Matthews Brothers: A journey of roads and family

Paul and Noel Matthews.

Matthews Brothers Engineering will reach its centenary year in 2021. Roads & Infrastructure speaks to the third-generation family owner of the business to discuss the evolution of the Australian owned and operated organisation.

The early 20th century was pivotal for Australian road making and transportation. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics most roads outside country towns were unsealed right up until the late 19th century.

It was only in 1913 that the first road department in Australia was established, the Country Roads Board in Victoria. This was closely followed by the Main Roads Commission in Queensland and the Main Roads Boards in New South Wales and Western Australia throughout the 1920s.

The early 20th century saw increased technological innovation for road building in Australia with the large-scale development of bituminous pavements and the binding of local gravels with tar and bitumen.

At this time, in 1921, Vic Bradley and Roy Matthews opened a site to mine and transport blue stone from a quarry that was located close to a site they opened on Mason Street just out of Melbourne.

From there, Matthews Brothers Engineering was born and over time the two owners turned to engineering works and secured a contract to supply torpedo heads and mortar bomb casings to the army.

The business then evolved to create affordable and innovative road construction equipment and was eventually passed on to Roy’s sons, Noel and Ray Matthews.

The businesses first introduction to creating road making equipment was for the Victorian Country Roads Board, where they supplied a number of small 130-gallon bitumen kettles. This pivoted the company towards bitumen spraying gear.

An early spraying machine (top) and Latland 6×4 sprayer (bottom).

After the passing of Noel in 2018 and Ray in 2020, Matthews Brothers Engineering is led by Roy Matthew’s Grandson, Paul Matthews, and is a road construction equipment manufacturer heading into its centenary year of operation.

Working out of its purpose-built facility and manufacturing plant in Altona North, the Australian owned and operated business alongside its rental division, Flindane, continue to grow.

Owner Paul Matthews, started as an auto electrician when he was 18, he then became foreman of the Mason Street site and moved with the business to Altona North to oversee the new facility before becoming Managing Director of the business in 2019.

“When I started out there were two buttons on the sprayers and everything else was mechanical. To improve this technology, I did an electronics course and started to build control panels from there to make the machines more efficient and easier to use for the operators,” Matthews says.

This legacy has lasted through generations of the family through to 2020 where Matthews Brothers is a well-established manufacturer of bespoke bitumen tankers and spray seal equipment.

“We have got the ability to take a raw truck chassis’ and transform them into state of the art, bitumen sprayers,” Matthews says.

“Around 90 per cent of the gear on our spray seal machines is made in house or from one of our local suppliers. We’ve got proprietary pumps, valves and equipment that can’t be bought off the shelf elsewhere, simply so these components can work in excess of 200 degrees, sometimes for days on end.”

One of the most recent innovations from the Matthews Brothers team is their Guaranteed Target Application Rate, or G-TAR. This system is an optional upgrade on Matthews Brothers Sprayers and is designed to assist the operator to achieve efficiency while upholding safety on site.

Matthews Brothers Engineering’s 14,000 Litre sprayer.

G-TAR is an automated system, which is operated through a touch screen control panel, to simplify operation of the sprayer systems while achieving consistency of application.

Amongst the team at Matthews Brothers there are two electrical engineers dedicated specifically to the assembly of intricate control panels and automation solutions such as G-TAR to advance spray seal operations.

The design department has hand drawn diagrams of early equipment showcased on the walls of the office, while the current team utilise state of the art parametric modelling software helping to keep Matthews Brothers at the forefront of design technology.

The same level of detail is upheld for Matthews Brothers mechanical components, with the company developing nearly 10 different types of spray bar valves over the years.

“We have always, and will continue to, strive towards the next innovation or improvement that is going to make a difference for contractors. Research and development play a huge part in the business, it’s important for us to understand what the industry is looking for and deliver,” Matthews says.

“With each truck we create we are eager to make changes and improvements for the client so that the next truck is always better than the last. If a client has ideas and provides feedback, that is taken on board so that we can continually improve.”

One thing the Matthews team has observed in the industry is the movement to minimise the use of kerosene to improve environmental outcomes.

“Our Forward Motion Chipsealer has features which help minimise the use of kerosene, meaning the operator doesn’t have to flush out the piping system” Matthews says

“This same technology is now being developed within a new prototype which we hope may even remove the need for cutting agents which are sometimes added to the bitumen”.

Because the business manufactures such a large proportion of the parts used on the spray sealing units, replacement parts and technical support for the machines is second nature.

Rear view of a Matthews Brothers Engineering spray unit.

“We really understand the equipment we are building and how it works in the field. We have a pool of people that know how to use each of these products and parts and how to repair them. Most repairs can be done over the phone or quickly resolved by sending the correct replacement part,” Matthews says.

“Quick resolution of technical issues is crucial when you have a team of workers standing by and waiting for a machine to be ready so that works can continue. We know these products inside out so can often fix them quickly.”

This year, Matthews Brothers are producing their first 14,000 litre, twin-bar, bitumen spraying unit featuring their G-TAR Maxi control system. Matthews Brothers have worked closely with Scania to optimise interface with the trucks systems, though things can be tailored to suit Mercedes Benz, M.A.N., Volvo and Isuzu chassis’.

Once complete the unit will take its place as the new flagship model of the entire sprayer range.

Looking ahead to the next 100 years Matthew’s excitedly finds it hard to picture the extent of just what the company could achieve.

“A lot of our staff members have been here over 20 years and the ‘family’ aspect of the business goes much further than the Matthews’ family. It encompasses all of the people here, working together to improve,” Matthews says.

“I’m sure if you had told Roy Matthews where we would be today, he would be amazed. The main thing we know is that the nature of the business is to strive for improvement and we just want to get better and better from here.”

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