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Transmission specialist DSI shifts gear
Engineering, industrialisation consultancy launched from DSI’s new Aussie R&D centre
28 Apr 2020
DRIVETRAIN Systems International (DSI), which was widely known for manufacturing automatic transmissions in Albury for global OEMs, has launched an engineering design and industrialisation consultancy from its new technical centre at Scoresby in Melbourne’s east.
Having found buyers for both its old Albury factory site and former R&D facility in Springvale late last year, DSI has now expanded its Australian engineering operation to cater for the increased volume and sophistication of design, development testing and calibration of transmissions for its client base of Chinese car-makers.
Rescued from receivership by Chinese car-maker Geely in 2009, DSI was sold to Shanghai-based investment firm Shuanglin Group in the aftermath of the Albury factory closure on October 31, 2014, which resulted in the loss of 142 jobs.
The company – which can still design and build transmissions in-house from scratch in Australia – is now offering its expertise and equipment to local businesses, automotive and otherwise, that would benefit from access to its broad range of capabilities.
DSI director Michael Gilcrist told GoAuto the COVID-19 crisis had slowed some of these plans, but that it had also highlighted the importance of maintaining local industrial capability.
The company is also leveraging its expertise and specialist equipment to help with the local manufacturing response to the coronavirus crisis, assisting Supercars team Erebus Motorsport produce personal protective equipment for medical staff – and offering its services to others involved in the fight against the pandemic.
“This COVID-19 thing has shown us what happens when everything is manufactured outside your home country, whether it’s the Americas, Australia, Japan or wherever,” he said.
“It shows you that relying on somebody else can make it more difficult in challenging times, so we want to support those people who want to start looking at designing and manufacturing things back in Australia.”
DSI lead project engineer James Stone told GoAuto the company was now “looking for a much broader range of work” and was “trying to identify needs and services for engineering in Australia in the future”.
Mr Stone named mining and food as industries that had been approached so far, with “general series manufacturing” also a target.
“One of the skills we’ve maintained is, we have a number of our staff employed up in Albury who are not working in the factory anymore, but they work with us on industrialisation, quality management and series manufacturing,” he said.
Mr Gilcrist added that the majority of DSI employees did not originally have a background in automotive transmissions, which added a richness to what the company could offer.
“We’ve got a bunch of talented engineers and they have come from all different walks of life,” he said, citing Formula One and Supercars as among the employee experience matrix as well as other fields such as mining.
“Certainly, with the skillsets here, we do have high capability outside of transmissions.”
In addition to creating transmission prototypes from scratch, Mr Gilcrist said DSI’s capabilities extended to designing and building its own equipment, including the code to make it run.
“You can’t buy the equipment we want for our test purposes off the shelf,” he said. “We design that, we build those, we set up the software for those, so we have capabilities in a number of areas.”
Mr Gilcrist did not rule out Premcar-style bespoke vehicle projects such as the Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior, in doing so heaping praise on Premcar engineering director Bernie Quinn and his team for “having done a great job of transitioning”.
“Whether or not we would support somebody like him when he needed it or whether we have projects on our own, we are open to what’s out there,” he said.
Mr Gilcrist confirmed that the Scoresby facility had been “self-invested in Australia” rather than funded by a capital injection from Shuanglin, and that the move from Springvale to Scoresby had effectively tripled the available office and factory footprint for the local team of 30 employees.
“We were simply run out of space,” he said, adding that the new premises had enabled the purchase and installation of new transmission dyno equipment.
The initial focus of DSI’s consultancy push would be on Australian companies but attracting global clientele figured in the company’s longer-term planning – as did expanding the local team.
Mr Stone told GoAuto that DSI was already contributing to COVID-19 relief efforts by 3D printing filter adapters for full-face snorkelling masks that were being modified by Erebus Motorsport for use as protective equipment.
“It filters air in and filters air out so that the person wearing it has clean air and also doesn’t contaminate the air when breathing out,” he explained.
“We know a couple of people at Erebus through our work history, so we spoke to them about what they were doing and asked if there was anything we could do to help.”
More broadly, Mr Stone said DSI “can offer our services and offer help (to COVID-19 relief) although we don’t have medical or FDA approvals”.
After 43 years of supplying gearboxes to car-makers around the world from Mahindra to Maserati and employing more than 1200 workers at its peak in the early 1980s, the DSI facility in Albury fell silent at the end of October 2014.
Geely had invested $58 million to rescue DSI from receivership in 2009 after South Korean car-maker SsangYong went bankrupt and extinguished 60 per cent of the Australian company’s order book.
DSI was at the time hailed the world’s second-largest manufacturer of automatic transmissions, and with the help of Australian expertise Geely went on to build three transmission factories in China.
After the Albury factory closed, Geely offloaded DSI to Chinese investment firm Shuanglin Group for around $A88 million, the buyer describing itself as covering “automotive parts manufacturing, tourism and leisure, education and other divisions”.
Shuanglin lists a number of Chinese car-makers as transmission customers, including Beiqi Yinxang, BYD Auto, Geely Automobile, Lifan Cars, Siwei Automobile and Southeast Motor.
The Australian technical centre is said to remain a key selling point for DSI transmissions among Chinese car-makers.
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