Au­to­ma­tion great for busi­ness, NZ Inc. and em­ploy­ees

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - CASE STUDY -

Plans to au­to­mate pro­duc­tion pro­cesses usu­ally bring job cuts and lay­offs to mind yet man­u­fac­tur­ers who have gone down the au­to­ma­tion path say it does not al­ways de­serve the bad rap it gets.

Many have found that au­to­ma­tion not only fos­ters eco­nomic suc­cess but can also ben­e­fit em­ploy­ees. Auck­land-based high tech wiring loom man­u­fac­turer Fero is a case in point.

Fero, a fam­ily owned and op­er­ated busi­ness that is lo­cated in Mt Welling­ton, Auck­land, em­ploys more than 60 peo­ple. Its cus­tomers in­clude au­to­mo­tive, marine and ap­pli­ance man­u­fac­tur­ers. As well as stock­ing a range of com­po­nents and cables, Fero spe­cialises in con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ing, as­sem­bly and pro­cess­ing wire re­lated prod­ucts.

Sales and Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor Sam Ful­ton says the com­pany is al­ways look­ing for ways of do­ing things bet­ter, faster and cheaper for cus­tomers but re­duc­ing labour costs of­ten takes a lower pri­or­ity than might be as­sumed.

“No New Zealand man­u­fac­turer can com­pete with thirdworld coun­tries on cheap labour so grow­ing our work­force’s ca­pa­bil­ity and knowl­edge and pro­vid­ing niche prod­ucts and skills gives us a com­pet­i­tive edge lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

Au­tomat­ing as many pro­cesses as pos­si­ble en­ables Fero to con­tin­u­ally de­velop and up­skill its work­force and gain higher re­turns from the work that they do.

“As is case for many man­u­fac­tur­ers, au­to­ma­tion en­ables us to get highly re­peat­able, high vol­ume, high qual­ity prod­ucts to the mar­ket quickly. While cus­tomers en­joy ob­vi­ous f low-on ben­e­fits in terms of speed, con­sis­tency and price, we have found that our em­ploy­ees and sup­pli­ers also ben­e­fit,” says Ful­ton.

One ex­am­ple in­volved au­tomat­ing a high-vol­ume marine light­ing com­po­nen­try process that had pre­vi­ously been out­sourced to an over­seas man­u­fac­tur­ing part­ner.

“Au­tomat­ing the process en­abled us to bring it in-house – the man­ual work had pre­vi­ously been done off-shore to keep costs down. This not only re­sulted in our peo­ple gain­ing new skills, but also brought the roles in­volved in pro­duc­ing that prod­uct back here,” says Ful­ton. “As a re­sult, we went from no hands-on New Zealand in­volve­ment to nine of our peo­ple’s roles ex­pand­ing to in­clude di­rect in­volve­ment in the au­to­mated process.

Those peo­ple all ben­e­fited from be­ing up­skilled to man­age a range of pro­cesses as­so­ci­ated with the au­to­ma­tion, in­clud­ing main­te­nance, pro­gram­ming, ma­te­rial changes, over­see­ing the ma­chine’s op­er­a­tion and qual­ity in­spec­tion.

“Their jobs have be­come far more com­plex as a re­sult – akin to the dif­fer­ence be­tween rid­ing a bi­cy­cle and driv­ing a car.”

For ex­am­ple, a pre-au­to­ma­tion role might cen­tre on cut­ting wires into set lengths and wind­ing wire onto hanks. This ex­pands to in­clude set­ting up the ma­chine, ba­sic main­te­nance, op­er­at­ing ma­chin­ery, chang­ing its pro­gram­ming and qual­ity con­trol.

“Learn­ing th­ese skills adds an­other string to their bow, gives them more va­ri­ety and also in­creases the range of things they

can do within our busi­ness.”

Ful­ton com­mented that em­ploy­ees were some­times ner­vous about learn­ing new skills but gained con­fi­dence once they had done so.

Ke­len Boon­mixay, a pro­duc­tion sup­port team mem­ber at Fero, says she was ini­tially ex­cited and very ner­vous when asked if she would like to learn how to work on an au­to­mated line be­ing put in place.

“Be­fore my job only in­volved do­ing two things – help­ing set up wiring layups and cut­ting wires once the layup was done. It was quite repet­i­tive,” she says.

Boon­mixay liked the idea of work­ing on some­thing dif­fer­ent: “I was won­der­ing what this new ma­chine was and found the idea of work­ing on it fas­ci­nat­ing. But at the same time I was very ner­vous and was won­der­ing what would hap­pen if I some­how broke the ma­chine or made a mis­take.”

She en­joys the greater va­ri­ety and skills in­volved in work­ing on the ma­chine, along with the greater speed at which ar­ti­cles are pro­duced. Fur­ther­more, she has gained the knowl­edge and skills to be able to train oth­ers how to use the ma­chine.

Ful­ton says that em­ploy­ees inevitably be­come more en­gaged in their jobs and more pro­duc­tive when they gain new skills. He says that en­gaged em­ploy­ees are more likely to make process im­prove­ment sug­ges­tions. For ex­am­ple, Fero is con­tin­u­ously im­prov­ing the marine light­ing com­po­nent ro­bot as a re­sult em­ploy­ees’ sug­ges­tions.

“No­body gets sat­is­fac­tion from do­ing mind-numb­ingly bor­ing and repet­i­tive jobs day in and day out so it’s nor­mal for pro­duc­tiv­ity to in­crease when peo­ple are given va­ri­ety and more ful­fill­ing roles.”

He be­lieves that au­tomat­ing pro­cesses re­sults in an all-round win for Fero, its peo­ple and its cus­tomers.

In ad­di­tion to fewer re­jects, im­proved re­peata­bil­ity, en­hanced cost-ef­fec­tive­ness, au­to­ma­tion also has the f low-on ben­e­fit of the com­pany util­is­ing sup­pli­ers such as mecha­tron­ics, de­sign and main­te­nance ser­vices providers who are fur­ther up the skill and value chain.

Au­tomat­ing as many low-skilled, low paid pro­cesses as pos­si­ble has en­abled Fero to train its em­ploy­ees for more com­plex and re­ward­ing work as­so­ci­ated with man­ag­ing and main­tain­ing au­to­mated pro­cesses. It has also pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties for em­ploy­ees to ad­vance their ca­reers by be­ing trained into pro­gram­ming, main­te­nance and de­sign jobs.

Like many em­ploy­ers, Fero is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing skill short­ages so au­to­ma­tion pro­vides a path­way for con­tin­u­ously up­skilling its cur­rent work­force through re­train­ing them to run more com­plex ma­chin­ery.

“They also get to un­der­stand some of the com­plex lean man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques that come with au­to­ma­tion and con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment.

Ful­ton com­ments that au­to­ma­tion ben­e­fits New Zealand as a whole.

“Apart from en­abling lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers to keep labour costs com­pet­i­tive, thus mak­ing New Zealand more com­pet­i­tive with China and emerg­ing third world man­u­fac­tur­ing na­tions, au­to­ma­tion helps to in­crease the na­tion’s over­all skill base by mov­ing us to­wards hav­ing a higher tech work­force.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.