Client – Smooth Air

Smooth-Air Products provides new and innovative products that are designed to optimise indoor air quality and lower energy consumption. These products are helping to improve comfort levels and create healthier internal spaces by introducing fresh filtered air into the environment. The organisation’s ultimate holding company is Elta Group, the international leaders in fans, air movement, filtration, and distribution; through an association with Fantech NZ and Australia.

Operating since the early 90’s, Smooth-Air has fabrication and distribution locations in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. The workshop in Christchurch is by far the largest of the facilities, and this is where the initial Lean improvements were focussed.

The Christchurch workshop had grown organically but had not systematically reviewed processes, layout, and material flows, nor had it seen significant investment in equipment or systems. A new General Manager started with a determination to improve performance for the business, for the clients and for the team, by focussing on the improvement of practices and processes.

Challenge – A Lean Transformation

Smooth-Air Products’ Christchurch workshop was supplying into a growing market and was not satisfied with its own delivery performance. A sister organisation in Melbourne had introduced Lean practices with beneficial outcomes, resulting in the Christchurch location investigating a Lean programme.

Productivity People (PPL) were engaged to support a Lean transformation, to improve:

  • Market delivery performance and quality,
  • Internal efficiencies,
  • Profitability, and
  • Staff engagement.

A Lean Programme would address these issues in a sustainable way and with favourable outcomes for all stakeholders of the organisation.

The Approach – The Productivity Programme

PPL started the Productivity Programme at Smooth-Air with a business practice maturity assessment using the Productivity People ‘Productivity Wheel’, the outcomes of which drive the development of a 90-day implementation plan. At the same time, a business-wide ‘Introduction to Lean’ session using the highly rated Airplane game, motivates and educates the team to “be ready for the change”.

Even though this is a standard way to commence a Callaghan Lean Coaching programme, the Wheel Assessment results in a unique and customised approach for each client.

A Focus on Best Practice

At Smooth-Air Products, the initial focus was on three practices, that were selected to provide visibility, direction, and stability for the operational workshop processes:

  • Daily Management Systems (DMS), designing a two-tiered system with shopfloor meetings and DMS boards for the team leaders to conduct ‘toolbox meetings on steroids’ with their teams, and all team leaders in a cross-functional workshop-wide meeting with the workshop manager;
  • 5S (Workplace Organisation) and layout/process material flow activities;
  • A focus on the training and capability development using the Teamwork-Training how-to guide.

The team had access to the Productivity People ‘Productivity Knowledge Portal’ for self-paced learning, and this was complemented by visits and calls from the Productivity People team.

The Results – Improved Outcomes for Customers, Staff, and Shareholders

  • The introduction of the two-tiered Daily Management Systems brought visibility and focus for the mid-level managers and team leaders. The outcome was that priority jobs or jobs at risk of missing the delivery date were routinely monitored and discussed. As a team, the mid-tier leaders reprioritised resources such as labour, materials, and plant to ensure that delivery performance improved.
  • 5S and layout improvements, utilising Spaghetti Diagrams (see side-bar), reduced transportation and motion waste by first eliminating obvious inefficiencies, and later refining flows for each product. Together with the capability improvement focus, the new layout, and improved production flows have reduced fabrication times.
  • The process maps generated dozens of improvement opportunities that were actioned by the team, resulting in improvements in the end-to-end process, cross-functional hand-over, and ultimately in improved business performance.

What was telling was that the improved overall delivery performance from the Christchurch workshop became visible in the market. Clients took note. This allowed the sales team to win a big order that would otherwise not have been awarded to Smooth-Air.

While the team recognises that there is still plenty of improvement work to be done, the initial phase of the Lean Programme has resulted in a better business for the customer, staff, and shareholders of Smooth-Air. The next phase is to embed the Lean practices and work towards building a Lean culture.

schematic drawing of house with Smooth air product
Smooth Air logo
a floor plan with hand-drawn movement lines

The process flow Spaghetti Diagram:

The team achieved an improved layout, and material and people flow by creating spaghetti diagrams for each product.

Immediate opportunities became visible, and improvements were made, including the relocation of equipment and material racks, and improved access to tools and consumables.

An ongoing improvement action list is discussed weekly by the key stakeholders to ensure improvements are actioned and locked in.

Spaghetti diagrams are now used to confirm improvements and further refine layout and flows.

Callaghan Innovation log

The Lean programme at Smooth-Air was supported by Callaghan Innovation / Te Pokapū Auaha, through the Lean Coaching grant.