Keeping it real: Empower and lean manufacturing drive engineering business

Allan Shaw, owner of Makaira Boats is creating an aluminium boats building business based in Kerikeri. Currently employing 10 workshop staff, the young business owner leads a team that is dedicated to making offshore sport fishing boats, between 7.5 to 12 metres in length and constructed of heavy-plate aluminium.

The 33-year-old is reflective of a short but busy business career that already includes many manufacturing milestones and key decisions in direction.

“In 2019, we invested in computers on the workshop floor and using the Empower Workshop Productivity and Scheduling Software app. We have 55-inch TVs on office walls and workshop walls continuously presenting screens of real time production information on jobs, tasks, individual staff, budgeted and actual times,” says Shaw.

He says that the office joke is “our old manual time sheets, known in the engineering industry as ‘cheat sheets’ that our workshop staff filled in at day end were costing us $70 per workshop staff member per week in lost production time for six staff. That’s a total cost of $420 per week, which produced information which was too little, too late, too inaccurate, and where workshop staff were not time focussed on their tasks”.

Shaw says by simply moving to the productivity software app, on subscription cost $76 per week which meant a saving $340 per week or $17,000 a year.

“My advice to all engineers is firstly stop using manual time sheets they are utter nonsense and secondly if you are not at all tracking your labour time and labour cost on tasks and jobs at all, this is a major short fall in your business, as it was in my business previously. In the first nine months of using Empower we reduced our labour time on boats by 30% therefore we reduced our labour cost on boats by 30%, which is massive.”

In late 2019, Shaw listened to a “very compelling series” of podcasts by progressive lean manufacturing business owners and how they went about totally transforming the workshop floor productivity and therefore substantially increasing the profitability of businesses.

“I was totally convinced I needed Makaira Boats workshop to be lean in every way possible – so we commenced three main lean manufacturing initiatives.”

Firstly, Shaw evaluated the boats being manufactured and what processes added value to the customers and what did not, then “set about killing all the non-value adding waste”.

“Secondly, we totally redesigned our boat range to provide more functionality for our clients yet at the same time achieving waste reduction in every possible area of fabrication and fit out. We are building a new 2,350 square metre factory that is designed to eliminate any waste in our production. This is exactly the production line way Toyota manufacture their cars and precisely the way Boeing manufacture their planes.”

Makaira Boats has just signed a distribution agreement and supply contract with a “large, reputable” boat distributor in the US who is committing to buying one boat per month.

“Being increasingly lean in our workshop floor operations will ensure we are highly labour cost competitive and that we retain planned profit in each and all boat builds.”