Plant, Machinery & Equipment, Research & Development

The tools for growth: Melvelle’s locally-made rail track equipment

Melvelle Equipment

Melvelle Equipment has been locally manufacturing rail track equipment since the 1980s, and is continuing to design and build tools for the Australian rail industry.

Despite being one of the only Australian manufacturers of portable rail maintenance equipment, Melvelle Equipment has a humble origin story.

Current CEO Andrew Melvelle describes how his parents began the business in the garage of the family home.

“The business was started in 1982, and quickly outgrew its home operation and moved into a small unit in Maryland, Newcastle, near where we are now.”

Melvelle’s father, who had been involved in manufacturing drilling equipment for the mining industry, recognised a niche in the rail market and began locally manufacturing small tools and equipment for track maintenance.

“Everything was imported, Dad decided to start Melvelle’s and focus on rail,” said Melvelle.

The focus on building local equipment for local conditions has been the company’s success since. While the equipment has been in use overseas, the local market has been where products have been developed and used for the past four decades.

Having taken over the business from his father in 2007 after working in the business since 1993, Melvelle has now quadrupled the size of the company’s manufacturing facilities to meet the demands and requirements of customers in Australia and overseas.

Based in the rail manufacturing hub of Newcastle, and servicing clients around Australia, the product development process at Melvelle Equipment is attuned to the specific requirements of rail track managers and maintainers in Australia. Over the years, the company has continued to create new products to provide a better solution.

“Most of the R&D that we do is focused on the requirements of customers,” said Melvelle. “Customers will come to us and say ‘I’m looking for a better spike puller. The ones we’ve got work but they don’t always pull the spike if the timbers are too hard.’ We then investigate the reason for why that might be and if we can improve on that, we will offer a solution.”

Design and engineering are conducted in house using digital modelling tools integrated with Melvelle’s ERP system.

“I’ve got three full-time engineers that work with me, and this – along with my own design experience and that of my production manager – allows us to bounce ideas off each other. Most of my employees have been with me for over 10 years, so they have a lot of experience from seeing what other people have done, as we service equipment as well,” said Melvelle.

Through being enmeshed with the industry that they serve, Melvelle’s team are well aware of the testing conditions their products are used in.

“The engineers that are involved in doing the design are the guys who go out and do the testing and experience how the product is going to be used,” said Melvelle. “As much as possible we try and get our guys out on site so they can get some first-hand experience of what the customers’ job is, so we can design a better product.”

In one example, through being on site and seeing how their equipment is being used, Melvelle is aware of how the Australian climate impacts upon rail maintenance activities, specifically those that Melvelle designs equipment for.

“Because of the dry conditions that we operate in, things like clips and spikes become harder to remove because the timbers dry out and the clips and spikes bond in the sleepers more than they do overseas.”

This experience out in the field is directly fed back into the design processes that lead to the production of existing and new equipment.

Melvelle’s innovative track equipment has been a staple of the Australian market since the 1980s.

While Melvelle Equipment has grown in its manufacturing capabilities and product range since its foundation in the 1980s, Melvelle has committed the team to remaining familiar to the industry they serve. As an Australia-based and owned SME, those who are designing and building the products are in touch with the end-user.

“When the customer rings us, they’re talking to the design team. As we are a small team – there’s only 26 of us in total – we can be flexible with the design and make a product improvement to suit a customer’s needs,” said Melvelle.

“All the manufacturing is done on site. If a customer rings up and needs something urgently modified, depending on what it is, we can turn it around in days if we need to.”

With manufacturing done locally, it also means that when Melvelle sends a team to trade shows or industry events, attendees will not only be speaking with a sales representative but the product designers as well.

“Every exhibition that we have or are involved in, whether it be AusRAIL or an RTAA field day, we take our engineers with us to those events.”

The relationship does not end when a customer purchases a piece of equipment, however. Melvelle provides support, servicing, and spare parts, with stocks kept locally for quick delivery.

“We can ship a spare part from Newcastle into the Pilbara within a couple of days, compared with ordering a spare part out of Europe which can take a couple of weeks. When delivering spare parts locally, we can have a spare part to a customer within a couple of hours, depending on where they are in Australia.”

Ensuring that when repairs do need to be done that they are done correctly, Melvelle’s engineers are on-hand to provide crucial product support.

“If customers do have an issue on track with our machine or product, we’re happy to talk to the customers. My team have got a lot of track experience, they can talk rail terms and they can talk specifics about a machine to diagnose what a problem is or actually bounce ideas off on how to improve the product.”

Due to this back and forth between customers and designers, Melvelle is always looking for ways to improve their product offering to the Australian and global rail market. Recently, the company has been developing the only Australian-made rail tensioner.

“Everything in the marketplace is imported when it comes to tensioning track and over the years our customers have asked us,‘Why don’t you build a tensor?’ We showcased one that we had manufactured at AusRAIL 2019 and the response to it has been phenomenal. Customers are ringing us up asking ‘When are you going to have it in production?”

“We’re also looking at potentially some ride- on machines, again it’s customer-driven and customer-focused. They want a ride-on that’s for a hot environment so they’re looking at air-conditioning, and they wanting us to build something bespoke for them,” said Melvelle.

With these products now in the process of development, Melvelle is continuing its heritage of locally designed rail track equipment built for the Australian market.