Summary

The design and manufacture of parts and equipment for the Kodak Australasia factory.

When Kodak Australasia Pty Ltd moved its factory from Abbotsford to a new complex in Coburg in the 1960s it brought with it a tradition of self-sufficiency in building and maintaining its own manufacturing machinery and equipment.

The new factory boasted state-of-the-art workshops for every trade and employed 120 tradesmen. The main maintenance and constructions workshop was in Building 12. Building 12A housed an engineering design, drafting and project management office where teams of engineers designed machinery and equipment. The workshops had the capacity to make any piece of equipment required for the factory [Whinney p.31], or to modify equipment made elsewhere.

For example, In the early 1960s the workshops made significant modifications to a French-made film slitting machine, replacing electrical control panels to enable safe operation in darkroom conditions. Later the workshops constructed two large slitting machines for the paper finishing department and a new coating track for making film. Even workbenches and office desks used by Kodak employees were made in the carpenters' shop [Howden].

The other function of Building 12 was general maintenance. Doug Howden, who joined Kodak in 1984 as an instrument technician and late became boiler house manager, remembers Building 12 and its range of functions: 'It was maintenance of the general buildings and grounds and facilities, and anything external to the departments, like pipelines and condensate return systems. There was a big machine shop in there, which made parts for some proprietary equipment. It did some maintenance for the departments like grinding guillotine blades. That type of work in this day and age would be farmed out to somebody else. New equipment was actually fabricated there. We had the instrument workshop, electrical workshop, huge carpenter's shop. There may have been up to twelve carpenters in there. Quite a large plumbing and sheet metal shop which obviously did the domestic plumbing in the place as well as a lot of the process pipework. And the plumbers were not your average plumbers. They did a lot of high quality stainless steel pipework for the production areas. In the early days, most of the work came out of those workshops.'

In addition to the main workshops, each production department had its own suitably equipped maintenance workshop and a field group of tradesmen responsible for equipment in their department. For example the rotary knives of the slitting machines were constantly checked and set by local field engineers. The knives were sharpened at the Engineering Workshop.

Kodak's workshops were so well staffed that the tradesmen sometimes made items, known as 'foreigners', for employees. They were made, with the approval of management, during down time or breaks, using waste materials. Doug remembers the rocking-horse made in the carpenters shop for his granddaughter.


Before joining Kodak, Doug had been a contractor working for boiler control firms. He provided contract services to many factories, including Kodak, which brought in contractors to augment workshop staff during the plant's annual shutdown. Doug was in a position to make comparisons: 'Having been a contractor you work in a lot of different places and you get to see the good, the bad and the ugly. And Kodak was big and American, and they had lots of money and it showed in the equipment and the systems they used. Their maintenance systems were good. Their maintenance strategies were good. Their engineering was good. They didn't buy cheap equipment. It was nice to work on.'

In 1982 Kodak installed a new Kodachrome processor, the first of its kind designed and built by an outside firm [Beale p.200]. Kodak was beginning to move towards a new policy of out sourcing. In 1988 the workshops were downsized to a workforce that covered the routine maintenance workload and large projects were subsequently contracted out [Whinney p.31]. Doug Howden, and other expert foremen who remained, found their roles changing to the supervision of contractors who performed the work formerly done by colleagues.

Beale, Nigel, “The History of Kodak in Australia”, 1983.
'Kodak: the Company Behind the Image', supplement to The Bulletin, 7 October 1980.
Whinney, Daryl, R. (ed) 'A Brief Process Based Site History: Kodak Australasia Pty Ltd, Coburg Plant', 2007 (Museum of Victoria Library).
Doug Howden, interviewed by Lesley Alves at Melbourne Museum, 12 February 2014

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