Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director of Composites Australia Inc.
Entrepreneurialism is described as a mindset that embraces critical questioning, logic, innovation, service and continuous improvement. While Rob Kruber, CEO of Spa International describes himself as a sparkie turned businessman, the description of ‘entrepreneur’ could also be added to his CV.
Spa International is Australia’s largest spa and swim spa producer that markets throughout Australia under a suite of brands as well as exporting to Asia and Europe. The company produces up to eight spas per day as well as two swim/spas at its 4½ acres manufacturing site in Hallam, south-east of Melbourne.
Over the 26 years that Spa International has been making spas, the environment in which it does business has advanced considerably. The materials used have improved, consumer demand has changed, safety regulations are stricter, and technology has provided unimaginable auxiliaries. “The drive for efficiency is unrelenting. Logic, consistency and continuous improvement across all areas is fundamental to everything we do.” says Rob.
While it is counter intuitive for firms to reduce their product range, creating efficiencies within the manufacturing process required a critical analysis of the company’s offering. Rob says, “Previously 90% of sales came from 20% of product. We halved the range while making sure the spas on offer were stepped according to the right price, size and add-ons, all the while looking at production flow. For example, when we introduced the eight metre pool, we reorganised the floor so that the lifting jigs, track and trolleys could handle them and deal with their size.”
According to Rob, continuous improvement and reducing waste go hand-in-hand. His ultimate goal is to identify and eliminate waste in productive equipment and labour-hours. “Plant and machinery are liabilities when not run to their potential productivity. For example, we changed the chopper gun feeder lines to do both the 1st and 2nd coats. The process runs faster and we were able to reduce our spray booths from four booths to one booth. In turn this reduced our equipment liabilities, freed up space and gave us greater manoeuvrability which allowed more efficient production flow and for new products to move through the factory,” said Rob.
With landfill levies having increased 10 fold, reducing the company’s waste bill was a prime target. As Rob lamented, “It is crazy to buy something only to send it to landfill. We were cutting our cladding to a range of lengths on-site. We redesigned our product to reduce the choices and now we buy pre-cut cladding in three set lengths. Our trips to landfill are down from twice per week to once a fortnight. While shrinking our landfill costs, we’ve also improved consistency and reduced errors.”
In another strategy to remove the potential for imprecision and confusion, the factory is now a tape measure free zone with the introduction of standardised visual location identifiers. The vacuum forming moulds now have index markers which are subsequently cast into the heated acrylic. Mounting points are also confirmed by laser markers with only one measurement.
Manufacturing a spa or swim spa requires considerable precision to eliminate the possibility of equipment failure in the products they sell to the public. Equipment failure says Rob, is a liability that costs both money and reputation. “For example a jet can have five possible leak points. There can be up to 90 jets in a spa which accounts for 450 potential leak points. Our equipment failure rate is currently running at .001% leaks per waterjet – a result of designing-out product malfunction by designing-in consistency in the manufacturing process.” At water testing stage, all spas undergo a complete FAST (Final Acceptance Spa Test) 100 point computer analysis of all the working components of the spa. This 100 point check verifies that the spa pool has passed all checkpoints and that all electrical components are working in the correct amperage parameters.
We expect ourselves, our staff and our products to consistently perform at a high level. We’ve had to work through all production points with our employees and their work cells to encourage the most efficient practices possible in order to level out production and provide a consistent workflow where no one is rushed or poorly informed. Everyone has been and will continue to be involved with the process of improvement – everyone is engaged.