11 November 2004
With new car sales set to reach record results this year, business is booming for local Queensland business, QTB Automotive. After two decades in operation, the company's strong focus on quality, customer service and research and development is the driving force behind its continuing success.
"We specialise in the manufacture of tow bars for the original equipment market, selling our products direct to car companies," explains Dennis O'Meara, General Manager of QTB Automotive. "We don't sell tow bars to trade or retail outlets, we sell a genuine accessory to our automotive clients only."
Established in the mid-eighties, QTB Automotive was originally a privately owned company called Queensland Tow Bars. After being acquired in 1996, Queensland Tow Bars changed its name to QTB Automotive in 2000. The company currently has 100 employees working from two sites, 75 at the headquarters and fabrication workshop in Wakerley, Queensland, and 25 at QTB's finishing workshop in Lyndhurst, Victoria.
With major clients like Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Volvo, Mazda and Ford, total customer service is a fundamental objective at QTB Automotive. "We have a philosophy throughout the organisation that our customers are the priority, our employees really work for our customers, not for QTB," says Dennis.
"Quality and research and development are two of the key drivers in our operations," he adds. "We own our own research and development and testing facilities, where our qualified engineering and design staff are constantly looking for ways to improve the product."
"Research and development is a continuous process," says Dennis. "When we develop a tow bar for a new model, we start working on it two years ahead of when the vehicle will actually be released in Australia. At the moment, we are working on projects that will be released in Australia in 2007."
"Our engineers will travel to Japan or Thailand, and look at vehicles that are still in the design stage. Then we take that information, which the customer will provide as a CAD file, and our designers will come up with a number of different tow bar options, based on the type of car, the required towing capacity and so on. Each type of vehicle has a tow bar specifically designed for it," he adds.
There are some significant challenges for QTB's research and development team, "One of the major challenges is the weight of the product, we need to make it lighter, while still achieving the same strength. Another issue that we are currently working on is the impending introduction of rear impact testing for cars. Our products will become lighter, more flexible, and smaller, for shipping purposes, while maintaining the same strength."
QTB Automotive supplies 130,000 tow bars annually. The tow bars are fabricated and welded in its Wakerley premises and then sent to Lyndhurst, where they are finished in powder coat, chrome, or aluminium, depending on the design, and then assembled.
About 50 percent of each tow bar is fabricated from AS/NZS 1594 - HA300 XLERPLATE® coil plate, a brand of highquality hot rolled coil plate from BlueScope Steel. The remainder of the tow bar is constructed from rectangular hollow section or merchant bar.
"Once the tow bar is designed, the drawing is loaded onto a laser cutting machine, which cuts the appropriate shapes from the XLERPLATE® coil plate," explains Dennis. "The shapes are then sent through to the next process stage, where they may be welded. At the same time, the rectangular hollow section is processed separately. The parts are then brought together in the assembly area and welded together. The tow bar is then sent down to Lyndhurst for finishing and final assembly."
According to Dennis, continuous improvement is a major focus at QTB. "We are continually looking at ways to improve processes, and become more cost competitive. Many of our customers expect a certain amount of process improvement each year, which will then translate into cost savings for them. They start with a particular price, manufacturing is improved over time, and the reductions in cost are then shared with them."
"It's one of the reasons why a reliable supplier is vital to the business," says Dennis. "A good supplier is just so important. We only have a single steel supplier. We work better with just one supplier, we develop a relationship, a partnership with them. It's the way we work with our customers, and it's the way we work with our suppliers."
"We use XLERPLATE® coil plate from BlueScope Steel mainly because of the quality and the consistency of Australian steel," says Dennis. "With imported steel, if there is a quality or delivery issue, it's much harder to rectify. Using a local steel supplier means we get better service."