We sit down with Frank Faller, Elexon Electronics CEO, to find out how a childhood love of an Aussie rock band planted a seed that eventually led him down under. Aussie rock aside, we’re also very interested in Frank’s international career before walking through the doors of Elexon back in 2012 – taking us to new heights!

Q: Electronics manufacturing has been your passion since you graduated from university in East Germany. Can you tell us how it all began for you and at what point your journey led you to Australia?

I’ve always loved electronics. I built my own audio amplifiers and radio receivers as a teenager and around the same time I decided I wanted to migrate to Australia.

It was actually because of AC/DC and their music that I put an Australian

flag above my bed, and learnt more about the country! I was really fascinated by Australia and as a result decided to study Electronics Technology at Humboldt University in Berlin.

I knew that electronics engineers were needed in Australia and Humboldt University in Berlin was recognised all over the world.

I finished my masters degree in February 1990, three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Every graduate in East Germany was automatically guaranteed a job and so I started my career at a ‘People’s Enterprise’, VEB EAW Treptow in East Berlin, one of the largest electrical appliance manufacturers in East Germany.

I started getting all the paperwork together to apply for permanent residency in Australia. The major roadblock was that I didn’t have the required 250 Deutsch Marks, because I was being paid in East Germany currency.

In May 1990, I saw a half page job ad for a Manufacturing Process Engineer at Siemens Telecommunication in West Berlin.

I was invited for an interview which took an entire day, mainly because the people had difficulty believing someone from East Germany would be the right fit! (Isn’t it great that Elexon has embraced diversity?).

Thankfully, I was able to convince them and on 13 August of 1991, exactly 30 years

after the wall was built, I started at Siemens in Berlin.

Q: Do you still draw from what you learnt in your early manufacturing roles?

I was really lucky that Siemens gave me the opportunity to continue my studies at work, so I learnt about all the principles of manufacturing technology and manufacturing process control.

The principle that stuck which I still benefit from today, is that it’s all about avoiding defects rather than detecting and repairing them.

While it sounds so trivial and obvious, understanding the process parameters and how to control these is the key to product quality.

Working in the automotive industry I learnt that processes need to be extremely stable and repeatable, leading to consistent quality. Every change in production carries risk.

The other thing with automotive production is that it can only survive if it continually evolves and improves, so we really had to live and breathe continuous improvement.

As a production engineer and later as a project manager, automotive was a fantastic school where similarities with the Defence sector can be drawn.

Q: Tell us about your first job in Australia and how it actually led you back to Germany?

When I first came to Australia, I worked at Suba Engineering where I planned and installed complete production lines for customers.

It was great, because I had the opportunity to travel around the country, as well as New Zealand.

When I was setting up a production line in Perth back in 1998, there was an engineer who was adamant they needed a re-work station. We got everything set up and he took the first board away for testing. I still remember him coming back through the door amazed saying, “It works! It works! I can’t believe it!” We didn’t need a re-work station!

One of my customers during my time at Suba Engineering was Bosch in Melbourne, and I’d tried to sell them conversion software. Back in the day they used Excel macros in order to

convert the CAD files into SMD placement programs.

One day I got a call from a headhunter saying, “Hey, do you want to get back into the industry and work for Bosch?”

So, they flew me down to Melbourne for an interview and right away I said, “Look, I’ll start under one condition — you buy the software so we can get away from using Excel macros to generate these pick and place programs.”

It was a bit unusual to mention that in a job interview, but I took the job and they bought the software!

Initially, I was the SMT Process Engineer at Bosch and then the opportunity came up to become an expat and go to different Bosch plants around the world. It was a career building exercise, so I threw my hat into the ring.

I was looking forward to going somewhere a bit exotic, so was pretty surprised when I was posted back to Germany!

While I was there, an opportunity arose to become a project manager, which led to working with companies like Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Skoda, Volvo and Porsche.

Q: So, the question we all want to know! What brought you to Elexon?

The thing that attracted me most to Elexon was that even though it wasn’t required by any of their customers, all PCBs and products were serial numbered.

That’s the way to systematically implement continuous improvement. For a company Elexon’s  size, I thought, “Wow, these guys really know what they’re doing and they take quality improvement seriously!” That was the winning argument for me.

I started as Operations Manager in 2012 and back then my first desk was right next to the potting machine. The potting machine was on wheels, so we moved it through the factory. Back then, each section of the company was half the size it is now!

I still remember my very first day. I drilled out threads that were over-moulded on the Biomark housings. I saw the potential at Elexon from the very start.

Q: You saw Elexon when it was a lot smaller than it is now, but you saw great potential. What were your plans for Elexon back then, and how have you assisted in growing the business to what it is now?

I saw the potential at Elexon from the very start. In 2018, when we de-merged the Elexon companies, Pieter and I discussed the opportunities for Elexon Electronics and decided

that we would continue to manufacture for the sister companies as well as continuing to design and manufacture our own products whilst looking for growth strategies.

To be the manufacturer of choice for our sister companies, we needed to invest in new equipment and I took the opportunity to apply for a Made in Queensland (MIQ) grant. We were successful and were able to procure state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment which enabled us to target new markets.

During this time, we set to work on a new business plan and strategy review, which set our direction with the Defence sector.

Defence is similar to Automotive, in that it’s innovative, requires the highest quality standards and in return offers a niche we can carve out with strong commercial value.

This choice has proven to be a good one with significant revival of manufacturing in Australia and a renewed strategic focus on Defence and sovereign capabilities.

Q: You are a strong advocate for bringing electronics manufacturing back to Australia. Why is this?

I’ve always been passionate about manufacturing, and it needs to be a pillar of our economy.

The sector lost its competitive edge in Australia and shrank significantly due to the cost of wages and low productivity.

However, the current global trend is reshoring of production which offers faster turnaround times, smaller minimum order quantities, better service, better communication, lower transport risks and costs, and better protection of IP.

One example of this is our new manufacturing contract with Gasbot who were previously manufacturing in China.

Australia, like other nations, is looking to avoid reliance on other countries. I think it’s fantastic that in Australia, on both a state and federal level, governments understand the importance of electronics manufacturing.

I am certain that Elexon Electronics can compete on a global scale. We are competitive and ready for the next challenge!

Q: You’ve taken Elexon Electronics on the Defence journey that kicked off two years ago. How far through that journey are we?

First of all, we are at a point now where we’re heavily invested in our equipment, team, cyber security uplift and quality management systems.

The next step is to win the business! Defence manufacturing contracts are our focus right now. Winning these will give us certainty for the years ahead.

Q: What is your long-term goal at Elexon Electronics? 

My goal is to position Elexon Electronics as the premier electronics manufacturer in Australia, putting us on a stable and continuous growth path.

It’s important to me to provide job security for our team whilst continuing to embrace the diversity of our workforce with an inclusive culture.

My hope is for Elexon Electronics to be the employer of choice within our sector. This will involve all staff contributing to innovation and being rewarded for success. We want to continue offering opportunities for career growth and the attainment of cutting edge skills through ongoing training programs.

In five years’ time, my vision is that Elexon Electronics will find the next ‘big thing’ and a new company ‘Elexon Defence’ or ‘Elexon Sensors’ or even ‘Elexon IoT’ will emerge.

Q: We hear you’re a passionate photographer and traveller. How did you get into photography and what’s your favourite travel destination?

When I finished high school, I was given a camera as a present. I went around photographing everything and I even had my dark room at home, where I’d print black and white photos.

When my dad passed away, I decided to take my photography more seriously and went to workshops and classes to enhance my skills.

I do also have the travel bug and sometimes wonder if this stems from the days growing up in East Germany where travel was quite restricted. I wanted to explore the world!

In terms of my favourite travel destinations, I love to keep exploring and don’t often return to the same places. The Scottish highlands have been a favourite, as has South America. I’ve loved travelling with my family and sharing incredible experiences with my children.

Of course, Australia is just so beautiful and there are so many amazing places yet to see!

Story 6:

Titley Scientific announces ‘Chorus’ competition winner!

Avid bat enthusiast, Jordi from Canada, has taken out the Titley Scientific survey competition!

The Canadian bat biologist was selected at random after participating in the short survey, scoring a new Chorus with additional microphone.

“As a bat enthusiast and bat biologist I am excited to take the Chorus on my travels around the world, to learn what bat species I find myself surrounded with,” an excited Jordi tells us.

“In my professional work as a bat biologist in Canada I will be using the Chorus to detect bats during mobile surveys. Its built-in GPS and ability to plug in headphones to listen to recordings live will make mobile surveys more efficient and more exciting,” he says.

The competition kicked off December 10 and closed at 11.59 AEST on January 10, with a huge community response and scores of valuable submissions!

Titley Scientific ran the competition to gain insight into how customers are using their products, and how they can be improved.

A big congratulations to Jordi, and we wish him all the best on his Canadian bat-filled adventures!