When Caterpillar decided to reduce its operations in North-West Tasmania, a huge amount of work was dedicated to transitioning and retraining employees, skilling up the supply chain businesses so they could compete internationally, and providing confidence to the people of the North-West that new opportunities would come their way.

One such opportunity became apparent as Productivity Improvers, a Lean consultancy and training businesses, were coming to terms with the loss of the Simulated Work Environment (SWE), a unique training facility that was owned and housed at Caterpillar’s facilities. The SWE had traditionally been used by Caterpillar to teach the Lean manufacturing principals that underpinned its productivity across the world.

Productivity Improvers had only recently developed a three-day, nationally accredited training course in Competitive Systems and Practices (Lean) that utilised the SWE. The course had seen attracted demand from industry, and delivered amazing results.

“We had to find a practical way to keep the SWE here in the North-West,” says Productivity Improvers Director Clynton Jaffray. “The potential for it to positively contribute to improving the culture and productivity of business in our State was obvious.”

One of the biggest advocates for the SWE was Lee Whiteley, Executive General Manager at the local manufacturing giants Elphinstone Pty Ltd. He approached Jeremy Rockliff MP, the Deputy Premier and State Minister for Education and Training, as well as the Department of State Growth, the Elphinstone Group and industry leaders to explore how the asset could be retained and housed. These stakeholders could see that retaining the SWE would clearly be of benefit to all types of industries across Tasmania, and indeed – given that it is only one of three such facilities in the Southern Hemisphere – across the Country.

An agreement was reached for Elphinstone to purchase the SWE from Caterpillar, for the State Government to allow the relocation of the 500 square metres of equipment to a vacant government building, and for Productivity Improvers to manage and deliver the training.

While the relocation of the facility was a massive undertaking, it was completed without incident and on-time by a dedicated team from Elphinstone, Productivity Improvers and the staff from the newly established Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council’s Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in Burnie. The centre was officially opened by Rockliff on 3 March last year, in a ceremony also attended by Kelly Elphinstone, Managing Director of Elphinstone.

Local newspaper, The Advocate, quoted Ms Elphinstone as saying: “To have this in Burnie is a testament to what’s actually going on here. This is a hands-on, interactive way of learning Lean principals, and how to improve not just manufacturing, but your everyday life. The things you learn in this SWE facility you can apply to just about anything.”

The well proven training tool actively demonstrates the benefits of Lean methodologies such as: Put Safety First, Chase Waste, Make Value Flow, Drive Standard Work, Go See Act, Stop To Fix and Make It Visual. While based on Lean Management Principles, it is not necessary to have completed any prior training in Lean to benefit from the full range of learning outcomes generated by the SWE.

Internationally renowned Lean expert and author Paul Akers was also at the opening and was impressed by the partnerships that came together to keep such an amazing training facility in a regional area of Australia’s island State.
“Nothing happens without courage,” said Akers. “Unless you have the courage to try something new, nothing is ever going to change”.

Akers challenged Tasmania’s industry leaders to have the courage to take Lean to a level that would make Tasmania, not only the most productive state in Australia, but in the world.
“Why not?” he asked.

Productivity Improvers manages and runs the operation of the SWE, which requires 17 students and five facilitators to operate, and is keen to see more industry and Government departments using it to assist their staff to ‘See Waste’. Since the opening, almost 400 participants from Tasmanian and mainland businesses including Hydro Tasmania, local government, Elphinstone Group businesses, and the Hobart-based Nekon Group’s food speciality companies have used this training facility.

A key to Productivity Improvers’ success to date is the partnerships that they can broker due to their connections with industry, community groups, learning institutions and now their own registered training organisation People Improvers. The facilitators who operate the SWE with the students are themselves Lean fanatics who come from a range of businesses across the North-West Coast area. Their employers demonstrate a commitment to the training by allowing them to work at the facility in turn.

What does success look like for Productivity Improvers, the SWE and its partners?

“Our goal for 2018 is to have a class of 17 students from across the Country, and from every sector, going through the SWE each week,” says Director Michael Bonney. “It’s going to be a big ask of the team leaders and administrators but increasing the volume of people exposed to Lean principals in this fabulous facility is the only way to achieve the productivity that is needed to be globally competitive.

“It has taken courage from everyone involved to get to this point and it’s going to take more to push on when the going gets tough. But we are pretty good at that in Tassie.”