Transforming Power

Wilson Transformers

When we flip on a light, relax in front of the television, or enjoy a cold drink from the refrigerator, little thought is usually given to the electricity that powers our lives, or the complicated network of lines and transformers needed to deliver it. Yet, transformers are “an essential part of the day to day life of everyone,” explains Robert Wilson, Managing Director of Wilson Transformers. The company ensures that power is supplied at the safest and most efficient voltage to homes and industries around the globe.

Jack Wilson, an electrical engineer, founded Wilson Transformers in a garage in 1933. From humble origins, the company has become Australia’s market leader for both power and distribution transformers with annual sales of over $250 million. Wilson Transformers also boasts a thriving export business, with sales spread across Asia, Europe, the United States and the Middle East. Even though it has grown strongly, the company remains family owned and still maintains the old fashioned work ethic and values that Jack Wilson established nearly 80 years ago. “We are now transitioning into the third generation as a family owned business,” Jack Wilson’s son Robert explains. Both of Robert Wilson’s sons hold senior management positions and will continue the family legacy well into the future.

The company manufactures large and small transformers, both of which play a vital role in the delivering of electricity. “It is the way the transmission and distribution of electricity works,” Mr Wilson explains. Power is generated at a relatively low voltage. To minimise energy losses, the voltage must be increased and the current reduced in order to transmit electricity toward its final destination. Then, because electricity can only be used at a lower voltage, the voltage must be progressively stepped down as electricity nears the location where it will be utilised. Transformers are used to alter the voltage throughout this journey.

Smaller distribution transformers are generally used to distribute the electricity to homes, offices or factories. This piece of often overlooked equipment is usually hidden inconspicuously inside a large box or mounted on a pole in residential areas. Wilson transformers are also used in large industry applications. For example, dragline shovels, aluminium smelters, chemical plants, and liquefied natural gas production all require transformers to supply electric power at the required voltage. With renewable energy generated by wind farms and large scale solar farms, small and large transformers step up the voltage to feed into the electricity grid. “Essentially, wherever electricity is used in a process… transformers are needed to obtain the required voltage,” Mr Wilson explains.

Wilson Transformers has recently completed a major upgrade of its Glen Waverly factory, the site of large transformer production. Dubbed the BIG project, for ‘Breathe, Improve, and Grow,’ the upgrade has transformed the plant into a state of the art facility with vastly improved capacity. “There has been total renewal,” Mr Wilson reports. The factory floor has been completely rebuilt and expanded, and a substantial amount of new equipment has been added. The team maintained production during the extensive three year project despite the challenges. “It has been a gradual process of working through the plant,” Mr Wilson explains. “It impacted us to a very small degree with up to ten per cent of capacity lost at various stages of the process.”

Since completing the upgrade, the company’s large transformer output capacity has increased by forty per cent. “But more importantly, the quality of our products will further improve with some of the new processes,” Mr Wilson says. “There will be greater precision in our products. We’ll be more competitive in what we can supply and what we can do.” The overall increase in efficiency achieved throughout the project will also continue. BIG’s project leader has been reappointed as the new Operations Improvement Manager and will continue implementing the winning strategies developed during the construction process.

Over recent years, Wilson Transformers has also upgraded its Wodonga distribution transformer plant, expanded its global Dynamic Ratings monitoring and controls business from its Australian and US facilities, expanded its TJ|H2b Analytical services business into Asia and continued the development of its distribution transformer Joint Ventures in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. These activities have been complemented with interesting new product developments in Fault Current Limiters, Low Voltage Regulators and Remote Switching Solutions.

The value proposition offered by Wilson Transformers was recognised twelve months ago when the Company became the first Australian vendor to become a certified global supplier to Chevron. This represents an excellent opportunity for Wilson Transformers to participate in the international oil and gas market with Chevron as well as other global oil companies.

Wilson Transformers fared reasonably well through the GFC, but has still seen its share of challenges. “Australia has been one of the few countries in the developed world to maintain a reasonably strong economy over the last three years,” Mr Wilson explains. “And that’s really on the back of a very strong resources sector in this country.” He says that the strong Australian dollar makes “our goal of not only supplying a major share of the domestic market but also exporting reasonable volumes of transformers… a lot more challenging.” Asian imports are a major concern. “So much capacity has developed in Asia over the last ten years,” Mr Wilson reports. “And now they are prepared to sell their products at almost any price to win business. So Asian competition, including dumped products, is a very serious issue for our business.”

The company has several clear advantages over foreign imports, however. Wilson Transformers is “able to provide service that overseas companies can’t. One of our strategies is to work very closely with our customers. A benefit of being in Australia is our relative geographical isolation – we certainly know all our major utility customers very well. And, we work exceptionally hard to satisfy their needs and have very close working relationships with them.”

The company’s ability to offer superior service has earned it many long term relationships with clients. Well over half of the company’s sales represent repeat business with existing customers, most of whom have worked with the firm for at least five years; several major clients have been buying from Wilson Transformers for more than a decade. “We have one [customer] that’s been buying our large transformers for the last 13 years and has just signed a contract extension for a further four years,” Mr Wilson reports. “That will be 17 years of 100 per cent continuous business with one of the largest distribution utilities in Australia. And you only achieve that by providing excellent service.

“As a local company, we have committed service teams able to install, support, and service the product. Our overseas competitors simply don’t have the base here to be able to do the service work we can,” Mr Wilson explains. “We do a whole lot of things that our overseas competitors might find almost impossible.”

Because the company is local, the team is also able to work hand in hand with the community. “We are involved in the community in a way that overseas companies can’t be,” Mr Wilson remarks. “We support education programs… we introduce young Aboriginal persons into our Wodonga work force… we provide lots of plant tours to assist the improvement of knowledge amongst our customers – things that an organisation more distant from the market would find difficult.”

The company also strives to promote engineering education and supports universities by assisting in the training of engineers bound for the electrical power industry. For instance, Wilson Transformers awards prizes to advanced engineering students at Monash University, provides student sponsorships, and offers hands-on training opportunities. The team is also involved with the Australian Power Institute (API), and holds the distinction of being the only manufacturer present on the board. The company also works with the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME). The AME has named Wilson Transformers a Best Practice Site and organises tours of the company’s plant to illustrate its winning strategies and procedures. The association also uses the company in case studies and invites team members to lecture at high profile presentations. Wilson Transformers is also plugged in to global organisations such as the US based IEEE and the International Council on Large Electrical Systems (CIGRE), of which Mr Wilson is an Australian board member.

From a one man show that “literally started in a garage with a lathe,” Wilson Transformers has transformed itself into a major manufacturer with a global clientele. The team plans to stay true to its roots, however, by continuing to offer superior service and by keeping the company family owned and operated. And, with state of the art factories in Glen Waverley and Wodonga, the team is well equipped to keep our power running for years to come.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 14, 2020, 9:34 AM AEST