The keys to manufacturing success: Safety, quality and continued growth

In the 2017 edition of the Endeavour Awards, Nufarm snagged the Exporter of the Year award. They shared their success story with Manufacturers’ Monthly and how they look forward to continued growth in the coming years.

Last year Nufarm celebrated it’s 100th year of operations and has been based in Australia for more than 60 years. In this time it has worked alongside growers to provide a wide range of quality crop protection products.

Nufarm is the largest manufacturer of crop protection products in Australia. Within Australia the company manufactures at its Pipe Road and Raymond Road facilities in Laverton, Melbourne and its Kwinana WA facilities. These facilities also manufacture products for export and tolling customers. The company also owns manufacturing sites in Asia, Europe, North America and Latim America.

The company is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), with global headquarters based in Laverton. Nufarm employs over 3,000 people worldwide, 684 people in Australia and New Zealand and 487 of these people employed in Victoria, 189 of which are manufacturing related roles.

Nufarm has an extensive team of agricultural and horticultural specialists who offer local know how and support that assists in delivering the results Australian farmers demand for their long-term sustainability.

Through the years, the company has built a reputation of providing quality, thoroughly tested and locally made products. This is a key differentiator in the Australian market where many competitors choose to import products.

Supporting farming within Australia but also for export; the company’s product range is extensive with over 315 product registrations in Australia; and a total of 4000 product registrations and markets products in over 100 countries globally. The company owns leading brands including Weedmaster, Nuprid, Kaiso, Amicide and Credit.

The herbicide facility also accommodates a synthesis plant utilised to manufacture 13,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of the phenoxy compound (di-chloro-phenoxy acetic acid) the active used for many of its herbicide products here in Australia, and for export to several overseas markets. Combined with operations at Nufarm Limited sites in Austria and the UK, Nufarm is a global leader in manufacture of phenoxy crop protection products.

During 2016, at a cost of over $15 million, Nufarm expanded its manufacturing footprint in Victoria with the construction of five new state- of-the-art facilities (three of which are globally unique and one of a kind) for the manufacture of insecticides and fungicides at the Raymond Road site. These new facilities are expected to deliver $25 million per annum.

A further new facility for herbicide manufacture has recently been completed at the Pipe Road site. These new operations are able to innovative wettable granule products and support Nufarm Australia’s ongoing commitment to manufacture in Victoria.

Possessing the right stewardship

Matthew Arblaster, the site and manufacturing manager of Nufarm joined the company in September 2015. A Monash University graduate in industrial engineering, he kicked off his manufacturing career at Bayer Material Science before switching to the wine industry in the Barossa Valley and working across wineries such as Wolf Blass, Penfolds and Lindemans.

Eager to bolster his people management skills, he moved to a winery in California to experience the shop floor, driving forklifts and crushing grapes with a largely Hispanic workforce, learning a lot and enjoying the cultural differences before returning to Bayer Material Science in China.

Mr Arblaster’s work there included commissioning a sheet plastic plant in Guangzhou and training the staff before moving to Shanghai to take responsibility for the capital budgets, operations and safety performance of 22 Bayer production sites around the world.

Along the way, he was named ‘Young Manufacturer of the Year’ by Business Victoria and inducted into the Manufacturing Hall of Fame. In 2015, Mr Arblaster looked for a new opportunity back home in Melbourne and so began his career at Nufarm.

“At Nufarm, I’ve been given the opportunity to work for a global company running a brownfield site, commissioning a state of the art Insecticide and Fungicide facility and developing the manufacturing team to run it,” he said. “I am fortunate to have landed such a rare opportunity.”

Laying out the roadmap for success

Nufarm is setting new standards for safety, quality and efficiency in manufacturing insecticides and fungicides at its new facility in Melbourne’s industrial heartland. Built at Raymond Road, Laverton, over the last two years, the $14 million facility is supplying insecticides and fungicides for farmers all over the world.

The state of the art facility features the latest technology and best practice processes and procedures to protect the safety of the 55 employees working on site and minimise the risk of cross-contamination in the products formulated there.

Back in 2014, few could have imagined how impressive the Laverton facility would be when Nufarm decided to replace its four older insecticide and fungicide plants in Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and New Zealand at this one site.

“The design process for this site started with a blank sheet of paper and the question, what do good plants look like?” Arblaster, manufacturing manager at the Raymond Road
site, said.

“You don’t often get the chance to design a new Insecticide & Fungicide plant, but this allowed our engineers, operators and support teams to put forward their best ideas at the start of our journey to achieve the best safety, quality and efficiency of any site around the world.”

new-pic-endeavoursIt’s taken more than two years of design, construction, fit-out, plant installation, operation and training to bring the facility to full operational capacity today.

The facility features eight individual plants using core market technology including liquid formulations, wettable granules, suspension concentrates as well
as technology unique to Nufarm including granule infusion, granule coating and even a plastics facility.

Subject to product demand, the manufacturing and packaging plants operate around the clock five or seven days a week to produce well-known brands such as suSCon, HiLoad Gold, Astound and Captan.

“It’s exciting to know that about 40 per cent of our production is exported around the world to New Zealand, Brazil and Europe as well as far flung countries such as Sierra Leone and Morocco,” Arblaster said.

Overcoming challenges on the road to growth

1. Safety

Arblaster and his colleagues are proud to lay claim to over 1500 days without a lost-time injury and a first-class record for quality and efficiency.

“While safety is everyone’s responsibility, I am particularly proud of our safety achievement, particularly when we’ve done a heap of construction, installed eight new plants, brought in people from other sites, recruited new people and trained them to run different equipment,” Arblaster said.

“When people are distracted, they get hurt, so we continue to work actively on safety. This means regular training sessions, plenty of posters and visual aids around the site and town hall meetings every Friday afternoon so everyone understands Nufarm’s safety standards and we can visibly reward good performance and those going above and beyond.

“Our people are encouraged to speak up any time they notice a safety issue and we regularly arrange visits to other manufacturing sites to incorporate their good ideas about safety into our practices.”

2. Continuous improvement

Continuous improvement crops up often when Arblaster speaks about safety, quality and efficiency at the site.

“We are striving for a site where everyone embraces continuous improvement and operators own their plants, resulting in people being more engaged at work, with deeper skills, more flexibility and a better team environment.”

All operators are asked to raise problems in their work area and work as a team with plant managers and engineers to solve them, resulting them greater productivity and engagement.

3. Quality

“There are two aspects to quality – the first is built around systems, procedures and operators who are well trained to do their job of running the plants,” he said.

“The second aspect is testing the products we make and checking that they are free of contaminants, because cross- contamination is such a key issue in Insecticide & Fungicide production.

“Our 30 operators lead our quality program, but we employ another 10 people in our laboratory who are continuously testing our products to ensure their integrity and performance.” A further 15 people work in safety, maintenance and occupational health.

Operators at the facility include six people who brought skills from Nufarm’s old I & F plant in New Zealand and two from Brisbane. New employees were chosen for their people skills and the correct attitude, rather than their experience in crop protection manufacture.

Sharing the secrets of success

When it comes to growth, Nufarm believes in investing in a strong team. In terms of training, Arblaster and his team took an innovative approach to training which continues today.

“Before production started in 2016, we asked teams of operators to create their own procedures to operate the machinery as a way of cross training with the help of a facilitator,” he said.

“This was followed by three months of training on the floor and in the classroom.

“We ran interactive training using everything from billycart assembly to demonstrate continuous improvement, blurry glasses to show the effects of alcohol and pigs’ eyes from the butcher to show the importance of eye safety.

The site’s training programs have been so successful that they won the Nufarm 2016 award for safety and were finalists in the Endeavour Awards Safety Solution of the Year.