Going Lean Brings Better Business Performance

The Southland Times (New Zealand)

February 11, 2014

Clinton Yeats paces about in a processed, methodical kind of way.

This shouldn't be surprising as the South African-born, Auckland-based, Japanese auto industry-trained business consultant spends his days spreading the message about the importance of process as part of continuous improvement in business.

Yeats has been a regular visitor to Southland in the past two years as the consultant to the Venture Southland Lean manufacturing and dairy programs.

With 18 years' experience in the Japanese auto industry, he passes on mantras about identifying waste in businesses, eliminating it and discovering extra capacity to improve performance.

Prior to moving to New Zealand in 2004, he worked for Toyota South Africa and then Nissan in Britain and Japan.

He is a joy to watch and listen to. Think of him as an evangelist for efficiency in the workplace. He is preaching to the converted?but bad work habits are a bit like fast food. We know they are bad, but we struggle to change.

Last year, five Southland companies and eight dairy farm operations went through the lean manufacturing program. They are all working towards achieving significant gains in business?about 30% plus. Some are aiming for 50%.

The five businesses?Nind Electrical Services, Ocean Shell NZ, Rayners, Avon Engineering and Clive Wilson Switchboards?analyzed issues identified in their own businesses during a process-mapping exercise and have developed new, improved processes with critical check points.

The development of these in-process checks will allow for the reduction of process failures. The businesses are now beginning the roll out of new workplace activity flows and the reorganization of workplace resources and work spaces.

Yeats says part of this transformational exercise involves rethinking work spaces so they are efficient, safe and enjoyable to work in?and this includes staff having a say in how jobs are done.

The program adheres to a "5S" plan?sort, set, shine, standardize and sustain.

Southland has a growing cluster of lean-trained businesses which will help sustain and build momentum in the south, he says.

Sometimes it's about bosses being able to take their hands off the steering wheel to some degree and put some trust in their staff.

Rayners managing director Wayne Harpur said the biggest thing he got out of the program was the ability to delegate control to his team.

"At the start I didn't know how to do that. It's given me the confidence to let go," he said.

One of the many stars of last year's program has been Gore's Avon Engineering, which produces jet boats for recreational and commercial use.

The business was previously called jetboat.com and has produced Keelow Craft-brand boats for many years.

Jet-boating trophies and awards line the shelves and walls of managing director Dwayne Terry's office.

"You've got to race them to sell them," Terry says.

In October, he won the FX class in the UIM World Jetboat Champs raced on rivers in the South Island.

Terry took over as owner and managing director in 2005. He bought the business off industry legend Neil Ross and learned how to build boats in six months as part of an agreement to take over the business.

The market was local back then but now Avon sells boats all over the world, Terry says.

The company has the contract to build Shotover Jet's new fleet and maintain its existing fleet, which had been a bit of coup.

He has just sent his first boat to Tianjin in China and also exports to countries such as France, Canada, Morocco, Taiwan and Fiji. "The biggest thing we strive to do is make sure our quality is better than our competitors."

But he was getting the feeling the business should be doing better - for all the graft he and his team were putting in.

Terry joined the Icehouse business-owner/operator two-year course and heard from a kayak company in the course about the lean program. He rang Venture Southland and the next cluster of businesses was about to star?so he joined up.

The program had been a "game-changer, big time" as his workshop had been a pigsty. A new workshop was being built over the top of the old one and it was an opportune time to make a change.

"It's gone to a whole new level. Our biggest issue is 5S. People were always looking for tools and information."

He estimates the program has knocked 25 to 30% off production time for boats and reckons it could be 50% by the time the program is fully implemented. "We've only just got started," he says.

Fully implemented is a bit of a dirty term in the lean world?as continuous improvement is a cornerstone of the program.

Terry says he's telling anybody who will listen to sign up to lean.

"It's common-sense but you don't see it until it's pointed out."

Process changes had been important as well, with some interesting discoveries along the way. "We relied too much on people's experience," he says, somewhat surprisingly.

What he's getting at is that experience existed only in people's heads?whereas lean makes companies write down knowledge and document each part of a process.

In the past it would take engineers and other staff a year to get up to speed but his aim was to have information at point-of-use in the most appropriate format.

"We want to have a process so that every skilled engineer can come off the street and build a boat."

A more organized process for example would mean parts were ordered on time, and staff were not sitting round waiting for them, Terry says.

"I was trying to do eight hours in the workshop and then trying to run the business."

Fewer over-runs on staff hours would also help the company remain viable, and hopefully continue to grow.

"It's already improving morale in the workshop."

His task now is to sit down full- time and write up the process task.

Avon Engineering has been producing about 18 recreational boats a year and one commercial boat. When the new plans are implemented Terry hopes to turn out 30 recreational boats a year and one or two commercial.

Shotover Jet alone would need six or seven boats in the next three to four years as it renewed its fleet. And there was more and more interest out of China which was encouraging, he says.

Other businesses have been swayed by Yeats' lyrical master- classes and the less headline grabbing but essential "implementation" work.

Nind Electrical Services director Steve Winter says the company has a real buzz around it after completing the Lean training. The program gave clarity to the company operation and improved productivity, he said.

Clive Wilson Group managing director Alan Wilson said his workshop had been transformed and the program had "set the standard for the future.?

The program was a great team-building exercise and staff felt involved and motivated, he said.

Riverton's Ocean Shell NZ processes and manufactures a range of products from a variety of types of shells.

Director Richard Shields said Lean helped reinforce the message that "there's a future for New Zealand-made products.?

The five companies now take the training back to all staff and will continue to meet in the lead- up to a national Lean program get-together in April next year.

Venture Southland group manager enterprise and strategic projects Steve Canny said there had been some tremendous successes from the program?which was now also being delivered in the dairy sector.

Fortuna Group operations manager Matthew Richards reckons the Lean Dairy Program is delivering huge benefits?and wants the whole industry to get involved.

"When we heard what it was we thought 'wow' that's perfect. This stuff's the best thing I've ever done. It's going to have a big impact on the farms."

Finding a piece of equipment in the dairy shed was now a two- minute job because everything had its place, was labeled and was easy to find.

Those saved minutes would add up to thousands of hours over a year, he said.

Richards said he was keen to spread the lean message to his peers in the dairy industry.

Copyright © LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.  
Terms and Conditions    Privacy Policy

Quality News Today is an ASQ member benefit offering quality related news
from around the world every business day.

ASQ is a global community of people passionate about quality, who use the tools, their ideas and expertise to make our world work better. ASQ: The Global Voice of Quality.