New Sydney switchboard factory focuses on ‘lean’

Privately-owned switchboard manufacturer, K E Brown, has opened a new manufacturing facility in Sydney’s western suburbs.

The 1,650 square metre Smithfield facility specialises in producing both custom-built and modular switchboards for light and power, and motor control centres. It is equipped with CNC busbar bending equipment, as well as electric cabling and switchgear assembly areas.

The plant has been designed and laid out to minimise waste in time and materials. OH&S factors also contribute to the layout of equipment and work stations. “The new premises will allow us to meet the growing demand for the company’s wide range of products, with increased manufacturing efficiencies and reduced waste," says Bob Day, General Manager, K E Brown.

“The new premises also offer us the opportunity to expand our production capabilities within the complex when needed," adds Day. "The Lean Manufacturing process will focus our production team on eliminating waste thus enhancing our competitiveness and the inherent value for money that K E Brown customers have come to expect.”

The Smithfield factory has been designed to optimise the flow of material through the production processes at the plant. "In our old plant we estimated the material moved 150 to 200 metres through the plant, even though it was half this size. It was poorly optimised," says Brown.

“Now as the heavy material comes in the door, it’s unpacked into racks. It moves maybe half a metre to be cut and punched and then it can be distributed to the boards,” Day explains. “We have taken all the unnecessary movements out, with material travel down by more than two thirds.”

The time and cost of a person moving a piece of copper through the production process has now been greatly reduced. This means less risk to the employees in terms of OH&S, with less lifting and movement.

“It also means that employees can concentrate on the value add portion of their work, which is the conversion of the copper to busbars, and to its installation, instead of spending non-value add time moving it,” notes Brown.

As well as improving the movement of the material through the plant, Day focused on the value add part of the manufacturing process. “We now have dedicated areas of the plant to optimise the assembly of distribution boards.

“We have taken control of that process, so customers now have the same engineering team that designed the main switchboard, designing the distribution boards, with K E Brown tradesmen completing the manufacture, assembly and testing of the switchboards.

“Rather than getting a K E Brown badge over the top, our customers are getting a full K E Brown built switchboard the same as they would with the main switchboard, meaning guaranteed quality of product,” Day said.

“As well, we are constantly looking at how we can eliminate waste, both time and materials, which means that we maximise waste recycling of unnecessary materials that are a by-product of the manufacturing process.”

There are 25 staff members at the Smithfield facility, with three fully qualified electrical engineers designing switchboards utilising K E Brown’s in-house CAD facilities.

“They work on the latest versions of AutoDesk’s AutoCAD which is installed here and in Warriewood. All our designs are full CAD-based designs and can be shared across the two facilities seamlessly,” explains Day.

Projects can be designed in Warriewood and transferred to Smithfield; likewise new projects can be designed in Smithfield and passed over to Warriewood.

Day is presently working with Melbourne’s Swinburne University on plans to put key staff members at both the Smithfield and the Warriewood facilities onto the Certificate 3 Advanced Manufacturing course to be held within K E Brown’s two manufacturing sites.

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