AW Bell: Casting a brighter future

CSIRO helped Victorian company AW Bell expand its business in metal casting and move on to become the preferred supplier for a major international aerospace company.

The Challenge

Technical challenges to expansion into the aerospace industry

AW Bell accelerated their business growth through a collaboration with CSIRO to improve aluminium casting.

AW Bell is a Victorian-based, family-owned and operated manufacturing business that has been supplying metal parts in Australia for over 50 years.

In 2010, AW Bell was presented with an opportunity to enter a new export market within the aerospace sector. In order for AW Bell to address technical requirements, they needed to improve their casting process.

Although the company had extensive knowledge in the aluminium casting field, they recognised the need for high calibre expertise and equipment to improve their performance.

Our Response

Developing a new metal casting process

To improve their aluminium casting process, they reached out to materials expert Dr Roger Lumley. AW Bell’s Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Meek said Roger brought a mix of theory, experience and practical hands-on capability to the project.

Manufacturing a brighter future: improved aluminium casting: Andrew Meek from Victorian company AW Bell explains how CSIRO helped them enter the North American aerospace market.

Show transcript

[Music plays, text appears: AW Bell, Manufacturing a Brighter Future]

[Image changes to different shots of production and casting]

Andrew Meek: In the back end of 2009, which was the period of the financial crisis, it was very clear to us that our traditional customer base was going to decline, and we had to find other markets that we could prosper in. We identified that they would be aerospace and defence, and predominately export based markets.

[Image changes to Andrew Meek, AW Bell]

But one of the things we very quickly identified was, why would a company in Germany or North America want to buy parts from a company in Dandenong. So we had to find a point of difference, that’s where we decided to develop a new improved casting process for aluminum.

[Image changes to different shots of the factory floor and the casting process in action]

We did a little bit of research and we were eventually recommended by Enterprise Connect to the CSIRO and the Researchers in Business program.

The benefits of the Researchers in Business program were many fold. Ones that were of particular interest to me was that the researcher was actually in our business – they were using our equipment, our people, so they were highly visible. They weren’t in some secret lab somewhere doing theory that we would never understand. So the work they were doing was immediately applicable to the work we were doing, which was very important. Secondly, the researcher himself, in Dr Roger Lumley, it was very clear to us that very early on he was a very good cultural fit to our organisation, which was another success factor in the research program.

[Image changes back to Andrew and then to different shots of the casting process in action]

The advantages that we had with working with Roger was one, his immense depth of knowledge; it became very apparent to me very early on in the process; secondly the resources that he could draw upon as part of the CSIRO organisation.

[Image changes to Dr Roger Lumley, AW Bell]

Dr Lumley: What the casting process does is, it produces very, very fine microstructures in the aluminum cast alloys, that as a result, we can achieve very, very high levels of mechanical properties.

[Image changes to the casting process in action]

In addition to this we also have used a very rigorous methodology of defect identification and elimination that produces very, very clean metal. The combination of these features together gives us towards the theoretical maximum you can achieve out of the casting alloys.

[Music plays and image changes back to Andrew Meek]

Andrew Meek: The process enables us to compete because it is a process that enables our potential customers and existing customers to re-design their products to weigh less.

[Image changes to a QANTAS plane taking off]

Now a lot of defence or aerospace related projects have issues about the weight of the components being too heavy.

[Image changes to the casting process in action]

This has enabled us to present a new process, give them opportunities to look at that, and potentially redesign the parts.

[Music plays and text appears: With help from Enterprise Connect and CSIRO, A.W. Bell has joined the select group of suppliers to North American aerospace, and now manufactures flight critical castings which are essential to the safe flight and landing of aircraft]

[Image changes back to Andrew Meek]

I have no hesitation in recommending the CSIRO for further research for other organisations, and also for AW Bell. We actually have another program in mind which we’ll be undertaking once we’ve finished the commercialisation of the ABE process.

[CSIRO and sponsors logos appear on screen]

[CSIRO logo appears with the follow text: Big ideas start here]

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The Results

Now the preferred supplier to North American aerospace

  • “We worked exceptionally well together and achieved far more from the collaboration with CSIRO than we initially expected… The entire project has been extremely beneficial and I have personally found it very rewarding,” said Mr Meek.
  • A new technique for metal processing was developed.
  • The finished product had superior physical properties to competitors’ products.
  • This improved product will enable AW Bell customers in the defence and aerospace industries to achieve greater weight reduction.
  • As a result of this project, AW Bell have become the preferred supplier to a major international company within the aerospace industry.

This project was supported by the Department of Industry and Science Researchers in Business program, which was an Australian Government initiative which provided funding to support the placement of researchers directly into businesses to help them develop and implement new commercial ideas.


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