New Age Caravans operate out of two closely situated sites in the Northern Melbourne suburb of Epping in Victoria. They aren’t the biggest manufacturer of recreational vehicles, but they are amongst the best in terms of quality. To manufacture a quality product that consistently meets the needs and expectations of their customers, David Lawrence; New Age Site Manufacturing Manager, turned to Empower Factory Productivity & Job Scheduling Software. Empower was created through the manufacturing revolution of Kaizen and we know it today as lean manufacturing. But Empower isn’t just a time tracker; it’s much more than that, a whole lot more.

In lean manufacturing, Kaizen refers to brainstorming ideas and implementing daily activities that continuously improve processes. It involves all employees from management to factory-floor workers. It’s not just about recording what’s going on in the factory, Empower gives David the tools he needs to fit his employees to work they are best at. A slow worker in cabinet making could be a wizard on the beam saw. Someone struggling on the CNC machine may be better suited to carcase assembly. Empower is not just a management tool, it’s a manufacturing aid, David says, “You need the right tools to manage your greatest resource; your people and Empower does everything I need, and more.”

On the Move

New Age Caravans started out as New Age Frames & Designs in 2004, specialising in manufacturing structural framing and other CNC fabricated componentry for a number of high-profile caravan manufacturers in the Campbellfield area. After four years New Age switched their focus from supplying the caravan industry to manufacturing. In 2009 New Age manufactured 5 caravans a week, 10 years later they make over 2000 a year. In recent years growth can be attributed in no small part to their use of Empower, a tool that already produces around 30% in productivity gains in their parts manufacturing site.

But it’s not all about productivity. New owners Walkinshaw Automotive Group are famous for their high-performance and luxury GMH vehicles. They are an Australian icon and have integrated their unprecedented automotive expertise in engineering, design, and manufacturing to introduce a new level of innovation to the RV industry. You don’t compete successfully at Bathurst unless you understand something about reliability and performance and so, New Age use their expertise and know-how in rough durability testing; robotic welded chassis and clay modelling for prototype design that has resulted in numerous design awards.

High Cost of Manual Time Sheets

New Age Caravans considered the high cost of manual time sheets to record staff time on jobs prior to deciding on Empower Software. Manual time sheets were taking each workshop employee 10 minutes each day to fill out and this totals 50 minutes per person per week. This was a $66 cost per staff member per week (at $80 overhead cost per hour).

For a manufacturer with say 10 workshop staff this is 500 minutes, which is 8.33 hours lost production per week for a total loss of $660 per week. Add to this admin staff time and the cost to rekey all manual daily time sheets into job cost program of 1 hour per day for 5 hours per week at $30 per hour and you end up with an further loss of $150 per week. This brings the total cost to $810 per week which is $39,690 per year. Surprisingly, Empower Software costs New Age Caravans a small fraction of the cost of manual time sheets.

Around a staggering 90% of Australian joiners and cabinet manufacturers either use paper time sheets or no time sheets at all. This results in management knowing little about job times, task times and individual staff times and productivity in their workplace. At best, time sheets are unreliable and collect little useful information that management can use to make positive changes. In addition to that, time sheets only provide limited data when they are collated, and this usually happens at the end of the day and at some cost to a manager who has to sift through all the paperwork. It’s too little and it’s too late. For David and the management team at New Age, this was unacceptable.

David started out at New Age eighteen months ago and set about rebuilding a team of skilled workers who would rely on each other to meet deadlines and keep New Age profitable. In addition to a plan to upgrade the company’s equipment, David set about ensuring that each employee worked as part of a well-knit team where each person’s unique skills were utilised to the full advantage of the company.

To achieve an outcome that could justify pay increases for workers and investment in new technology, David needed to know exactly what was going on in the factory. Empower provides David the ability to fully understand accurate job and task times and accurate costs to manufacture every single part of a caravan.

A New Age

There are three major influences on any manufacturing plant. These are your materials, your equipment and processes, and your labour. Of these three, your labour is the most difficult to keep track of and to utilise effectively. Empower allows David to see what’s going on in the factory at any time. It’s instant feedback and changes can be made based on real-time information that is always reliable. The software is so effective that at Asset Kitchens Cabinets in New Zealand, David took a company with eighteen factory workers and with Empower, reduced the factory workforce to six people with the same output! New Age is so impressed with Empower that the software is soon to be used at the Caravan assembly site where it is expected to contribute to further productivity gains.

Already at the New Age cabinet shop, David has reduced the number of CNC machines from six to two and although they intend to invest in a CNC machine with on-board edge banding, the reduction in equipment has saved the company not only machines, but floor space, time and labour costs. It’s a staggering saving for small to medium companies that amounts to millions of dollars even over a few years. David said, “I know exactly what’s going on in the factory without ever leaving my office. Even if I am away, I can see what’s going on as Empower Software reports real time production and productivity information to my tablet. If we make a change to our processes, we can evaluate them based on past performance; there’s never a backward move, it’s all progress and savings.”

The Digital Workplace

In the age of Industry 4.0 Empower fits right in. Design software leads to parts and manufacturing information sent to CNC machines for an optimum output of products. Why shouldn’t your workforce benefit from digital technologies as well? Empower uses devices such as new, or second-hand computers or tablets or touch screen on the factory floor for workshop staff to access and start and finish their jobs so current factory production and productivity is reported live back to your production manager. Facial recognition ensures that each job is assigned to the right person, who sees a listing of all jobs assigned to them. This drives substantial increases in individual staff and factory productivity. David even tracks his own hours to see where he is spending his time. New Age Caravans are installing 50-inch TV monitors on workshop and office walls that report Empower Software key screen continuously; all jobs, all workshop staff, and all job times, all in real time.

In addition, you can build and save your own custom reports or use the more than 80 prebuilt reports including actual to budgeted times on orders, products, and processes; status of all work in progress; factory staff productivity; down time and unaccounted time; current bottle necks; individual staff performance; job costing; time and attendance and optional live time tracking of staff off site via cell phone. The main goal of Empower is to increase staff and factory productivity by 30% and current clients report that at worst, the increase is 15% and even that generates a $140,000 per year wage cost saving for 20 factory workers. And as a fully supported web-based app provided via subscription, the software is priced at a point that is a no-brainer.

In modern manufacturing, no matter what the product, high quality information is vital.  Information from Empower Software is high quality. It’s accurate to the minute, reported in real time and is easily and quickly accessible to all workshop staff on the factory floor and all management and administration staff in the offices. To know what each part is costing; to understand where the bottlenecks and problems are; to be able to try new processes and evaluate their effectiveness in real time are tools that no manufacturer can afford to pass up.

Industry 4.0 is described as ‘smart manufacturing’ and this cannot be achieved using manual time sheets; a system over 100 years old. Design software linked to optimisation and post-processing software for CNC machines has been a huge leap forward in productivity in Australia. It’s logical that as a manufacturer, your most valuable asset, your people, must benefit from similar technology. It’s worked for David where in three previous roles as production manager, he has doubled the production output using Empower, and it works for New Age Caravans.