On their many camping trips in their native Australia, young Jared Rea and his father Malcolm would stare up in wonder at the brilliant night sky. They would gaze at the Southern Cross, the distinctive constellation visible in the southern hemisphere, and talk about wanting to see the famous Aurora Australis—the south pole equivalent of the Aurora Borealis often referred to as the Southern Lights—that lay just beyond the southern horizon.
Decades later, when his father was visiting him at his home nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains of North America, Jared told him about the new business he was starting up. As they discussed possible names for the fledgling company, their thoughts drifted back to those memorable camping trips of his childhood.
“We thought ‘australis’ was a pretty good name,” reflected Jared recently, “and then we kind of contracted that down to ‘austral.’” They added the word ‘star’ to the name in honor of the stars in the Southern Cross—which symbolism he incorporated into his logo—and his custom lifting machine company, Austral Star LLC, came into being in the summer of 2004.
Metal fabrication has long held a fascination for Jared. “I’ve always liked it since I was a kid,” he said. “I always liked pulling stuff apart, trying to fix it. As I got into my teens, I started actually building stuff. I wanted to buy a welder when I was 16. My dad wouldn’t let me. He said, ‘You’d end up burning the house down.’ And you know what—I probably would have, because I just had no safety factor in my teens. But then I got into engineering in college and studied it and really enjoyed building stuff.”
Talking about his different occupations, he said, “I was a design draftsman out of college at a shop that manufactured electrical enclosures.” He later found a niche in doing sales work for industrial companies. “I worked as an industrial sales guy selling roller doors and panel doors,” Jared said. He then sold pneumatic tools for Atlas Copco. His last job before going out on his own was designing and selling overhead cranes.
His career was suspended early on when he did some volunteer work overseas. It was in England where he first met his future wife, a young lady who had roots in northern Utah in the U.S. They made plans to get together after each had returned to their home countries. Jared recounted their courtship succinctly: “She came and visited me, and I proposed, and the rest is history.” After going back briefly to the States, she returned to Australia, and they were married and lived there for seven years before both permanently moved to the U.S. in 1996.
The idea for starting his own business came from one of his customers at the overhead crane company. The client asked if they could build an elevator-type structure, a baggage lift to be used in airports. They designed, priced, and built the machine to the customer’s satisfaction, but when repeat orders started to come in, his boss decided he wanted them to stick with cranes and not get into the lifts as a sideline.
Seeing a great business opportunity, Jared decided to leave and start his own company in Ogden, Utah to build the lifts in 2004. A couple of years later, after his non-compete agreement expired, he added manufacturing cranes to his shop’s repertoire.
Very Uplifting Work
If a customer needs a machine built that can move objects from lower to higher levels and vice-versa, Austral Star likely can provide the perfect material handling solution. They spend at least half of their time on their original product line, the airport baggage lifts. “It ranges from 50% to 70% of my business,” Jared said of lift production, “and the cranes are from 50% to 30%, depending upon the year.”
Other types of lifting equipment they’ve designed and built include vertical reciprocating conveyors (elevators rated only for moving objects) and dumb waiters. They’ve also done some general fabricating work like building gates, railings, and metal control enclosures.
Products are only as good as the people building them, and Austral Star employs a seasoned and dedicated team. “We’ve got a good staff,” Jared said. “We’ve got full-time, part-time, and in-between. We’ve got fabricators, we’ve got guys that run the machines and cross over between general fabrication and machining, we’ve got technicians who can build and wire control panels, we’ve also got programmers that can program the PLCs in our machines, we’ve got salespeople, we’ve got an accountant, and electrical and mechanical assemblers to assemble our machines.”
The jobs are never boring. Jared observed that, “Most people have two or three hats on—most of our guys are cross trained to do most of each other’s stuff. The guys that tend to stay here like the diversity, they like to be more generalists, they like the variety. So, one day they could be fabricating, the next day they could be assembling, the next day they could be running the press brake or the laser, or they could be coming to help us do an install on site, so we do all of that.”
The tagline under their logo reads, “Custom Lifting Machines,” and every job that the Austral Star team takes on is a highly specialized custom install, designed to meet the client’s most exacting specifications. Along with airport bag lifts and airport landing lifts, Austral Star can design, build, and install any type of industrial crane system imaginable. “With cranes it’s a pretty broad net,” Jared said, “because we’ll do monorails, we’ll do jib cranes, we’ll do overhead cranes, we’ll do workstation cranes, and all of the variants of those things, so that’s a pretty wide net.” That net extends to some unique projects, such as a 20′ lifting beam with battery-powered rotating forklift-type tines designed to be supported by two cranes to lift long objects out of trailers, or explosion-proof cranes for use in highly volatile environments.
A Revolutionary Friendship
Over several years, Jared had developed a close friendship with Jim Ayers, a Salt Lake City, Utah metal fabricator who had been producing parts for him. When Jim sold his business and became a machine consultant for Revolution Machine Tools, he told Jared about some of the equipment that RMT had to offer.
Jared reflected on his conversation with Jim: “I said, ‘You know I’m looking for a press brake, and I know about RMT,’ so he was able to give us a good price and we got it at the right time, just before the pandemic jacked everything up. And it’s been an excellent machine.”
Austral Star’s previous press brake was a temperamental 6′ x 15-ton machine. “It was not accurate,” Jared recalled. “We had to jerry rig it all the time to make it work, and then mostly we sent out our big stuff to other people.”
Buying his RMT B-SMART 10-150 press brake made a world of difference. Jared noted, “I’ve never sent anything out to anybody else since buying the RMT machine. We’ve done all our bending in-house. Some of it we thought we wouldn’t be able to do with the tooling, but we have been able to. So, no fully specialized tooling at this stage.”
Showing off the 10′ x 150-ton machine in operation, Jared commented on what they’ve been able to do with it: “We build all of the specialized brackets and parts for the bag lifts that we make for the airports. Just dozens and dozens of specialty brackets. We make the lower door with it; we make the lifting cradle and bag cart—all of those parts are bent. The roof, we make that. Everything. Almost every part of our bag lift gets made with this.”
Jared loves RMT’s commitment to service. “They’re good. Anytime there’s a problem—there’s only been one or two problems—and they’re straight on it,” he says, snapping his fingers. “We had one small problem with the machine, and they sent their tech out and he solved it in a heartbeat.”
He’s also impressed with the set-up at RMT’s headquarters. “When we went down there recently to meet with Jim, he showed us around the facility,” Jared said. “When you sell machine tools you’ve got to have a great facility. They’re setting it up and really making it good for customers to have a look at what they’ve got.” Jared noted that it’s an awesome concept to be able to go into a place that sells machine tools and be able to see functional equipment ready to demo.
Looking to the Future
From its humble beginnings in Jared’s garage to their current facility, Austral Star has grown and extended its reach throughout the lifting industry in several states in the Intermountain West. The company isn’t just resting on its laurels, however. “We’re looking for other products to get into,” Jared said. “We do cranes and the bag lifts, but we’ve got a few ideas we been working on over the last couple of years. And we’ll see how we go for expansion—we’d like to build a building and get bigger than we are, maybe twice as big.”
Austral Star’s future appears bright, much like a shining constellation rising on the horizon.