ASCI members enjoy lessons in surviving and thriving in Australia’s manufacturing industry

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Site Visit Report by Geoff Palm
When Sten Campbell, Director, designtech, and his wife bought the business 25 years ago they had no idea about making furniture. Thanks to the help from a mentor and competitor in Sydney, they began the journey to where they are today; one of the leading manufacturers of MTS and MTO furniture manufacturers in Australia.
They have both local and national customers and compete effectively with imported products. One of designtec’s advantage is in quality, with a 10 year guarantee on all their products. They have not had a single claim against their product since this warranty was put in place. Another advantage is their speed to market; being able to deliver orders within 2 weeks. In fact, they recently helped out a Fitout company that was in trouble due to a delayed overseas shipment and late completion penalties approaching.
designtec has invested in state of the art German machinery, which is in part, one of the reasons they are so competitive. We watched one machine in action that cut, trimmed and edged a tabletop in minutes. This used to take 2 tradespeople up to 3 hours each to complete in the past. It was fascinating watching the journey of the product from raw material to finished product; created by a combination of people and machine. Staff skill levels range from tradespeople to semi-skilled; with a strong focus on cross-training. This ensures that most people in the business can operate a range of equipment; allowing for flexibility when demand dictates.
Safety is another important factor in designtec’s success; with no LTIs in the last 5 years.
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Most of there employees are now long term; with some coming up to 20 years. This was not the case during the mining boom when Western Australia struggled to find qualified people and it was the same with designtec; growing at 30% a year. That all changed in 2008 with the GFC and then the end of the mining boom, which saw demand for their product diminish rapidly. It is to the owners credit that not only did they survive, met the challenge they faced and have prospered since the downturn.
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The visit was hosted by Sten and Hannah Witherick, General Manager, on the afternoon of July 24, ASCI and associates learned the commercial, technical, industry and logistics issues around the designtec business.
ASCI WA thanks designtec, Sten Campbell, Hannah Witherick and other staff for hosting this visit and openly sharing their stories with our members. We must also not forget the office dog, who shared her love with all in a quiet and dignified manner. – end
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