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Business Hawke's Bay

When Bruce Senior, owner of Equiptec in Napier, signed up for a lean thinking programme his motivation was to upskill his team and motivate them to seek continual improvement. Within a short time, to his surprise, Bruce realised that he was the one needing upskilling.

“One of the big things to come out of the sessions is that my only job as the boss is to coach the team. It’s quite a mind shift. I’ve been thinking that I should be working alongside them but really my role is to step back and coach people to do their job the best they can,” says Bruce, who set up Equiptec in Dunedin 22 years ago before moving to his Onekawa site in 2006.

Equiptec designs and manufactures innovative and tough aluminum scaffolding equipment for customers throughout Australasia. It was one of ten Hawke’s Bay businesses that participated in a High Performance Work Initiative (HPWI) over the past year with the aim of increasing productivity through innovation and improved processes and systems.

Working with Bruce and his team has been local business improvement firm Smarter, Better, Faster (SBF), engaged under the HPW initiative offered by Business Hawke’s Bay in partnership with Hastings District Council and co-funded through Callaghan Innovation.

Initially the Equiptec team worked with SBF’s Steffan Kelly on process mapping – identifying the weak points and solutions to rectify these, and then putting goals in place to aim for. One of those weaknesses was the layout of the factory, which was another surprise, as Bruce says they had thought that was “already pretty efficient” but adds that it’s “vastly better now”. Today there is very little where it shouldn’t be and almost everything where it should be, reducing time, improving efficiency, and removing frustrations.

Bruce is enthusiastic about the changes to his business brought about through the streamlining and continuous improvements borne out of the programme, although he concedes there’s always room for improvement. Toyota had adopted lean thinking for more than 50 years and was still improving, so it was early days for Equiptec, he says.

Having a much better handle on the numbers is one of the big benefits he’s seen. “We’re a lot more accurate with our costings. We understand the time involved in our processes and now know where that time can be reduced. We can aim for that and better it. We’ve been able to dramatically reduce the cost of some items.”

The upshot is that Equiptec is now positioned for growth, and growth without the need for a lot of extra labour. “Scaleability was one of our original aims for joining (HPWI), what we were hoping to achieve, and we’ve certainly done that. And with our reduced costs, we’re increasing our R&D, creating new products for more markets.

“It’s given us more flexibility; we can meet the market more effectively and in different ways than before. Knowing your numbers is a huge help in pushing forward,” says Bruce.

To help with the increase in business, Bruce is already looking to employ a new admin person so that an existing administrator, who is knowledgeable about the product range and the customers, can move into a newly created sales support role. “We’ve never focused on customer support before, it was one of the weaknesses we identified, and now it’s on the way to being sorted.”

Another thing Bruce and his team is clearer on is lead times. The business has always outsourced many of its parts to specialist manufacturers who carry the investment in million dollar machinery and equipment. Now there is a clear understanding of how long Equiptec products take to build so customers (and the necessary manufacturers) are given accurate timeframes. Plus DIFOT – Delivered in Full on Time performance is now ruthlessly measured, to keep a close eye on the service received by customers.  “This makes it easier to sell and there’s no after sales surprises, again reducing lost time and frustrations.”

The programme has brought about other more subtle changes in the way Equiptec operates as well. Internal meetings were now more positive and meaningful, with everyone more enthused and taking ownership, says Bruce. Everyone sets goals that are aligned to the company’s overall objectives, and some of these take some effort, but the whole team is aligned and reporting every week on progress. 

For Bruce, learning to be a more proficient leader is one of his goals, and he says he’s enjoying the challenge; the improved communication within the team is a pleasing outcome.

As to the future, the programme has helped define what this holds. Equiptec is looking to achieve more internationally recognised accreditations to help further establish credibility and cement more overseas markets. Bruce believes that the systems that are now in place, the reduction in waste, and the different facets of learning in place, will help them achieve these goals.

Overall, the last year has been a riveting, if not challenging one for Bruce and his team. “We’ve taken quite a few roads that we never would have thought of or dreamed we’d take but I’d strongly recommend it. We have a much clearer focus and direction now.”


Image caption: Bruce Senior, owner of Equiptec, has used what he’s learned through a year-long productivity programme, to gear his business for future growth.