Since 1948, family-owned Mendham Engineering has specialised in engine reconditioning, general engineering, dynamic balancing, shot peening, and crack testing.
We spoke to owner Doug Mendham to find out how the Brisbane-based business is focussing on quality and investing in technology to keep pace in today’s rapidly changing industry.
How did Mendham Engineering get started?
My father and grandfather started the business under their house in Yergona in 1948. Soon after they built a workshop by hand in Moorooka. They stayed there for 20 odd years. When they outgrew that spot, they moved to 1776 Ipswich Road for another 30 odd years before moving next door to 1800 Ipswich Road. We’ve been here ever since. So, we’ve had a few changes over the years.
Were there any setbacks?
The floods in 1974 were devastating. Our first workshop on Ipswich Road was swamped in 13 feet of water. They had to pull all the machines apart and clean them and cook the motors to dry them out. Luckily, when we moved next door, my father raised the block a few metres. So, when the floods came through in 2011 it missed the floor level by about 8 inches (that flood was only 7 feet deep).
How many employees do you currently have?
Just under 50. After the GFC [Global Financial Crisis] our numbers dropped, but now that mining and earthmoving has picked up again, we’ve been putting in more machines and hiring more employees. We’re growing rapidly right now.
What exactly does Mendham Engineering do?
About sixty per cent of our work is general engineering — repairing heavy equipment for earthmovers, tractors, bulldozers and excavators. The other forty per cent is engine reconditioning, such as machining work on engines for cars, trucks and earthmoving equipment — mainly heavy diesel. It involves grinding crankshafts, boring cylinder blocks, facing cylinder heads, cutting valve seats and the like.
Who are your customers?
Our main clients are large earthmoving and mining companies like Thiess, Hastings Deering, Komatsu and Hitachi. We also do occasional one-off jobs for ‘walk-in’ clients with specific needs.
Two of your core values are quality and service. How do you make these a focus?
We’ve always tried to put our customers first. Over the last decade, we’ve worked hard to upgrade our quality assurance standards and procedures to meet customer expectations. In 2017 we were re-accredited to the ISO 9001-2015 standard. That helps us produce quality work and makes sure everything we do is properly documented and tracked. It’s about maintaining our reputation for quality work and service. People come back because of our reputation.
How has technology changed your business?
We have four machines now that are CNC [Computer Numerical Control] machines. Basically, you plug in a program and the machine does the work. It’s more efficient and removes a lot of human error. You still need someone to operate the machine and check for wear and tear on the tools, but it’s the way the world is going — all automated with computers and robots. But it’s expensive! We’re in the process of putting in a new CNC mill which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. But if it keeps quality high, it’s worth it.
What’s the biggest challenge you currently face?
Finding the right people with the right skills. Currently, the unemployment rate is low, so a lot of the good workers already have good jobs. That means we have to pay higher wages to attract workers, which increases costs. It’s especially hard to find a good foreman. Their job can be demanding. It's high volume and can be technical. They need to deal with workers and customers, job specifications and quality assurance. It takes a special kindof person to fill that job.
What does super mean to you?
A lot of people — including myself — probably haven’t taken enough notice of their super. These days the benefits you get from the government when you retire might not be enough to make ends meet. So, people should be putting away as much as they can. I see that some of our employees are making extra super contributions each week. It’s good because there are a lot of people who are going to retire and won’t have enough to keep the lifestyle they are used to.
What’s the future for the Mendham name?
Well, my father and his brothers ran the business for 40 years. In December 2016 I bought out my brother. So, for now, the business is solely mine. My two sons work here — over the next few years, I’ll start stepping back and they’ll do more. Hopefully one day their kids will take over and keep the name going. We’re proud to be a well-respected family business.
MTAA Super supports businesses of all sizes No matter how big or small your business, we can help you meet your super obligations. To find out about our employer benefits, go to mtaasuper.com.au/employer-benefits or call us on 1300 362 415.