Quarrying & Mining Magazine
ProfileQ&M

The Real Deal

Using high-tech equipment Luke Mathieson and his father Alex manufacture machinery parts from some of the toughest material there is. Theirs has been a fast-growing business. By GAVIN RILEY.

Luke Mathieson, Prime Minister John Key and Alex Mathieson at the unveiling of the Yawei press brake in 2012.
Luke Mathieson, Prime Minister John Key and Alex Mathieson at the unveiling of the Yawei press brake in 2012.

Some companies bear dull-thud names of the Bloggs & Son variety which suggest little or no thought was given to how they would resonate with potential customers.

Real Steel, on the other hand, is the real deal. The single-syllables two-word rhyming title has a tungsten-tough metallic sound to it that is exactly right. Real Steel is about machinery parts made from high-quality Swedish steel and supplied to several industries in New Zealand, including quarrying and mining.

Alex Mathieson thought up the inspirational name in 2000 when he was pondering what to call his newly founded company.

A former member of the Aggregate & Quarry Association executive, Alex spent many years in and around quarrying. He was working in Australia when he was approached in 1982 to return to New Zealand to manage Owhiro Bay quarry in Wellington. In 1987 he became manager of Capital (now Allied) Concrete, then from 1990 spent five years in partnership with John Ray in the latter’s civil contracting company.

Alex set up quarry-management company Atom Hire in 1995. He began importing ground-engaging tools from Australia for his own use, quickly realised there was a market for the product, and began on-selling it to other quarries and contractors.

Close-up of the Yawei press brake
Close-up of the Yawei press brake

Fifteen years ago he founded Real Steel, operating initially out of a 40-foot container in Plimmerton, north of Wellington. Two years later Alex’s son Luke joined the fledgling company after having obtained a degree in economics and worked in finance in Edinburgh for 18 months.

Luke became general manager in 2003 then managing director in 2010 when he bought into the business (buying out the original Australian shareholders). Alex, a shareholder and director, became involved mainly in sales and projects.

“We have a very good working relationship and a high degree of respect for each other,” Luke says. “We each have different skills. Alex has really let me make my own decisions and mistakes from day one but has always been there as a sounding board. We talk most days about what is happening in the business.

“On that note we have now established a more formal advisory board, which is chaired by Nick Calavrias, who was CEO of Steel and Tube for 19 years, to give the business more support at a governance level to continue growth into the future.”

Real Steel’s K2500 plasma cutter, which has a 22-metre bed and can high-definition cut 50mm plate. Like the K5000 it runs 18 hours a day.
Real Steel’s K2500 plasma cutter, which has a 22-metre bed and can high-definition cut 50mm plate. Like the K5000 it runs 18 hours a day.

As the Mathieson father-and-son partnership has thrived, so has Real Steel. In 2003 it began making its own cutting edges, using basic equipment, then in 2007 moved out of its container and into a 300 square metre factory at Trentham where it installed a 20-year-old reconditioned CNC profile cutter.

Three years later the flourishing company transferred its operations to 5000 square metre premises in the former Dunlop tyre factory in Upper Hutt’s South Pacific Industrial Park. There it quickly tripled its staff total to more than 30 to keep up with the demand for its high-strength and wear-resistant components for the quarrying, mining, transport, construction, forestry and recycling industries.

In 2012 Real Steel created a wave of publicity when Prime Minister John Key was the star guest and speaker at the company’s unveiling of its $800,000 Yawei press brake. With an operating weight of 135 tonnes and 8.2 metres long, the Chinese-made steel-shaping machine is the heaviest and largest of its kind in New Zealand and sits on 2.5-metre-deep foundations built from 60 cubic metres of concrete and two tonnes of steel.

“It [the press brake] has allowed us to develop a market for high-strength lightweight tipper bodies using our premium Hardox material,” Luke explains.

Real Steel’s Magnet Beam, an electromagnet used for lifting thin plate up to 10 metres long. It is fully remote-controlled and has the ability to turn plate.
Real Steel’s Magnet Beam, an electromagnet used for lifting thin plate up to 10 metres long. It is fully remote-controlled and has the ability to turn plate.

“The steel is so hard and strong that we need a machine this big to be able to form it to take maximum advantage of Hardox properties. But it also has given us good capacity in our wear-parts business, eg, we can form a full bucket skin for a 992 loader from 16mm HX500 plate in one piece.

“The press brake has been one of the components in our growth over the last few years.”

But it is not Real Steel’s only expensive purchase of fabrication/production machinery.

“In late 2013 we invested in a Kinetic K5000 plasma cutter with a bevel torch and 48 horsepower spindle with tool changer,” Luke says.

“As far as investment goes, this machine cost almost double what the press brake did – so, significant investment.

“This machine makes most of our wear parts. It allows us to put a plate of steel on and take finished parts off, so it has really reduced our manual processing and materials handling. It is also much quicker than our previous manufacturing, so it has given us capacity and speed at the same time.

“This machine runs 18 hours a day on two shifts with one operator and replaces about four manual machines.”

The company also has a K2500 plasma cutter which runs 18 hours a day; a Magnet Beam electromagnet for lifting long, thin plate; drilling, bevelling and machining equipment; and 10-tonne overhead cranes.

Its business in the quarrying and mining industries is centred around the supply of wear parts, which fall into three categories:

  • Plate products, such as cutting edges, bucket skins, chute liners and truck liners.
  • Cast products, comprising crusher parts, jaws, cones and blow bars.
  • Ground-engaging tools, including ESCO mining and quarrying tooth systems.

Luke says about half of his company’s sales is in wear parts. By industry, transport accounts for 50 percent of total business, and quarrying and mining 35 percent.

The company currently has 36 staff in addition to Luke – five in sales, two in customer service, seven in the design team, 18 in the factory (fitters, welders, machine operators), three in administration, and one in marketing.

“Our people are the key to our success,” Luke says. “We currently have 13 people employed who have university qualifications and we have some deep manufacturing experience in the factory. Our factory has state-of-the-art machinery and we require skilled people to operate it.

“We have a great team and try to look after them well with a wellness programme, including health insurance, gym memberships, health checks and hot lunches during winter months. Also, we have just passed our ACC health and safety audit at a tertiary level.”

Not surprisingly, given Real Steel’s rapid growth in a relatively short time, Luke is optimistic about how he can further enhance the success of both his company and his customers.

“We see a good future for our business. We’re currently working on new products with a focus on reducing customers’ operating costs, increasing efficiency and improving safety,” he says.

Subscribe to Quarry and Mining Magazine >>


Related posts

A safer place to live please

Quarry & Mining Magazine

Future still bleak for Solid Energy

Quarry & Mining Magazine

Local councils want to share royalties

Quarry & Mining Magazine