From making lawn mower blades to F-35 aircraft parts, Heat Treatment Australia’s transformation into a world-class advanced manufacturer is complete.

Coopers Plains in Queensland is a long way from American defence and aerospace behemoths such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, but Heat Treatment Australia (HTA) holds its own among its stellar clients.

With customers like these, along with other defence and aerospace heavyweights including Northrop Grumman, Harris, BAE Systems and Parker Aerospace, HTA has clearly established its credentials on a global scale.

HTA is an innovative advanced manufacturing company offering thermal processing services that strengthen metal parts for industries including aerospace, aviation, defence, medical, rail, automotive, mining and agriculture. This process alternates intense heating in kilns with cooling in gases or liquids and produces components that are stronger, lighter and more durable. HTA is the largest commercial and aerospace heat treater in Australia and the only one with international accreditation through the National Aerospace and Defence Contractors Accreditation Program.

The company began in 1979 when Max Tucker opened a small metal workshop in suburban Brisbane to manufacture mower blades. Today, his four children drive the business and have witnessed its transformation into a top-tier advanced manufacturer. In a pattern that continues today, HTA made significant investments in capital equipment, accreditation, research and development (R&D), and talent in the early 2000s to become an advanced manufacturer, grow its customer and revenue bases, and access global supply chains.

Much of HTA’s subsequent expansion and contracts relate to its vital role in the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. ‘Our first involvement in the JSF was when the Australian Government approached us to develop vacuum brazing capability in-country,’ explains Dr Karen Stanton, HTA’s Director of Strategy. ‘We then did a whole lot of R&D, bought equipment and commercialised it.’

Dr Stanton is a member of the Department of State Development’s Industry and Manufacturing Advisory Group (IMAG) which supports the state’s $19 billion manufacturing industry, and the Queensland Government has assisted HTA to gain aerospace accreditations and to develop and acquire its aluminium vacuum brazing technology.

In addition to vacuum brazing chassis on F-35s, HTA also processes their landing gear, actuators and weapons bay components. As a result of its early entry into the JSF Program, HTA was able to attract a significant stable of aerospace and defence clients.

Queensland is well recognised as an aerospace and defence hub. Prime contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems can access Queensland’s critical mass of talent, technology and experience to successfully integrate their supply chains, especially in the state’s rapidly growing advanced manufacturing sector. In addition to supplying aerospace and defence clients, HTA’s transformation into an advanced manufacturer also enabled it to supply customers such as Queensland Rail with high-quality precision products.

The company has just expanded its Brisbane headquarters to create a $6 million high-security facility with enhanced capabilities for processing titanium and super alloys. This will enable HTA to serve its current global defence and aerospace customers, to fulfil its contract for the JSF project, and to attract new aerospace clients. ‘We’re ramping up for the high rate of production coming in the next few years,’ explains Stanton. The first of the 72 F-35 aircraft should be delivered to Australia in 2018 and take to the skies in 2020.

As the only Australian heat treating company with international accreditation, HTA has a significant competitive advantage. It is a major provider of heat treatment processing for aerospace and defence components for the US, UK and Australian markets using its vacuum aluminium brazing, vacuum copper brazing, aluminium heat treating, cryogenic treatments, and metallurgical services. These processes bond metals together to avoid the need for nuts and bolts and have been a significant factor in attracting aerospace clients.

With 60 employees worldwide at branches in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles, Dr Stanton says the company is ready for take-off. ‘We’re on the precipice of a significant volume of work. We’re at the end of our expansion plans and we expect business to double in the next five years.’

The Brisbane head office facility, with 40 employees, is a full-service operation providing all heat treating processes required for both commercial and aerospace applications. It has the highest accreditation levels of all HTA’s locations and concentrates on its defence, aerospace and commercial customers.

Dr Stanton says the company is also focused on project management of aerospace and defence component manufacture for multiple platforms; further developing relationships with prime defence contractors and Australian industry partners; plus other aerospace projects. With its high-tech equipment and facilities, international accreditation, and highly skilled employees, HTA is an exemplary Queensland company that has successfully adapted to changing economic times.