Australian aerospace supplier lifts off with defence

Adelaide aerospace manufacturing and technology development company Toolcraft Australia went from a general machine shop to being a future-focused leader in defence design, engineering and manufacturing.
When Adelaide aerospace manufacturing and technology development company Toolcraft Australia wanted to win work with defence around 28 years ago, BAE Systems provided the launchpad.
 
“We were one of the first Australian toolmakers to move into defence, and BAE Systems Australia provided lots of opportunities to get up to scratch,” says Greg Stevens, General Manager of Innovation and Aerospace at Toolcraft.
 
“We worked with them to build our defence capability, gradually going from small projects to bigger programs, and proving ourselves as a trusted supplier.”
 
That partnership has allowed Toolcraft to grow from a general machine shop established in 1979, to a future-focused leader in defence design, engineering and manufacturing.
 
       

The road to defence

 
As an approved Defence Ready Level 1 Supplier, Toolcraft has since worked on several key global programs including the Nulka active missile decoy, BAE Systems’ most successful export product to date. Deployed on over 150 Australian and US warships, Nulka (an Aboriginal word meaning ‘be quick’) is uniquely designed to hover in mid-air and lure modern anti-ship missiles away from their targets. The rocket concept was initiated in Australia by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), and the system was designed, developed and then manufactured by BAE Systems Australia.

Toolcraft has also supported the global F-35 program, the largest and most advanced military aircraft program in the world. Led by the US with participation from the UK, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey, the truly collaborative program aims to deliver a stealthy, multi-role attack aircraft capable of operating from land and sea.

Other projects have included the Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM), a medium-range, surface-to-air missile to protect warships, designed and manufactured by a twelve-nation industrial collaboration, with BAE Systems as the lead Australian participant.

“It’s been a great journey,” says Craig Holland, Toolcraft’s General Manager of Operations. “BAE Systems have really showed us the path in terms of certification (such as AS9100) and bid requirements, and how to build business cases for procuring elite machines.”
You’ve got to be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to win work.

Greg Stevens, General Manager of Innovation and Aerospace at Toolcraft

Benefiting business

 
Working with the defence industry also prompted Toolcraft to improve its Quality Management System (QMS), risk management, and manufacturing capabilities.
“It certainly brings with it a greater attention to detail,” says Greg. “While we already had various policies and procedures plugged into our QMS, working with the defence industry forced us to be better.”

There was also the need to invest in industry-leading machinery and equipment, especially to remain relevant in a competitive sector and have a future with global trends.

“Having advanced precision work requirements meant we needed the top technology to do the work – and to keep winning the work.”


What it takes

 
It’s clear that working with the defence industry can be a significant undertaking for local suppliers, and Greg is quick to stress it’s a “slow burn”.

“You’ve got to be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to win work,” he says. “You really do need to be patient – and then have the resilience to handle a big work package being dropped on you.”

He also points out the need to demonstrate discriminators (unique selling propositions) – whether it’s in manufacturing, technology or another industry.

“It’s already assumed that you can do what you say you can do. So focus on being succinct in describing how and why your product or service is better than other options on the market,” he says.

If suppliers can do all that, they stand to benefit in many ways.

“It can be quite lucrative,” Greg says. “For us, that’s been multi-million dollar deals to produce components over a 10-year period.

“When you know what you’re producing and have built up that trust, you can make a business case to invest in the things that will keep you competitive and winning work in the long-term.”
 
 
Toolcraft
 
 

Looking to the future

 
Building on that almost 30-year relationship with BAE Systems, Toolcraft plan to take on even more complex technology design and development programs – such as supporting Australia’s leading capability in hypersonics and directed-energy weapons.
 
Whatever is ahead, the team at Toolcraft are proud to be producing products that protect Australians here and overseas.
 
“Everyone likes making cool things. And what motivates us most is making cool things for an industry that saves lives.”
 

 

For 65 years, we have supported Australian suppliers to grow, by joining our leading defence supply chain. Read more about our current major opportunities.

If you would like to build your business and our nation’s future, we invite you to partner with us.
 
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BAE Systems Australia 27 January 2021