Australia’s Only Portable OPE Manufacturers Make Good
JOHN POWER interviews Aussie icons ‘Atom Industries’ and ‘Christie Engineering’ – the only two manufacturers in Australia of portable powered equipment. Both have ‘made good’ by producing good-quality products!
Registered as a business name in 1967 to distinguish its new range of all-Australia designed and made range of five models of chainsaws (the only ever manufacturer of lightweight engines in Australia), these 60cc and 75cc chainsaws with modern AV patented handles (STIHL was the only other with AV) plus many other features were an outstanding engineering success.
Atom’s in-house 16 toolmakers made all their own moulds and had Australia’s largest Spark Eroding machine (Swiss made). Atom also had Australia’s only high-pressure magnesium die-casting foundry. Everything was Australian-made except the saw chain and Tillotsen carburettor.
John Notaras, Sales Manager of Atom, says, “Our chainsaws then were miles ahead of almost every other brand of chainsaw available, but unfortunately in the mid-1970s we had to discontinue production due to the erratic policies of the (then) government and the high Australian costs that ensued. This also happened to much of Australian manufacturing.”
JP: But you still manufacture, albeit different products?
JN: Before we ceased chainsaw manufacturing we designed and manufactured the Atom-patented electronic ignition system, and Atom was the world’s first chainsaw manufacturer to have its entire range of product with electronic ignition.
Later we marketed this very small electronic module as a spare part to replace the then troublesome mechanical ignition breaker points for small engines and we made and sold millions around the world. We colour-coded our modules to suitably fit all types of different engines and hence its name Atom Computer Ignition.
JP: So, you have unique experience across a wide range of engineering and manufacturing?
JN: Atom continued to manufacture our unique Drill Attachment for chainsaws, which incidentally we originally designed in basic form in 1962 – and its modern version is still going strong and exported to many countries.
JP: You apparently only sell what you invent?
JN: We have always been passionate in only designing and manufacturing world’s best products. We looked at the market and in the 1990s we thought there was a better way to edge lawns, which were then the domain of the old-type, heavy lawnmower-size three- and four-wheeled edgers. We wanted something light in weight and very manoeuvrable and hence our Atom lawn edger was invented, eventually with six outstanding models to suit all needs.
JP: And since then the Atom range has assumed No. 1 market positions for lawn edgers in Australia and New Zealand, and this includes competing against the wave of lawn edger imports.
JN: Quality is super important as well as value for money. Our very high Australian costs make life harder but buyers of our products know that to be able to manufacture in Australia, the product has to be very good – which Atom products are. Also, being Aussie made we are very quick to respond, should any design issue arise, and to further improve our products. We always take note of any feedback from our dealers and end users.
JP: Does this mean that good old-fashioned service is provided?
JN: We certainly do and we bend over backwards to have satisfied happy customers.
JP: You also make a range of garden tillers and now additional new products of leaf blowers and engine drills.
JN: We have manufactured garden tillers for years, but in recent times we developed our AIRLIFT blowers, beginning with our Professional 4-stroke Honda-powered blower and newly released AV Homeowner Deluxe with 2-stroke engine.
JP: Why blowers when there are so many already on the market?
JN: Our passion for excellence in design to produce world’s leading designed product is what drives our brilliant Research & Development design team. We looked at the best quality blowers available and could see all their deficiencies. So we designed and now manufacture in 4-stroke and 2-stroke models the lightest, most massive airblast with the most comfortable handle and user-friendly features available in the market.
JP: You state your operating weight is only 3.5kg for a 4-stroke powered blower; how did you do it?
JN: Firstly, through excellent design with modern styling our dry weight is 4.3kg. But because of our massive airblast, our blowers up-lift themselves, hence reducing their weight and therefore the name AIRLIFT.
JP: So, you needed to compare your development of the different stages of blower, and therefore you designed a digital air-thrust measurer?
JN: We had to measure ourselves against the competitors, as well as against our own development program, and hence our proof of our superior products against all other quality brands. We also built a special-purpose heat-controlled test room for extremes in weather testing.
As a professional blower we had to ensure its reliability in the worst possible weather (+45oC) to start and run (even down to -10oC, as occurs overseas, which we also tested in our Snowy Mountains) and our enhancement of an already superb and world-leading engine makes it a superb blower that no other brand can match in such hot weather conditions.
JP: So, your passion for excellence in design and manufacture also drives you to produce additional products?
JN: Our new lightweight 2-stroke AIRLIFT 835 AV Homeowner Deluxe sets a new benchmark for user-friendly domestic use.
Our newly introduced five models of engine drills set a world benchmark in design and performance with their automatic reverse gear and in-built safety features.
No other brand has these outstanding features on such a range to offer the customer.
JP: What else is on the horizon?
JN: We are currently designing a new series 26cc lightweight engine design with high fuel efficiency, and with very low exhaust emissions, that does not require a catalytic muffler, plus other features. Our intention is to partly make in Australia (as we are beginning to do with our new series 3 engine used on our deluxe blower) with additionally imported componentry. We cherry-pick the best of each country together with our excellent Aussie design and knowledge, as well as our own manufacturing. We are also working on other developments, which we will announce in due course.
Christie Engineering also has a passion for excellence in design and manufacturing in Australia.
Started in 1982, the company began manufacturing and marketing their petrol post driver in 2011. We speak to company spokesperson Peter Christie.
JP: I understand it took several years to develop the post driver till you were satisfied you were ready to start manufacturing?
PC: About two or three years of development and testing.
JP: What advantages do you see in manufacturing in Australia?
PC: Conditions of use in Australia are recognised as very tough and any Aussie-made product has to be a good design and tough to meet Australia’s harsh conditions. Because of its durability our product is suitable for all markets of the world.
JP: So, as a local manufacturer you can respond very quickly should any design issues arise?
PC: We are very conscious of quality of our own components plus any other componentry that we use.
JP: Where are your markets?
PC: We sell Australia-wide and export to many countries.
JP: What engine do you use?
PC: We use a Honda GX35 for its power, durability and quietness in running.
JP: It is nice to see that Christie Engineering and Atom Industries are Australian manufacturers and both going strong!