A team effort
It may sound obvious, but transparency has played a large part in the success of TransGlaze, writes Ian Porter
One of the founding principles at window-maker TransGlaze is that everyone should be able to see clearly what their responsibilities are, and what is expected of them. No matter who you talk to - customers, suppliers, employees – everybody knows where they stand with company founders Darren Laidler and Robert Giannotti.
In 10 years, TransGlaze has built a strong position as the leading supplier of windows for buses, trams and trains in Victoria, Australia and around the world, and the joint managing directors are only too keen to pay tribute to the various stakeholders who made it all possible.
The partners created the company after many years in the industry; Laidler in sales and Giannotti in glass manufacturing. Customers had not been getting the standard of service they wanted, and suppliers were dealing with uncertainty.
Laidler had known Giannotti in his role as national sales manager at a glass manufacturer – the two drew up a plan, con dent they could service their customers better if they specialised in transport glazing and were not distracted by issues in other divisions or industries.
They had nothing but their experience and contacts on the supply and customer sides. They drew up a business plan for a new company and immediately started talking to potential customers and suppliers, explaining the performance levels TransGlaze would offer.
“We asked them: ‘ Will that match your expectations in terms of a genuine supplier?’” Laidler says. “Overwhelmingly, the answer that came back to us was: ‘ Yes, we want a very distinct specialised supplier of this product. We need it.’”
Crucially, the partners got the same answers from their potential suppliers, who also said they were prepared to extend credit to the new company. Both customers and suppliers had visibility of how the new relationships would work.
There were no written guarantees in all of this, just some handshakes and good intentions, plus a business plan thorough enough to give a bank the con dence to extend loans to cover capital expenditure and operating costs. A measure of the strong demand TransGlaze generated was that the company paid back all its loans a year earlier than planned.
Naturally enough, both TransGlaze founders are very strong on the bene ts of local production – rstly, because of the employment it brings to Australia, and secondly, because it allows shorter response times for maintenance work, getting the bus, tram or train back into service much quicker than waiting for parts from overseas.
Giannotti is particularly proud of the way TransGlaze resolved a maintenance issue with some Melbourne trains that had been imported more than a decade earlier.
Vandalism of the windows had got to the point where it was decided that all the windows would be replaced.
TransGlaze recommended ditching the bonding of glass into the bodywork, replacing it with aluminium frames and glass that is held in with rubber seals. The operator saw the bene ts.
“We came up with a complete replica of the original window for them, but we also managed to standardise the glass conformance requirement to Australian standards,” Giannotti says.
“So, for the rst time, imported trains got Australian glass in them. Prior to that it was fully imported, increasing cost and extending lead times. We do powdercoating and bending. There’s nothing we can’t engineer and design.”
The real bene ts of local manufacturing of rolling stock, however, are realised when companies like TransGlaze handle several
contracts, allowing some rationalisation of design and materials that pays off both in procurement and through the vehicle’s life cycle.
Giannotti says TransGlaze also helped restore some of the old W-class trams, which are now used on the tourist city circle route. They had to work off some beautiful, hand-drawn 1941 design drawings and convert the whole project into a modern safety standard glazing system.
“We replaced the rotten wooden frames with aluminium. They had to look exactly the same to meet the heritage brief. It was all done here, 100 per cent local content,” Giannotti says. “We believe in using local materials and local suppliers.”
This design and development work for trams and trains has had positive results for the company’s bus customers, even though tram and train window designs are too heavy for bus use.
“We can hardly give a bus builder a tram window, but what we can give them is a lot of the innovative design and ideas that go into these new products and bring them back to bus,” Giannotti says.
He says if a piece of glass is bonded to the bus body, it has to be cut free for repair and that risks damaging the steel body: “Depending who you talk to, it’s a four- to 12-hour changeover, and a two-week lead time to get the glass.”
Frame windows are much lighter than bonded windows because the glass in a bonded window has to be much bigger than the aperture to allow for gluing area. This might not seem a big deal, until you realise how heavy glass is.
“Glass weighs as much per square metre as concrete,” Giannotti says. “Where they’re bonding glass, they use an oversized piece of glass. We can reduce the glass size, still give you the same
vision area and replace the glass with an aluminium frame.”
Another area where buses bene t from TransGlaze’s tram and train work is in the rubbers used in framed windows.
“A good example is re retardant rubbers,” Laidler says. “In railway rolling stock, because they travel in tunnels, there is a real fear of vehicles catching re. It’s starting to happen more and more in buses.
“We are reading more and more horror stories about buses catching re, but there isn’t the same safety standard on bus building for re retardant as there is in rolling stock. We are starting to offer things like re retardant rubber, and re-retardant safety lm.”
The safety lm has two purposes. Apart from retarding re, it also protects the glass against most graf ti attacks and allows a quick turnaround when a bus goes in for graf ti removal.
Both Laidler and Giannotti are ardent supporters of local content and manufacturing generally, and, in some instances, TransGlaze actually puts its pro t margins under pressure in order to maintain quick turnaround times for customers.
“We are proud to use glass made locally,” Giannotti says, but he recognises TransGlaze is not a big customer for the glass industry, which mainly makes architectural glass.
Having come from the glass industry, Giannotti understands how to specify glass for particular transport uses.
Rather than asking the glass maker to run an expensive, small run of the TransGlaze glass, the company orders a batch to be made that will last the company a fair while. That brings the unit cost down, but it also brings some frowns from the company’s accountant because TransGlaze then has a lot of glass in inventory.
“We are not scared to carry inventory,” he says. “We are taking the risk away from the glass manufacturer. Then they can make our unique design at a competitive price.”
Crucially, having the glass in stock means transport operators can have the shortest possible turnaround time when they need new windows, avoiding having to wait for a glass manufacturer to run a small batch, which could bring a delay of some weeks.
To help in this area, TransGlaze also carries in stock the various aluminium extrusions needed for bus windows. Each body maker uses a unique extrusion, and TransGlaze has them all in stock to ensure fast turnaround.
Laidler says the company takes a similar approach to its staff of 22 people. The partners prefer to keep their experienced and skilled employees on staff even in quieter periods.
“There’s a little bit of sacri ce in that in terms of pro t margin on the business,” he says. “But we are looking long and hard at retention of people. We are trying to maintain a capability statement, because we have invested a lot of time in our people in terms of skills and training.
“We also have acquired the right people from different industry sectors. We really dearly prize that asset within our business. It’s our most important asset.”
The partners have been heartened recently by the attitude of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews towards government procurement and, in particular, his policy on local content.
“It’s interesting to hear the government mandating for the rst time things like percentage of local content under its Victorian Industry Participation Scheme – there’s a 50 per cent minimum on trams and trains. They’re starting to think differently,” Giannotti says.
“Dan Andrews has come out and made a big statement [on] how many jobs he’s going to create with trams, and he’s even talking about buses. He has said he wants to have local content in buses as well.”
Laidler says policies like this are crucial for the future of Australia and its workers.
“There is also a drive to transition autoworkers into something. It’s all ne and well to give them skills, but what are they going to do? We have to give them hope, and we can’t do that unless we develop industry,” he says.
That’s not hard to see.
It’s our most important asset
Below: Robert Giannotti and Darren Laidler, joint managing directors of TransGlaze Opposite: Some of the projects Transglaze has worked on