Member Spotlight: Kari Armitage, CEO, Quarry Mining
As part of Austmine's 30 year celebrations we are shining the spotlight on our members!
Some people say coal is on its way out. Some say Australian manufacturing is in trouble. But Kari Armitage, whose business is at the intersection of both industries, disagrees. In fact, she thinks the future looks bright for businesses like hers, as long as some sensible choices are made along the way.
Kari is CEO of Quarry Mining, a leading supplier in the design and manufacture of high-quality drilling equipment for longwall and underground coal mining for over 30 years. She’s the first to acknowledge there’s been enormous change since the business was launched by her dad, but she predicts continued strong demand for quality Australian product.
Australian manufacturing is not for every product
One of the main reasons Australian manufacturing has been viable for Quarry Mining is because it serves a specialised market niche, Kari says.
“We actually only started manufacturing our own product 12 years ago, which was probably against the trend, but that’s okay. I’ve been called unorthodox before!”
Quarry Mining employs 75 people across four sites including a manufacturing centre in Beresfield, New South Wales. Kari says by manufacturing products onshore Quarry Mining can prioritise its work, be much more flexible and pursue vertical integration in its business.
“We had a major competitor who took all of their production to China and it was very difficult for us, but we held on and showed that where they had become very big and inflexible, we could be much more agile, in tune with our customers’ pain points, and more flexible.
“Lots of our customers’ operations are underground which means they can’t always see what they will need and when - and when they do need it, they need it yesterday - so being a domestic producer is useful.”
Even so, not all of Quarry Mining’s production happens in Australia, where labour costs and other barriers continue to be a big challenge.
Protecting the black box
“You do have to look at a hybrid model that includes some low-cost country sourcing, but you need to carefully choose which products to produce offshore, and how,” Kari says.
The two main challenges are maintaining quality and outsourcing the production without giving away the IP – both of which are harder than it sounds.
“You want to maintain standards, but you have to protect the IP and get the right standards. That’s very difficult to do.”
Quarry Mining has achieved this by ensuring it has ‘skin in the game’ in China, including its own QA inspectors, and by choosing to supply some components ready to install, produced by other manufacturers, to ensure their full IP is not shared in one place.
“We’re very protective of the black box. It’s where the real value is in Australian manufacturing and businesses haven’t always taken as much care as they should have to look after their IP.”
From start up to get going
Kari says there’s been a great start up culture in the Australian METS sector. To her mind, the next step is ensuring ideas lead to manufacturing opportunities here in Australia.
“Everyone needs manufacturing. We need to be able to look after ourselves.”
Quarry Mining has been an Austmine member for nearly five years and Kari says the supportive attitude is what keeps them signing back up each year.