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How Selectronic improved their SMT line with Hawker Richardson

Selectronic, for more than fifty years, has been delivering energy solutions to Australia and the world. Selectronic is the manufacturer of the SP PRO, the only multi-mode, bi-directional inverter chargers made in Australia.

I’m Peter Davies, the production manager at Selectronic. Selectronic designs and manufactures battery inverters that use solar power to charge batteries and thus provide electricity to off-grid dwellings — which can be anything from small residential to large industrial objects. Additionally, we provide hybrid products so we can achieve on-and-off-grid solar systems (electricity can be provided dependently and independently from the power grid).

Who is Selectronic’s core clientele?

Our core clientele is anyone who wants to have an off-grid solution. This could be due to financial considerations or just the desire to save energy. We have found many people are joining the growing movement towards off-grid and sustainable energy. Energy resilience and reliability is a big issue across the globe. Our clients want an off-grid solution as opposed to relying on single earth return wiring (used to supply electricity at a low cost).

What have been some of your best projects to date?

One of our key projects was in South Sudan for a 168-bed hospital, which we helped to successfully provide a 24/7 power supply. They had nothing previously. We have found there are a lot of communities around the world who have no power supply, so it’s fantastic to be able to help smaller communities power up and live a modern life.

We did work for a lot of off-grid solutions which have been able to withstand bushfires and natural disasters. This is brilliant because people can go back to what is left of their property and they have power as well as a way of communicating — that’s something we are really proud of.

As a business, we are really connected to these kinds of projects and when someone at a BBQ asks “What do you do for a living?” we can respond with “We are helping the planet” — and it’s true, not many companies can say that.

Saving the planet is our key motivator and keeps us innovating to help reduce the speed of climate change. The Selectronic community is also motivated to help bring our products to life as well as enhance them. This helps us to enhance products and bring out new ones, as well as collaborate with people who have expertise in other areas. Together we produce systems that are making a tangible difference, which is measurable. That’s something I love about being an engineer; I love to be able to measure things, because it means you can show progression.

What does your current total line solution from Hawker Richardson provide to your business?

The total capability we get from the assembly line solutions from Hawker Richardson are quite transformational — chalk and cheese. We are now able to build our own product from bare circuit boards right through to the finished product.

The solution enables us to build future designs in real-time and this was unheard of before the investment. We now upskill staff and employ more people locally. Since I started here, we have doubled the production team, and the capability of that team has been significantly enhanced. With the ability to connect with the equipment and upskill themselves, staff can progress their career here. Previously, some of our engineers might have had a particular job and could do a task for a limited time, but now they can grow individually, professionally, and personally — this sort of equipment gives us the capability to do that.

A good example is the conformal coating process. Previously, we were masking off areas by hand where we wanted to apply conformal coatings. We used to spray the circuit boards out of a rattle-can and utilised a desktop system. Thankfully, the new system allows us to take a fully uncoated magazine of circuit boards and create a fully coated magazine, where a circuit board comes out of the end. Hands-off, the machine does the whole thing, it’s going to be magical!

The new technology brings us all in line. For example, straight out of the surface mounter, we can load the boards using through-hole technology, which we then put through the live soldering machine. It takes the work-in-progress down to nothing, which means that we’re not investing in product sitting around and waiting for the opportunity to get through the service line — that brings cash flow back to the business.

The impact is quite significant in all different areas, so it’s not just the ability to build product in-house, it’s all the things that it brings with that.

You recently invested in a new PVA system; what do you expect to achieve going forward?

Our recent purchase of the PVA system from Hawker Richardson gave us the capability to go from batch processing to automation. The old PVA system that would spray the whole batch on one side, put the next board in manually then spray the next side and then cure it — it was a very manual and slow process. It was a great machine and it’s been going for a very long time; pretty much faultlessly, we have worked it to death, and it didn’t die, it was a great machine but the new one is totally different.

The new PVA system sprays one side, flips the board, does the second side, cures it and then it automatically comes out the other end. It does the entire circuit by magazine. We can do three magazines at a time which is helping to increase throughput and achieve six times our usual productivity rate. Because the human element is removed, the quality goes up. The new machine, in my opinion, has every benefit you could want and does future-proof the business too because it gives us headroom. We no longer have a bottleneck in the process as it has now been optimised through the machine. Having this new line will give us the capability to build the other products and bring in other processes whilst expanding the product suite — because it won’t be delayed at conformal coating.

What change in productivity do you expect to see with your new purchase of a PVA system?

With the new PVA system, we expect to see changes in productivity because we have removed the manual process and automated the line. Automation will allow us to release valuable staff from doing mundane jobs and simplistic tasks to take on more important processes. By eliminating the manual processes, we will guarantee products of a much higher quality and expect to see a five times productivity increase in volume output.

Upgrading our equipment has opened significant new markets and opportunities — locally too, which means we can upskill people internally. In essence, the new PVA system is creating Aussie jobs and helping Aussie people. This opens opportunities for more people to come in at a ground level who can then focus on expanding their capabilities in the technology, sustainability, and recycling areas.

We have several products we can integrate; for example, our Select cell range of batteries and we have got our Power Control Cabinet range. These are boxes that control the batteries. They measure and monitor battery health. And with our inverters, we are going with more integrated solutions away from products, so it expands the capability of the business quite significantly.

What was the process like with installing the SMT equipment? Did it go smoothly/was it efficient?

The SMT installation process has gone really well. We’ve got a lot of deadlines that we want to hit, and many new products are being designed. We have the demand of onshoring and in-housing a lot of the products we make currently. The sooner we can get a product up and running, the better it will be for the business. There have been various experts coming in to assist us, including those from Hawker Richardson. It’s a complex process: integration into our IT systems, setting up servers and local networks, and working with installers to do compressed air and power and fume extraction. Overall, it’s been quite an effort. And we’re producing continuously, we are not shutting down production, we are making sure to work around all of this.

Everybody who has been involved has made a stellar effort and the Hawker Richardson team has been absolutely onto it training our staff on how the products work. It’s quite advanced equipment; we’ve got NASA down there — it’s all going off. We don’t want to quite launch a rocket, but we are launching new products that are going to be spectacular, so getting our SMT line all up and running is critical. I have one member of staff who has the right expertise but realistically you need a team of at least seven, so the Hawker Richardson team have been training staff members, which has been invaluable to my business.

It’s been a team effort, collaboration, and hands-on. Hawker Richardson is not just doing it for us, they are showing us how to do it. We begin by doing it and Hawker Richardson oversees how it goes and then makes any tweaks, changes, or improvements to the process. We are learning at an exponential rate, which is paramount with processes like ours. We are very close to getting both the surface mount machine line and the wave soldering machine up and running. The wave soldering machine is an automated line and loading product goes into the machine straight away. It almost takes boards out of the SMT and goes straight into the wave soldering machine.

The PVA machine has just been lined up and Hawker Richardson is pushing us to get the whole SMT line on and working, which is great. An excellent collaborative effort.

Would you recommend Hawker Richardson to anyone else based on your experience?

My recommendation regarding Hawker Richardson would be to just choose them. I have known them since the early ’90s. I first started working with Greg Plageman on a system for a contract manufacturing business I was running. As the machines were getting put in, I had four contracts to run, so we were putting customer boards through the machines during their installation and commissioning.

The Hawker Richardson team were right on to it back then, and they haven’t changed, they have just gotten better. I just go to Hawker Richardson for everything. I just say, “What have you got, come on down.” I don’t mess with anybody else; I just don’t want to go through the hassle of not knowing if I’m going to get the service and response I need. They have so many spares just around the corner in Altona so if something falls over, it’s going to be up and running the next day.

So yes, I would recommend them, absolutely. I wouldn’t even think about going anywhere else — too silly and hard. Why would I even go there?

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Originally published


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