Aussie life savers

Liliana Engelhardt | VOLUME 27, ISSUE 5

An innovative Melbourne company is saving lives around the world.

Before being released, they’re microscopically scrutinised, put through grueling tests, rapidly cooled to minus 40C, then heat soaked, then drowned. None leave the premises until every beep and blip has been exhaustively tested. And when they finally get a coveted release certificate, they’re sent into the world to help make it a safer place.

Kinetic Technology International (KTI) in Cheltenham, Victoria, designs and manufactures distress beacons that are known for their accuracy, reliability and longevity. So much so, that its robust devices are chosen by the Australian Department of Defence plus commercial mariners and leisure boaters around Australia.

Established in Melbourne over 25 years ago, KTI is proud to be an Australian-owned company that does everything from the moulding to the program coding in Australia. “It’s all Aussie made and we’re pretty proud of it,” says Managing Director, Peter Patroni (pictured), with pride.

“We do all the research and development here, we have our own engineers who develop the software and do all the coding for the devices’ microprocessors.”

At 78, a vigorous Patroni says he’s enjoyed every minute since he took over the business and has no inclination to stop any time soon.

“KTI’s founder and previous owner, Ron Sisley, and I went to university together at RMIT in Melbourne. I started a business in the year of the Melbourne Olympics (1956) producing alarm systems and Ron went with his idea and eventually founded KTI,” he says.

“Unfortunately, Ron was killed in an aeroplane crash 20 years ago. He was a pilot, he loved flying, and he crashed while doing aerobatics.

“When I sold my second company 20-odd years ago, I thought I would retire. But after Ron’s tragic death, someone approached me and said Ron’s business would be wound up by the bank. They were looking for a white knight to save the business.”

Patroni stepped in together with an ex-partner from his old company. “More like a white knight and his grey shadow!” quips Mark Knowles, KTI’s Manager and last remaining member of the original staff. The partner soon retired, leaving Patroni at the helm.

“KTI originally built exclusively for Pains Wessex. The technology was always KTI’s, but everything went out with its (Pains Wessex) branding on it,” explains Knowles, “so when Pains Wessex decided to move out of beacons about three years ago, we got to develop our name and our own brand.”

The move suited the team at KTI just fine and opened the way for its EPIRBs and PLBs to gain a significant market share, says Knowles. “It (Pains Wessex) was never good at marketing a product for its merits and although we tried to push ‘Australian made’, it wasn’t interested in it.

“In the meantime, we’ve made numerous improvements, produced a new product when the requirements for 406MHz became mandatory and are supplying directly to retailers under our own brand.”

This is why KTI products appear to be relatively new on the market, said Patroni. “We didn’t sell directly to retailers until about 18 months ago. Now that we don’t have a distributor, that margin has gone out of the product and made way for much more attractive pricing.”

Once KTI’s EPIRBs are dispatched, they don’t expect to see them again for 10 years. As Patroni explained: “We’re the only ones in the world who make an EPIRB with a 10-year warranty and a 10-year battery. The unit life is 20 years and the battery life is 10 years. That’s unique, as is the 66-channel GPS, which transmits updates of the EPIRB’s location every five minutes.”

The business is located in a modest building in an unassuming semi-industrial park. But behind the doors, there’s a high-tech facility that boasts a flawless chain of quality management and control, plus some of the most advanced equipment in the beacon-building world.

Some exciting product news: Club Marine was privy to KTI’s new floating PLB with GPS that will be smaller and more efficient than any other PLB currently available, says KTI. Watch this space, as this PLB is expected to be ready for distribution early in 2013.

KTI also produces a range of life raft locator beacons, as well as search and rescue (SAR) beacons that are designed to withstand being dropped from aircraft into the water to mark the position during air/sea rescue operations.

Enquiries: Kinetic Technology International, tel: (03) 9583 9566. Web: ¿