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Stepping into Whitehorse Industries feels a bit like stepping back in time. Here, the age-old art of metal spinning has been kept well and truly alive and coexists with modern technology to produce many of our Coco Flip pieces. We chat with director Geoff Tobias about its amazing history, and the changing landscape of local industry.

Whitehorse Industries

Hi Geoff, thanks for chatting with us! Whitehorse Industries began as a backyard part-time business way back in 1947, then run by cousins Jack and Frank. 75 years on, it’s a large operation that you’re at the helm of. How and when did you get involved and what drew you to the world of metal-spinning?

I started my working life as a young 17-year-old. I was straight out of college with an ambition to pursue some sort of electrical / engineering career. I applied for a job as a metal spinner at a business called Whitehorse Industries. I initially had no ambition to work within the metal industry, however I really needed something to help me start off my career. After working in the industry as a factory hand, I realised that I enjoyed the mechanical engineering side of things along with the unique manufacturing outcome that this technique of metal spinning achieves. After seven years I was offered a position as a company director in 1988, therefore buying into a business that was established in 1947, and from there the rest is history. I have now been at Whitehorse Industries for 40 years and am still enjoying all the challenges of the world of metal spinning and manufacturing.

Whitehorse Industries

Whitehorse Industries

2021 was an unusual year and I know that you and your team have been busier than ever. Do you feel like the demand for Australian manufacturing is returning, or did it never actually leave?

Last year manufacturing encountered an unusual resurgence of Australian-made products. Some of these products have not been produced in Australia for over 10 years. We are still negotiating the shortfall of overseas supplies due to material scarcity, freight shortages and many other difficulties that come with a global pandemic. I believe that this trend towards bringing offshore production back to Australia will likely continue for years to come.

Whitehorse Industries

Whitehorse Industries

I love my visits to Whitehorse and find the metal spinning process absolutely mesmerising. For anyone who doesn’t know much about what’s involved, can you talk us through the process step by step?

Metal spinning is amazingly unique. It involves a flat sheet of metal – this could be aluminium, steel, stainless steel, copper, brass and so many others. The process begins with a flat sheet of metal, which we then circle sheer into a round disc, or laser cut a disk out of the material which in the industry is known as a blank. The blank is then inserted into a lathe against a custom steel tool, where it is spun very quickly.

The next process is using steel or timber tooling to mould the blank into the desired mould, which is how we make the infamous Coco Pendant shades. The method of manufacturing involved in the production of the large Coco shades is a perfect example of the old-style custom methods of metal spinning, that Whitehorse Industries still has a passion to pursue even after 75 years of being in the business of metal spinning.

Whitehorse Industries

Whitehorse Industries

You have an incredible collection of tools, moulds and jigs in the factory, a lot of which you make yourselves. What are some of the craziest things you’ve ever made at Whitehorse?

We pride ourselves on our ability to provide our customers with custom designed tooling which is all made on our premises. We have machining facilities that produce steel tooling up to 1110mm diameter, and CNC in house facilities to help produce full sheet tools around 650mm diameter. We've had the privilege of making some incredible things here are Whitehorse such as nose cones for aircraft, anti-bomb protection guards, and an aluminium base for 10 tier wedding cake.

Whitehorse Industries

Whitehorse Industries

You’re still pretty hands on in the business and seem to have a real passion for what you do. What helps to keep you inspired and motivated?

The thing that keeps me most inspired and motivated is customer satisfaction, and the gratification that comes from assisting customers who face difficulties with machinery breakdowns. I also love building relationships with staff members on a Friday afternoon over a casual beverage. I really enjoy my afternoons getting to know my staff, it motivates me to see them achieve their goals and aspirations at Whitehorse Industries, and makes me understand why I decided to take on the role as a director all those years ago. Whitehorse has become a place for me that has provided me so much joy, happiness and solace. I am incredibly grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given here at Whitehorse, and cannot wait to see what the future holds for us here.

Whitehorse Industries

Whitehorse Industries

What are you most looking forward to in the year ahead, both personally and professionally?

Our company goals moving forward this year are to set a structure to navigate the global pandemic as best as we can as a team, and work on providing the best customer service and satisfaction we can given the circumstances. My main inspiration throughout the past twelve years has been seeing my mentor and partner Russell retire, and having two new partners become the future of Whitehorse Industries. Craig and Adrian have taken our business to a whole new level of expertise with their youthful exuberance, eye for a challenge, amazing can-do attitude as well as their business and entrepreneurial skills. Having worked in the industry for approximately 20 years each at Whitehorse, both starting here fresh out of secondary school. In fact, Adrians first quote as a director at Whitehorse was the Coco shades. After meeting with Kate I remember distinctly Adrian saying 'So, how are we gonna do this?'.

Whitehorse Industries

Whitehorse Industries

Whitehorse Industries produce our Coco shades, Cooper pendants and our Sequence collection. 

Images by Annika Kafcaloudis

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