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Melbourne R&D investment ignites Australian exports of solar-powered heaters

Since setting up in Australia in 1971, Nagoya-based heating-appliance maker Rinnai has traversed the full spectrum of inward investment: from sales offices to manufacturing plants and research and development. Rinnai is pioneering new designs of domestic solar-powered appliances, which is set to take Australia’s renewables technology to global markets.

Australian-developed systems boost sales for Rinnai

Rinnai is one of Australia’s leading suppliers of domestic hot water, heating and cooling appliances, many of which are partly or wholly manufactured in the country. The company also supplies heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems for industrial and commercial premises.

To date, Rinnai’s total investment in Australia has reached A$150 million. Australia-made products and parts comprise approximately 35 per cent of the value of Rinnai sales in Australia. In 2015–16, Rinnai Australia exported A$2 million worth of products – within two to three years, the company believes exports will top A$50 million per year.

In 2017, Rinnai Australia invested in a new 68,000 square-metre manufacturing and research and development (R&D) facility in Braeside, Melbourne, bringing together state-of-the-art Japanese manufacturing with local Australian research and technical competencies. Creating 160 new jobs, Rinnai will lead the market in innovation with its new photonic system, global centre of excellence and exports of heating-systems technologies.

‘Solar-powered heating models piloted by Rinnai Australia are now being built at Rinnai facilities in other parts of the world,’ says Greg Ellis, Managing Director, Rinnai Australia. ‘This bears testament to the innovative and pioneering culture fostered in Rinnai Australia, with long-term support from the Rinnai Board in Japan.’

R&D centre of excellence an Australia-Japan collaboration

The new Melbourne facility draws on design expertise developed by Rinnai’s workforce in Australia. Meanwhile, production-engineering technologies from Rinnai facilities in Japan have enabled Rinnai Australia to build a world-class manufacturing centre.

‘The high skills base and expertise of Australia’s labour force – as well as engineering capability – were key points supporting the Australian investment decision,’ says Ellis.

The site will produce latest-generation hot water systems. It will also enable Rinnai to supply Australian consumers with additional heating and cooling systems. The centre will consolidate existing Rinnai laboratories in Victoria and Western Australia into one facility, and add 160 jobs to the company’s Australian workforce.

‘These are truly exciting times for Rinnai, our channel partners and the Australian market as we increase our ability to deliver new products and technologies through local expertise and global Japanese manufacturing capability,’ says Ellis.

Founded in 1920, Nagoya-based Rinnai Corporation is primarily a manufacturer of gas appliances, including energy-efficient tank-less water heaters, home heating appliances and boilers. The company’s Australian story began in 1971, when Rinnai opened a sales office in Melbourne to promote exports of gas-fired room space heaters from Japan.

In 2006, however, Rinnai’s strategy evolved to embrace Australia’s growing positioning into renewables technologies in solar renewable energy. The emergence of solar hot water rebates at the time stimulated demand for solar-powered hot water systems in Australia. Rinnai decided this was the moment to invest in Australian manufacturing. It purchased the solar hot water systems company Beasley and its factory in Adelaide.

Rinnai invested A$30 million in redesigning, rebuilding and expanding the acquisition facility, investing in new capital equipment and expanding site infrastructure across the country. For the first time since entering the Australian market in 1971, Rinnai was manufacturing hot water systems in Australia.

Subsequent manufacturing expansions at the Adelaide site saw Rinnai enter commercial hot water segments in Australia and in export markets. The next expansion came in 2015. Rinnai Australia acquired the Melbourne-based air conditioning and ducted heating business, Brivis, for A$49 million. Then in 2016, Rinnai purchased Perth-based Specialized Engineering, which manufactures commercial and industrial air conditioning systems, and invested in growing scale and technical design in that company.

These acquisitions enabled Rinnai Australia to supply domestic water heaters and large-scale commercial systems. Today, Rinnai provides commercial HVAC and customised hot water systems to schools, hospitals and prisons, as well as the broader commercial construction and building sector.

Investing in Australian research and development

The Brivis and Specialized Engineering acquisitions brought a new dimension to Rinnai’s Australian operations, justifying new investment in R&D. In 2017, Rinnai announced the Brivis and Specialized Engineering laboratories would be merged, and research centralised at new laboratories under construction in Melbourne.

The R&D centre is planned to achieve certification with Australia’s National Association of Testing Authorities in 2018, in compliance with international HVAC ISO standards. Working alongside Rinnai R&D laboratories in Japan, the Australian centre will develop and test new products for Rinnai subsidiaries across the world.

Today, Rinnai Australia is a business worth more than A$300 million with over 550 direct employees. Approximately 360 staff are located at its principal manufacturing and research facilities in Braeside. The remainder are employed in manufacturing sites in Adelaide and Perth, state and regional Rinnai distribution centres and state-based sales operations.

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