12 April 2011
One of Australia's longest established and most respected brands is celebrating its 90th anniversary as a local manufacturer.
Lysaght, a name associated with the building industry for over 150 years, imported corrugated iron sheeting for many years before opening its first Australian manufacturing plant in Newcastle.
Lysaght links with Australia began in mid-nineteenth century England with the discovery that corrugating a thin sheet of iron could produce a very strong, versatile building material.
In 1857 a 25 year old Irishman named John Lysaght bought a small galvanising works in Bristol and soon started to take advantage of the discovery.
Lightweight and stackable for easy transport, it wasn't long before shipments of Lysaght's Orb brand corrugated sheets were regular arrivals in the Australian colonies.
Much has changed since then. BlueScope Lysaght is now a key business unit of Australian owned BlueScope Steel and its locally designed rollformed steel building products are sold here and overseas.
Throughout the brand's history the LYSAGHT® name has been an integral part of Australia's development, with early local ties developed through a handy LYSAGHT® reference publication.
Lysaght's book, The Metal Trades Referee and Storekeepers Guide, which first appeared in 1897 offered practical help to customers scattered around the colonies.
Early editions included information on animal husbandry and basic construction tasks to assist rural users for whom such advice was otherwise not readily available.
Transformed from its early almanac style, the publication continues today as the Lysaght Referee, a sought-after construction industry handbook and resource used by architects, specifiers, builders, engineers, farmers and students.
Information on subjects such as stock breeding tables and haystack volume calculations are still included because they are now regarded as part of Lysaght heritage.
By 1918 when John Lysaght (Australia) Pty Ltd was founded to better serve the Australian building and construction industry, galvanised steel from Lysaght's English factories had already established the market for high quality coated steel building products.
Imports had slowed dramatically during the First World War, prompting John Lysaght (Australia) to establish a sheet steel rolling and galvanising works which opened at Newcastle, NSW, in April 1921.
The mill's feedstock was from the adjacent BHP plant, establishing an enduring link which would ultimately see the two companies become one.
Those products, sold under the famous ORB brand, contributed to a uniquely Australian style of architecture that still dominates the rural landscape.
The popularity of LYSAGHT® products continued to grow in the years between the world wars, but despite a series of expansions the Newcastle works was unable to keep up with demand.
In 1936 a Lysaght plant was opened, at Port Kembla, New South Wales, and by 1939 these two plants were meeting 100 per cent of the local demand for galvanised sheeting.
With the outbreak of the Second World War the local Lysaght company took on an important role for both Britain and Australia.
One of its first contributions was the supply of curved corrugated steel which was exported to make more than 25,000 backyard bomb shelters for Londoners during the Blitz.
At Port Kembla the company's managers were shown a prototype of the Owen sub-machine gun, developed by Wollongong inventor Evelyn "Evo" Owen.
They brought it to the attention of BHP chief Essington Lewis, who was also in charge of Australia's wartime munitions production.
After testing in 1941, the gun went into production at Lysaght Port Kembla, with parts supplied by Lysaght's Newcastle plant.
Lysaght production of the Owen gun, which became known as "the digger's darling" because of its reliability, peaked at 800 a week, and 45,000 were made.
In 1939 when it had established its second Australian plant, the Springhill Works, Lysaght formed a partnership with American Rolling Mills Company to set up the Commonwealth Rolling Mills (CRM) at Port Kembla.
CRM met a strategic wartime demand for steel for Australian industries, and Lysaght developed and made many special steels. Among them were electrical and helmet steels, bullet proof plate and aircraft steel.
After the war Lysaght continued to expand its facilities and its product range, commissioning a continuous galvanising line at Port Kembla and building its network of steel service centres around Australia.
Innovation led to Lysaght's introduction of special sheet steels, including COLORBOND® steel and ZINCALUME® steel, which have since transformed Australia's architecture.
COLORBOND® steel made its debut on the Australian market in 1966, providing architects for the first time with a reliable, long-lasting prepainted steel product that had great aesthetic appeal.
Subsequent enhancements to COLORBOND® steel coating technology have broadened the colour range and improved the durability and thermal efficiency of the roofing and walling products now offered by BlueScope Lysaght.
When John Lysaght Australia launched ZINCALUME® steel in 1976, the product created an unprecedented revolution in Australian metal roofing and the building market as a whole.
The first ZINCALUME® steel experiments using aluminium and zinc alloy coatings were conducted by Bethlehem Steel in the USA, but Australian researchers at John Lysaght Australia perfected the process to ensure reliable and consistent quality output from the continuous metal coating production method.
By the end of the decade, ZINCALUME® steel was available in 13 cladding profiles and was being used as the substrate for COLORBOND® steel.
Throughout this period, BHP and Lysaght became ever more closely linked, with one providing feed for the other, and their major operations effectively co-located on one vast site at Port Kembla.
BHP obtained a half share in John Lysaght Australia in 1969 and in 1979 British firm GKN, which had superseded John Lysaght as the British parent company, was persuaded to sell its remaining stake.
Lysaght had become a wholly owned subsidiary of BHP, the company which was later to spin off its steel operation as an independent, publicly listed company which became BlueScope Steel.
Today the Lysaght tradition of innovation continues through BlueScope's rollforming business, known as BlueScope Lysaght. The company continues to research, develop and introduce new products and serves its customers through a strategically located Australian branch network.
Overseas, BlueScope Lysaght (Asia) has a network of 24 manufacturing sites and over 40 sales offices in Asia and the Pacific, from China, throughout SE Asia down to Vanuatu.
Lysaght products are also used widely in Laos, Cambodia, India and the Middle East.
While justifiably proud of the history of the Lysaght name, BlueScope Lysaght keeps its focus on the future, with a commitment to research and development, initiatives in specialist fields and strategic acquisitions.
More than 150 years after their introduction LYSAGHT® rollformed steel building products continue to base their success on the strength and light weight of steel - egularly enhanced and adapted to meet changing demands.
Through the output of generations of builders, architects and engineers they have helped create a unique legacy for John Lysaght, the man who gave his name to the brand.
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