All things have a beginning, and for FW Hercus it came one morning in May 1920, when Frederick William Hercus moved into a small building on Payneham Road in St Peters.
The engineering industry in Adelaide was in its infancy. Specialisation as it is understood today was unknown, and the small engineering business was eager to grasp any work that was offered.
While accepting whatever work came along, Fred Hercus never lost sight of his long-term ambition and that was to become a machine tool maker.
By 1925 Hercus was producing a small range of simple machines. In 1926 the business moved into a larger premise at Chapel Street, Norwood. The remainder of the 1920s saw the business grow, the product range extended and new industries open up as the motor vehicle industry began to develop.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and by 1930 the economic catastrophe that was the great depression had hit. This was a time that no job was turned away and Hercus produced anything from butchers’ equipment to flywheels, ring gears and automotive repair equipment.
By 1936 business had improved and Hercus returned to machine tool manufacturing in earnest, developing a range of drilling, grinding, milling and slotting machines along with a range of metal turning lathes. This range of machine tools proved to be so successful, that in 1939 Hercus had to move into much larger premises on Anderson Street in Southwark (known today as Thebarton).
The first years at Southwark saw the development of machines that were destined to become the workhorses of Australian industry. The most prominent being the Hercus 9-inch swing lathe.
During the early 1940s World War 2 was in full swing and under the direction of the Department of Machine Tools and Gauges, Hercus was producing only certain machines from its range for the war effort. During the war years Hercus produced in excess of 2300 machines. With the advent of peace, Hercus once again was able to refocus on developing and producing its range of machine tools.
The 1950s and 60s saw continuing redesign and improvement of its machine tool range. Hercus needed to meet the changing needs of industry and the realities of a competitive and discriminating market.
To this day some see the 1960s as the pinnacle for manufacturing at Hercus as well as for Australia.
The 1970s presented Hercus with a raft of new challenges mainly from cheaper imported competition. This led to a reduction in the range of machine tools that were being manufactured. Hercus decided to retire its mainstay, the 9-inch swing lathe after around 15,000 units and by the end of the 1970s had introduced the more modern 260 lathe. The 260 lathe proved to be as popular as the previous model.
The 1980s saw the widespread introduction of CNC machine tools, and to meet this demand Hercus developed its own, the Hercus HNL lathe, the Computurn lathe and Compumill machining centre. These CNC machines were sold throughout Australia and exported to Asia and North America.
Unfortunately, the challenges of the 1970s only intensified during the 1980s, and by 1987 Hercus found itself in deep financial trouble and was eventually purchased by the Durden Group who had been producing woodworking machinery since the late 1940s.
With the enthusiasm of the new owners Hercus embarked on a programme to further develop their CNC machine tools. This saw the machines go from using dedicated controllers to personal computers and windows-based software to operate the machines, which at the time was state of the art.
Early in the 1990s Hercus moved to its present location at Regency Park where it continued to produce the CNC machine tools, at the time being sold throughout Australia and exported to North America as Rockford CNC. Other products being manufactured were the 260 lathe, OLM mill and the Durden Range of woodworking machine tools. One of these, the Durden Top Turn Lathe, was being exported to north America as the Delta Top Turn Lathe.
However, by the late 1990s those challenges that appeared during the 1970s were still there and this meant that tough decisions had to be made. Hercus ceased production of a majority of its machine tool range: this included the 260 lathe of which around 7000 units were made. The manufacture of all machine tools had ceased by 2005.
One essential aspect of machine tool manufacturing is to produce accurate components, whether they be one off or mass produced. Hercus had always offered a general engineering service to other companies, and as Australian industry grew so did this side of the company. It was in 2000 that Hercus decided to re-invent the company and make the general engineering services its main focus. This meant Hercus was able to compete on a level playing field with other Australian companies.
The 2000s was a time of moderate growth. However, this period was essential for the consolidation of the company and for the development of some key customers.
Since 2010 Hercus has seen continual growth within the general engineering sector. This, however, has not always been easy. Hercus has invested heavily in new, up to date, computerised machinery, operating software and quality assurance accreditation, while also improving its manufacturing and factory processes, which include training and all OH&S requirements.
Looking to the future, Hercus sees a positive outlook with further expansion in the key areas of mining and mineral processing. Also having the Australian federal government commit to large defence projects gives Hercus the opportunity for further expansion.
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