Director & GM were interviewed for C-Mac nursery equipment history

Author: Aaron Chen  Date Posted:3 February 2020 

In order to create an member profile of Nursery & Garden Industry NSW & ACT (NGINA), C-Mac's Director Robert McMaster and General Manager Steve Grlyak were interviewed by Val Leeke. A detailed history of C-Mac's nursery equipment was told.


"The founder of C-Mac, Cliff McMaster, commenced work in his garage making stainless steel exhaust manifolds as a hobby in 1962.  In 1964 at the age of 31 Cliff and his wife Margaret, obtained a loan to purchase some machinery and formed a partnership – C & M McMaster. There were various moves until in 1970 the current property at 72 Mandoon Road Girraween was purchased. The name C-Mac Industries was registered in 1981.

Cliff lived next door to Fivedock Nursery in Glenhaven which was owned by Ralph Groves.  When Ralph wanted some metalwork done they would have a discussion over a beer and this is how it all started.

Ralph and Cliff conceptualized C-Macs bagging and potting machine, which is still very similar to what is produced today. This machine utilized a vibrator to move different types of media, it was bolted onto a trailer one day, making a mobile sand bagging machine which the SES use all around Australia and with hundreds sold to sand and soil suppliers.

The self-tracking trailers came about from another request from Ralph Groves, a few beers and eventually a trailer was developed of which, over the years, thousands have been sold.

It is only recently that some of Cliff’s inventions have been thrown out. Not every idea worked! For example, at one stage C-Mac got a new CNC turret punch and thought the customers would appreciate their name punched into the tray of their trailer.  Little did they know that the soil and fertilizer was going to fall through the holes onto the undercarriage and cause an accelerated rusting and weed problem for them. So after about three years this idea was discontinued and was replaced by a solid deck instead.

C-Mac even made mobile pasteurisation units from a picture in an old UK magazine for another customer. This then became another of their products. At this stage they had no idea how pasteurisation worked. In later years they received funding from the pot levy to research how their pasteurization equipment worked so an operator’s manual could be provided.  Equipment of all types, shapes and sizes have been designed and sent all around Australia.  One of the problems for C-Mac was that everything was over engineered and never wore out!!

Cliff got so involved in the nursery business that he joined the Allied Traders Group and eventually got on the National Committee for Allied Traders.  At various times many members of the family also joined the company. His son Robert McMaster remained involved with the business and even Robert’s wife got into the action and was treasurer for several years, (close to 30 years ago).  C-Mac has been a member of NGINA on and off over the last forty years, but in 1999 they had to make a decision, as nursery equipment was a nuisance and a distraction to their core business of sheet metal and engineering. They either had to go into horticultural equipment and service the nursery industry or drop it. Ironically because most equipment was an asset for nurseries, payments were all COD,  which helped with their cash flow. So the decision was to remain and develop that area of business, thus C-Mac Nursery Equipment was registered as a division. C-Mac attended many exhibitions and conferences over the years, grew the customer base and became a respected participant in the industry.

Cliff McMasters sadly passed away in August, 2008.

In 2012, AD Springs, who developed and manufactured glass houses and wire benching, closed their doors after forty plus years.  C-Mac acquired the Spring Benching, hand trolleys and Spring Shade House manufacturing rights.

Again in 2015 C-Mac acquired the Comet Potting machine from Ron Anderson of Anderson Engineering as he wanted to retire. This again saved a very popular Australian designed potting machine from extinction. The Comet is presently being updated and improved, and hopefully will be exported in the near future.

By 2016, the C-Mac family business had been trading for fifty years. The second generation had got the business that far, but there was no third generation to carry on, so in July, 2017 C-Mac became a “Manufacturing Workers Co-operative”, where all thirty-five staff became members and owners.  C-Mac is now structured to be sustainable for many years to come and staff look forward to the continued association with the horticultural industry as it moves forward.

This kind of employee owned Co-op are more popular overseas. Many small businesses do not have a succession plan in place, so C-Mac’s aim is to purchase relevant Australian companies who are about to close. This way we will be able to increase the overall relevance and keep product produced in Australia and people employed. By uniting the various business’, costs can be shared and have one administration section to make the business more profitable.

These days the main lines that they concentrate on are products not available from overseas as importing is not profitable. The Comet machine is still a major item produced along with trailers, feeder mixers, and conveyors for bulk bagging etc. As with Japan, China is now becoming more expensive so the company has plans to source other areas of supply.

C-Mac want to be innovative. One of the highlights for Manufacturing Manager Steve Grlyak is that they are already printing with 3D plastics and he foresees that in five to six years they will be using this method with steel. Another is the exporting of some equipment they are undertaking. They have had to find more cost effective ways to deliver product, so have gone with flat packs which has cut transport costs greatly.

Steve Grlyak, has 30 years of tool making experience. He was originally the Manufacturing Foreman, then in Sales.  He has been in charge of everything for six years and is now the General Manager.  He has learnt that the product range changes quickly and he must be able to adapt.  He is proud of the apprentices that they have who attend TAFE and are very well rounded in their knowledge.  The company employs engineers, mechanical engineers, drivers and tradesmen.

At the moment the Nursery industry is only one part of the C-Mac range, in the future they would love to increase this to be a major part of their business"

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