At first glance, the outlook for Australian manufacturing appears grim. It’s not hard to find bad news stories about a variety of large and small manufacturers closing down.
This has been quite scary for a company like ours. We have been manufacturing for 25 years and have experienced vast growth in both throughput and product range. To see other manufacturers shutting their doors has driven us to be proactive in finding ways to continuously improve to stay in business.
Our search to find innovative ways of running our business led us to Japan, where a number of companies were not just surviving, but thriving in an economy that has been stagnant for over 20 years. After a study trip to world-class Japanese companies several years ago by our company founder Trevor Zerner and daughter, current CEO Julie Williams, we got seriously interested in Lean Manufacturing and how it might have a positive impact on our business. The Japan trip allowed us to see first-hand the results that an organisation can achieve by implementing a philosophy that embraces lean manufacturing and continuous improvement.
So what is Lean Manufacturing? Basically it’s a set of concepts and tools that teach us how to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process and create a business culture focussed on continuous improvement. Over the years, we have expanded this to adopt lean principles and thinking throughout all areas of the organisation.
Obviously, one reason that it can be difficult for Australian manufacturers to compete against imported products is because Australian labour costs are very high. However, we have found that a huge portion of labour can often be wasted on processes that are inefficient and ineffective. If, through lean thinking and action, we focus on eliminating the waste, it means we can produce a larger volume through our factory with the same amount of labour.
An important element of getting this to work is engaging and teaching our team to be able to contribute to the process of eliminating waste and improving our processes. This constant ‘change for the better, everyday’ philosophy is also known as True Kaizen. We recently had one of the world’s best Kaizen coaches out from Japan to work with us on-site and our team achieved some amazing results across the business.
We have been successful in our application of Lean/Kaizen to the point where we have regular visits from Government Departments and other manufacturers who are looking to understand and implement some of the concepts that are working for us. More importantly, however, for you our customers, is that because of this focus we have been able to maintain control over our pricing in an extremely tough period for the agricultural industry where the costs of the majority of inputs, commodities and utilities have increased significantly.
We truly believe that the adoption of Kaizen and lean principles will continue to enable AgSolutions to assist you in Helping Australia Grow.