Celebrating forty years since starting Penguin Composites, John van der Woude says manufacturing in a small local economy presents unique challenges.
From the most remote lands on earth, to busy international airports worldwide; from the depths of Australian underground mines to Google’s modern Zurich offices, Penguin Composites products are making an impact.
Keeping the business sustainable by building the large portfolio of significant achievements has been an ongoing challenge for CEO John van der Woude, who started Penguin Composites in northern Tasmania in 1975, manufacturing kayaks.
“Our business originally involved the surf industry. We separated the retail business from manufacturing in 1990 but it has been the retail business that has provided the capital to continually expand the composite business and the properties Penguin Composites use,” says Mr van der Woude.
“We quickly realised we needed to diversify into a broad base both for opportunity to grow and to be sustainable in a small local economy.”
Mr van der Woude’s astute business growth strategy is based on building strong relationships through networking, marketing and proactively approaching opportunities; backed by a reputation for quality, engineering and design ingenuity and excellent customer service.
This focus, combined with hard work has grown the company portfolio to now include two lines of camper trailers; the Igloo Satellite Cabins manufactured under license from Icewall One; chairlift components and walkways in many airports worldwide; dash panels and heat-shields on underground mining machinery; sewage vessels for Sydney Water and structural projects such as a new roof for a heritage restoration project on Launceston’s historic Albert Hall convention centre.
The new roof required a textured matt finish as close to the original, which traditional roofing materials could not fulfil. Penguin Composites engineer Piers Findlay sourced the original architect’s drawings on which to develop templates for the CNC cut moulds for the 40 roofing panels with an inbuilt lip-and-cup watertight joining system.
This year marked the 200th Igloo Cabin to come out of production, one of two destined for Macquarie Island to provide refuge for field research teams.
Originally designed and manufactured by Malcolm Wallhead in 1982, the insulated, highly durable prefabricated cabins are in use in 19 countries and growing. Recent orders fulfilled by Penguin included two destined for Svalbard, north of Norway, for an eco-tourism resort; four manufactured in grey to fit into the barren Greenland base for a scientific research team. The units are popular with the Australian Antarctic Division who affectionately call their red cabins “apples” given their shape, colour and the fact they come from Tasmania, the Apple Isle.
With a workforce today of more than 30, including the specialist composites experience of engineer Piers Findlay, the company’s capabilities include design and engineering of moulds and plugs, fibreglass and composite component manufacturing and low volume specialised composite projects in Light RTM (closed moulding), filament winding, panel manufacturing and CNC machining.
Summing up his 40 years in manufacturing in Tasmania Mr van der Woude says: “There have been many challenging times. Continual reinvestment, perseverance and a reliable, motivated manager (David Mercer) have been the key to our success.”