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Dale Cowie


Firenzo woodfires designed and built in Onekawa, Napier are considered one of this country’s cleanest burning wood fires and have strong brand awareness.  Now they are being sold successfully in the United Kingdom market and it’s the dollars saved from adopting lean manufacturing principles that has allowed that expansion.

“One of the many benefits of going lean is having a much better understanding of workflow and the impact of stock turnover and control,” says Gary Edwards, Manager and Director of Hewitsons Limited, makers of Firenzo. “The work we’ve done getting leaner and smarter, has meant we’ve had the funds to expand abroad.”

The Firenzo lean journey began a number of years ago and the company is a member of the Hawke’s Bay lean cluster set up through NZ Trade & Enterprise.  In more recent times, Gary, his production manager Simon Thacker, and the 21-strong Firenzo team have been working with local business improvement firm Smarter, Better, Faster (SBF) under a High Performance Work Initiative (HPWI) offered by Business Hawke’s Bay in partnership with Hastings District Council and co-funded through Callaghan Innovation.

Gary says that through the cluster group he was aware that Firenzo had the first-step basics of lean very well sorted; the ‘sort and shine’ or as Glenn Manahi of SBF says, the A and Bs.  What Gary also realised was “we were crap at the C”.  He joined HPWI to develop his C lean skills, namely the implementation of systems and processes to maintain, measure and grow the gains made from the earlier work.

One of the big objectives for the business was to work out how to maintain production flow of fires for the domestic market (and Australia) while gearing up to also produce for markets further afield.

That there are now 48 retail outlets throughout the UK actively displaying and selling Firenzo woodfires produced in Napier, serviced by a full-time UK manager running the NZ-owned Firenzo UK distribution business, is testament to their success.

Further, the resulting increase in factory throughput has been achieved without the need for more staff.

Gary sees that ultimately he will grow his team. “It’s about working smarter and becoming more competitive and that ultimately leads to more jobs.  We’ve got a five year plan for the UK market and we’re currently tracking ahead of where we expected to be.”

Getting their systems and processes streamlined, recorded and measured has been hard work Gary and Simon concede, but they are adamant that it’s worth the effort.  And it’s been an all-inclusive process, with the full team being tasked to find ways to work lean. 

“It’s a team approach,” insists Simon.  “Lean is a philosophy from the ground up.  The guys on the floor can see how it benefits them and that gives them the drive to work smarter not harder.”

No aspect of the business has been left unchallenged, with Glenn’s favourite question ‘Why?’ being repeated on a constant basis, and ‘because’ never satisfying him.  As a consequence, the ‘Firenzo Production System’ the business runs by has had some startling results.

Such as, Firenzo was previously housed in three buildings but the single building it now calls home, has a smaller footprint than the others combined.  At first the team said ‘no way’ but after weeks of workshops with Glenn that saw all the factory team involved, and hands-on ‘cut and pasting’ of the physical layout, the factory production flows without hiccup.

And that production flow has changed dramatically.  Now there is a continuous three-day production process: day one sees the base components assembled; day two the specific model components added; day three the finishing features such as tiles, handles etc applied, with the completed fires wrapped and dispatched out the door at day three end.

The production flow can be ramped up as orders dictate, with virtually never a delay, even in the peak of the season. This is in sharp contrast to earlier days when there could be a six or seven week delay in delivery within just the New Zealand market.

Designs have been refined so that the number of stock items is drastically reduced.  A case in point, the Contessa model base now contains all the holes where a wetback fitting may be required; before there was a separate base for each configuration.

One of the previous buildings was just for inventory.  Today, the stock necessary for production sits comfortably within reach.  In the past, some welding work was contracted out but it now easily fits within Firenzo’s own production schedule.

And gone are the days of “busy fools” as Simon calls it.  Staff used to keep themselves busy creating stock items irrespective of the need – there is a decade’s worth of one fire component currently sitting on the shelf.  “I’ve told them that if anyone makes another one I’ll beat them with it,” says Simon wryly.

Now that the guys have an understanding of the lean principles, they are keen to offer suggestions.  One idea recently implemented has saved $3500; all for the cost of a box of beer.

Firenzo is a safer work environment now too.  “We’ve got a really active health and safety culture that has driven down even the small incidents,” says Simon.  “It’s one of our lean KPIs and everyone is totally engaged in it.”

Going back to the factory layout, the welding stations each have their own extraction system designed and built by the team members.  Each production worker has their own work station that is mobile so should they need to be redeployed elsewhere, they take their own equipment with them.  “You soon hear about it if someone takes another guy’s gear.  There’s a sense of real ownership,” Gary explains.

Gary and Simon are keen to participate in further HPWI work.  They admit it’s been “an amazing journey” that they don’t see as being finished yet.  In fact, it’s a never ending journey they say; “Improvement is a continuous process.”

Simon Thacker, production manager (left) and Gary Edwards, manager and director of Hewitsons Limited, with a stack of Firenzo woodfires under construction.