People, technology major barriers to manufacturing growth

People and technology are the major barriers to moving manufacturing forward, a new survey released by Canon Australia reveals. 

Australian manufacturers might blame weak exports and a high dollar for the industry’s decline, however a new white paper ‘Change or be left behind’ by Canon Australia identifies people and technology as key barriers preventing the industry from moving forward.

The survey reveals the Australian manufacturing industry has been dubbed ‘conservative’, after 77% of business leaders in the industry cited fear of the ‘unknown,’ as an immense barrier when implementing technology changes that could improve their business’ efficiency. 

It indicates Australian business leaders ranked themselves 30% on their ‘willingness to change,’ behind China (86%), and India (53%) but ahead of Germany and the US.

Over half of employees (59%) interviewed, cited lack of trust in new systems and lack of trust in management directors as a significant factor to preventing change. 

Despite seeing the benefits of change and the role of technology, people were identified as the main obstacle for driving change. 

The survey also revealed that around one third of manufacturing employees and business leaders (34%) placed lack of vision and direction or leadership as the biggest barrier to change.  

According to Canon Australia group product manager for solutions business, Luke Maddison, the survey’s findings are clear signs that the local industry needs to change how it conducts business. 

Reluctance to change on the part of many manufacturers has limited, and in some cases prevented the implementation, adoption and delivery of new technologies and more efficient processes, he says. This reluctance has led to what has been coined “conservative manufacturing”.

“Technology is the main driver of change, being able to manage processes around change is really important,” Maddison told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

To effectively execute a “good” change management program, Maddison says that identifying and aligning with stakeholder groups, and working with influential industry leaders, is needed to ensure that everyone in the company and on the floor will be on board with the new processes. 

This, he explains, will gauge a more positive result from floor staff through to management as they are not kept in the dark about changes and developments. 

More importantly, it eases people into the change process, and removes the shock and fear change would bring, especially for those who may have been with the company in a particular role for a while. 

Maddison says the best approach for such a program is having a well considered and thought-out approach.

 “When having an effective change management program, the key challenge is communication, ensuring when communicating change it’s about having a clear vision and a clear structure around that,” Maddison said. 

One company proving that change can lead to more efficient production processes is Australian paint manufacturer, The DuluxGroup, which has recently installed an automatic solution.

The company’s previous system, which has been in operation for 25 years, involved staff handling decant loose, heavy bags of powders, which caused a hazardous work environment. However, due to changing market demands, and the need for a safer environment, the company decided a change was in order. 

Working together with the engineering team at Robotic Automation, Dulux developed a Centralised Make-up Facility, which consisted of three new robotic systems. These systems ensured the products were moved safely and more efficiently. 

Dulux production manager, Gavan Dowal, said the decision to make the technology change was initially tough, because of the scale of the project, and also the logistics involved. However careful planning and a well-structured process made the transition to new technology smooth for both staff and management.

Dowal says taking a controlled risk management approach is one way of ensuring a successful transition.  

“It comes down to the fact that when you integrate something a little bit technological, a little bit ‘out there’ into a process, you have got to make sure that stakeholders need to be educated. They need to be on board with the journey, because it is a journey when you make a significant change,” he said.  

An essential part of the process is clarifying the key objectives from the start, before the project is underway, much like completing a training course, Dowal explains.

“When you do a training course you set an objective, you put little tests in towards the end of the training to see if they have an understanding of what you have set out to achieve,” he said.

“I don’t think that exist for projects similar to ours, this is where they fall over.”

Image: Luke Maddison of Canon Australia.