Local Hero Sharpens Its Edge

Mar 13, 2013

Following an investment drive under the Strategic Capability Program and an acquisition-led expansion, filtration specialist Clear Edge Filtration (CEF) is well positioned for the future, with an expanded Australian manufacturing base and product offering, backed by enhanced global leverage. Belinda Smart reports

Melbourne-based company Clear Edge Filtration (CEF) has emerged from a process of significant change in recent years, and, as managing director Ken Shue confirms, is now targeting new markets with an expanded product offering. Shue says the change effected can broadly speaking be defined by three key developments that have positioned the company for a promising future within the global filtration market.

Completion of investment milestones
"In August 2010, Clear Edge Filtration (CEF) submitted a bold application under the Strategic Capability Program," says Shue. "This was a competitive bid program offered by the Australian Commonwealth Government, to assist with joint funding of significant projects for members of the local TCF manufacturing fraternity. The $1m plus proposal was approved in December 2010 and spanned a three year period, to be completed by late 2013."

Shue confirms that having commenced operating in Melbourne in 1969, CEF was already a well-credentialed supplier of technical filter media, particularly to the mining and minerals industries. "However, to survive and prosper as a locally based manufacturer of textile based products, CEF management knew that we needed to continue to invest in clever technology to continue to satisfy our customers’ ever changing requirements, and to keep ahead of growing import competition."

The aim of the project was to deliver world best practice in filter production to Australia and to introduce new filter media products for use in the Australian and global mining industry. A manufacturing capability would also be established to produce the new filter product. The project also comprised technical research in yarn development, warping and weaving, final finishing and filter bag production.

Shue confirms the project furnished positive results.

"The project’s outcomes include developing our capability to manufacture filter media products, to match changes in new filter equipment technology recently introduced into the Australian mining and minerals refining area. These developments in filtration technology were to meet the increased demands on our mining customers to deliver high volume throughput, cope with changing ore grades and moistures, while meeting strict environmental requirements.

To achieve this would require CEF to search, specify, develop and purchase automated fabrication machinery for the manufacture of very technical filter products with precise manufacturing tolerances."

CEF operations director Tony Macquet was nominated as the project manager for the venture, Shue confirms. "Tony led a cross-functional team to globally seek out the latest equipment technology that was world class and could be adapted to our local production requirements."

"While the capital investments made included prototypes of German and American equipment, Tony also cites the example of visiting the Techtextil  exhibition in Frankfurt, only to find, miles across the world, a very capable supplier of automatic cutting technology made right here in Melbourne."

That company, Pathfinder, eventually supplied CEF with its latest version of cold cutting equipment, and has proven to be "truly world class in their technical support and service" says Shue.

With the ongoing assistance of its AusIndustry partners, CEF has been able to meet the pre-agreed project milestones to date, he says.

"While we await the final pieces of equipment to be commissioned by the end of 2013, our newly commissioned capabilities and capacity have already allowed us to manufacture and supply a range of new products and to target new customers."

These include a new design filter cloth for the local mining industry, precision manufactured filter cloth for an export customer in the Americas, now in its third round of successful trials, and earlier this year, a unique filter cloth for a Japanese OEM for a green field refinery in Asia. The latter order was only awarded after an intensive full quality audit visit by the Japanese customer representative in February 2013.

"So, while we are yet to complete our final SCP milestone late 2013, we believe that CEF has successfully completed the majority of its investment milestones under the Strategic Capability Project," says Shue. "The SCP has assisted CEF to invest in state of the art equipment, increasing its capacity, capability and quality of product for its Australian customers, as well as opening up new potential in targeted export markets for filter media supply." 

Filter-Tex Media acquisition leads to expanded offering
In conjunction with the SCP, CEF also recently further expanded its Australian manufacturing base and product offering through its acquisition of the Filter-Tex Media (FTM) business in late 2012. This included acquiring the FTM business as a going concern, including its entire staff and factory site in Blacktown, Sydney, which increased CEF’s offering to a full dry filtration product range, now including mainly non-woven product, in addition to its previous mainly woven product range.

Founded in 1981, coincidentally by two ex-employees of the previous CEF business, the FTM business had successfully grown from small beginnings to a significant dry filtration business, which Shue believes has proven complimentary to the CEF Wet filtration business.

"Included in FTM’s stable of products, is the GoreTex brand of products, sold under licence from WL Gore for the Australian market. FTM therefore offers a full range of locally manufactured filter sleeves of varying designs, with a combination of non-woven substrates."

"As part of the acquisition, CEF now also supplies product to an even broader range of key industries and customers," adds Shue. "A key market is typically the reduction of emissions to the environment, and this can be related to a range of industrial processes, including coal fired power generation. This is obviously a very topical market as governments all around the world seek to reduce the impact of harmful emissions on our environment."

The synergies of combining the CEF and FTM businesses also benefit indirectly from the SCP investment, which included the upgrading of CEF’s Melbourne based laboratory for filtration testing, he adds. "This provides our customers with the service capability to improve their filtration performance, via the technically based selection of filter media.  We are also able to continue to technically vary our products to tailor these to specific and more demanding filtration environments.  We believe this is a local manufacturing capability that is quite unique to CEF in Australia."

Shue believes CEF’s status as a local manufacturer, with factory sites in both Melbourne and now also Sydney, is key to its ability to service local customers. "We pride ourselves in being able to offer very prompt response and delivery times, even though the majority of our products are tailor made to very specific technical requirements. This takes a very specific combination of both the right equipment but also well trained production staff.  We acknowledge and value that we have a number of staff with in excess of 20 years work experience with either CEF or FTM.  Our next celebration this Christmas will be to present a 30 year service award."

Purchase by Filtration Group gives CEF global as well as local edge
Meanwhile, against the backdrop of this local activity, the broader CE Group, headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was itself recently acquired by the Filtration Group (filtrationgroup.com) in May 2013.

With Filtration Group’s companies offering a comprehensive variety of filtration solutions across the globe, “CEF joins a family of filtration companies forming one of the leading global suppliers to a diverse range of customers and markets, now including the oil and gas, health and medical, automotive, telecommunications and electronics sectors, says Shue. With Filtration Group’s businesses broadly grouped into environmental air, fluid and liquid processing, CEF’s offer falls into the latter category. 

"What this means to our valued Australian customers, is that CEF is able to offer the combined benefits of being global and yet local.  We are well supported globally, and able to liaise with global customer projects throughout the world, and yet Australian customers can pick up the phone and talk to us in their own neighbourhood and time zone."