year on machines and most of it comes from IMA Schelling.

Service is a major part of the WOODTECH story. The group doesn’t just fix problems but actively works with their customers to provide a service that predicts upcoming service requirements to prevent costly machine downtimes. In Queensland for example, the group employs only two sales persons but twelve service personnel and this ratio is indicative of all their branches Australia-wide. They buy parts from the original suppliers and this is not necessarily the company that built the machine. These parts could include bearings, hoses or electronics that are made by some of the World’s leading companies and this saves their customers money. Pretty much everyone working with the group has been a trades-person at one time, such is the group’s focus on having people that understand what their customers need. Ron says, “WOODTECH technicians are in every State, close to the machines they install. We believe a centralised service system is not always ideal; we prefer the human connection where our technicians can often be contacted directly by the customer.”

Two years ago, the group started quoting on production lines inclusive of board storage; CNC machining; edge-banding; flow-through drilling and hardware insertion and robotic sorting systems. Ron says there are about 120 companies in Australia that have invested in this level of automation and an equal amount capable of adopting it right now. He says, “We’ve seen production double and sometimes triple as a result of this level of automation” but concedes that massive gains are not always possible despite what some others may tell you. Ron explains, “Where’s the extra work coming from? You’re going to have to take it from someone else and this may not always be possible. We recognise this and work with our customers to create a balance; turning the labour costs you’re spending into machines and adding to the bottom line.”

One example of what the WOODTECH Group was able to do is a Sydney company that were out of space but needed to grow. They didn’t want to move because everyone knows where they are. The solution was to replace three existing nesting machines with two high-performing Anderson machines with the super-fast magnetic drive system delivering 1,500 parts per machine per shift. A Barbaric board store was installed as a mezzanine system and the parts were sorted and lowered through the floor onto the production line (see mezzanine picture). The bottom line was production increasing from 2,000 parts per shift to 3,000 parts per shift, extra floor space; three operators on the CNC machines and only one operator on the edge-banders.

The WOODTECH Group was founded in Queensland in 1992 by the directors Derek Van Der Kley and John Van Gilst of D&J Woodworking Machinery. Sam Shatkhin and Norm Wharton started up in Melbourne about the same time. The WOODTECH Group directors include Ron Smyth of RJS Machinery in Queensland; Ron Smyth and Scott Hickey of SJR Machinery in New South Wales; Ron Smyth and Scott Hickey of RSJ Machinery in Victoria; Matthew Hodge of ITC SA in South Australia; Ron Smyth and Tim Matthews of RT Machinery in Western Australia. In the last five years WOODTECH Group established the Queensland branch; followed by Sydney, Perth and Melbourne in successive years, doubling the number of people and tripling the group’s turnover in this short period of time.

Ron says, “We don’t need every furniture manufacturer on our books to be successful. What we think is important is that we do business with the right sort of companies, those we can set up properly to last twenty years. We could be one of the last suppliers in Australia to view machine purchases from a user’s point of view; looking to satisfy Australian conditions and needs. We’re certainly not a sausage factory supplier; we need to make every goal a winner.” He continues, “We’d like to think that buying through a local supplier is like going down to the local butcher instead of the supermarket; you get a better price; a much better product and better service, and the profits stay here in Australia.” You can’t argue with that.