Features, Raw materials & composites

Automating sleeper manufacturing

Since being nominated in the 2023 Endeavour Awards for their excellence in growth, we check-in with concrete sleeper manufacturer, Sunset Sleepers, to find out more about their plans to automate production.

Sunset Sleepers is a company dedicated to providing high-quality outdoor landscaping products and solutions in Australia.

Based in Melbourne, the company specialises in the manufacture and distribution of concrete sleepers.

They offer a wide range of durable and aesthetically pleasing retaining wall systems, garden edging, and other landscaping products.

With a focus on both functionality and design, Sunset Sleepers aims to help customers enhance their outdoor spaces while ensuring long-lasting durability and reliability.

Their products cater to various landscaping needs, from residential garden projects to commercial developments, providing versatile solutions for creating visually appealing and structurally sound outdoor environments.

In 2021, Damian Blumenkranc and Miguel Donnenfeld assumed leadership of Sunset Sleepers and committed to a journey aimed at revolutionising the company.

Since then, Damian and Miguel have been dedicated to enhancing safety, quality, capacity, and environmental impact. The company is now on a mission to improve across all fronts.

An important step to achieving their goal is automating some of their processes.

The Endeavour Awards

Blumenkranc explained that hearing the news about the Endeavour Awards nomination was a shock, and consequently a great morale boost for his team.

“Now looking at it, it was a pleasant surprise, to be honest. We come from completely different industries,” he said.

“So, our previous business was in video production and animation.

“We have no experience in building, construction, concrete, precast, or manufacturing. So, it was all new territory for us, and we had to work exceptionally hard to adapt.”

Embracing automation

Over the past few months, Sunset Sleepers has been actively engaged in automation initiatives as part of their research and development projects aimed at enhancing their production efficiency.

“In our research and development project on automation, we’re striving to find ways to further improve production efficiency,” said Blumenkranc.

“In our manufacturing facility, we currently have three stations: one for preparing moulds for the field, another for filling, and a third for demolding.”

Their objective is to combine those three lines into two and automate tasks involving manual movements as much as possible.

“Over the past three years, we’ve already achieved a 70 per cent reduction in manual handling. Our next step is to further enhance efficiency, primarily by reducing movements, time and improving consistency,” Blumenkranc explained.

Additionally, Sunset Sleepers is aiming to improve quality standards through their automation initiatives.

“We have been diligently focused on enhancing quality, striving to take significant strides forward in our quality improvement efforts,” said Blumenkranc.

As Blumenkranc continued to explain, automation is essential for producing high-quality products consistently.

“Funnily enough, we’re not primarily focused on cutting times. Our schedules are already quite tight,” he said.

“Our main emphasis is on ensuring consistency across our production line, particularly in reducing flow variation to minimise the human factor.

“Additionally, our focus is on enhancing quality to address any manufacturing issues and taking safety measures to the next level.”

Challenges in manufacturing

As Blumenkranc continued to explain, emphasising the importance of automation for maintaining consistent high-quality products, Sunset Sleepers faces challenges in their manufacturing process.

These challenges primarily revolve around materials handling, maintenance, safety, and quality control.

“Due to the substantial volume of heavy weights being moved daily, heavy lifting and handling operations are a constant concern,” said Blumenkranc.

Additionally, the team at Sunset Sleepers is aiming to address challenges in maintenance. As Blumenkranc explained, the company is dealing with harsh working environments, and the wear and tear of machines and equipment is common.

The company is also committed to continually improving safety measures and ensuring that all team members strictly adhere to safety protocols.

“With numerous forklifts involved in lifting heavy items, ensuring safety is a top priority for us.

“We are continuously striving to enhance safety measures and ensure strict adherence to safety protocols by all team members.”

Additionally, they are dedicated to enhancing product quality, addressing any manufacturing issues, and elevating safety measures to the next level.

Blumenkranc explained that Sunset Sleepers utilises total productive maintenance (TPM).

“In addition to daily checks and a structured maintenance program, we implement proactive measures such as building and stocking spare parts to prevent potential breakdowns,” he said.

“We also have reactive solutions in place to swiftly address any issues that arise.”

Expansion plans

Apart from automation, Sunset Sleepers have also been exploring potential expansion plans to increase capacity for the year ahead.

“We’ve been exploring potential expansion plans for the upcoming year, aiming to boost our capacity.”

The company has recently welcomed Simon, who will be acting as the new chief operating officer, who brings valuable experience from the UK.

“He’s stepping up to lead operations, diving deep into lean methodologies to refine every detail and drive improvement across the board,” said Blumenkranc.

“He brings invaluable expertise from the UK, he has a rich history of leadership, having served in roles like head of innovation and manufacturing engineering manager.”

Additionally, Sunset Sleepers has recently added two new trainees to their team, tasked with developing internal health and safety procedures.

One of their first steps to boost capacity, is to ensure that their sleepers are accessible at locations where demand is high.

“We aim to ensure that our sleepers are available at locations where people need them,” said Blumenkranc.

Sunset Sleepers is actively working on finding shipping solutions, recognising the importance of shipping in their operations.

“Exploring affordable shipping solutions has become a pivotal focus for us, shaping the core of our operational strategies,” explained Blumenkranc.

Sunset Sleepers ultimately emphasises the importance of continuous growth and innovation, particularly through the automation of processes and the development of new products.

“We’re consistently prioritising quality and adherence to our values of respecting safety standards, placing emphasis on newer, more stringent quality and safety measures,” said Blumenkranc.

They understand that their work goes beyond simply producing concrete sleepers; rather, they are dedicated to reshaping landscapes and creating safe, beautiful, and liveable, long-lasting spaces for their clients.

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