Howard Wright Limited designs and manufactures specialised hospital beds and stretchers at its plant in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Production Manager Greg Jones recently spoke about the company and how equipment from TRUMPF helps it maintains an edge over its competitors.

AMT: How long has Howard Wright been in business?

Greg Jones: The company has been in business for almost 60 years, and we have just over 55 staff members. It’s a nice place to work in terms of a manufacturing facility. As we make hospital products, it has to be clean and it’s well heated so it’s comfortable to work in.

More recently we have increased production to meet the increased number of COVID-19 orders from the UK and Australia. Most of our market is export, so 50% Australia, 30% New Zealand, 10% the UK, with Japan and Belgium making up the balance. We continue to see our growth coming from overseas markets. When competing overseas, it’s highly competitive, with a lot of beds coming from Asia as well as Europe. We compete well as our products focus on end user needs, quality and service support.

AMT: What are the keys to your company’s success?

GJ: We manufacture a highly specialised product. We were one of the first to go completely electric, with a battery back-up. Many stretchers around the same time would have had some electric components, but not the entire unit. We have certainly led the industry in terms of innovative design and workplace health and safety, right from the start.

Our design philosophy is “Simple. Smart. Human”, so we are extremely customer-focused. For example, our stretchers can go really low to the ground, the existing designs are usually quite high and can cause problems. We help prevent a lot of falls around hospital beds through our design and R&D approach. We work closely with nurses and doctors to help design products that are intuitive to use, so they can focus on the patient.

AMT: Tell us about your role in the company.

GJ: I’m Production Manager now; however, prior to this role I was working on the R&D side for over seven years. I think it helps, my background in R&D within the manufacturing department as I understand both sides. Essentially, we are a customer of the R&D department. I work closely with them to ensure we have more common components and more common suppliers.

AMT: How you do remain ahead of the competition?

GJ: Our whole philosophy is working with all end users and ensuring that they are front of mind with all our design thinking. We also keep on top of new technology and how we can improve production.

AMT: What equipment do you currently have?

GJ: We have a TRUMPF TruLaser Tube 5000, which converts raw tube, with a bundle feeder to load the machine. We also have some Haas equipment, a gantry router, milling machines and some welding robots. All powder coating is done in-house.

For the manufacturing department, we work hard on a single piece flow, this enables us to be more agile. We have an assembly line with inline QA checks. This is followed by an independent QA check at the end of the process, before the product is dispatched. We operate with low levels of stock to ensure cashflow is optimal, and we also measure performance daily and quarterly.

AMT: What problem were you trying to solve when you purchased the TruLaser Tube 5000?

GJ: I started just after the purchase was complete. However, I was still privy to the decision-making and reasons why. While it’s been one of our biggest purchases, it’s been wonderful in terms of manufacturing components of 1-3mm thick. The reason we purchased the TRUMPF machine was that we were moving away from outsourcing this process; we also moved away from a lot of manual processes in-house.

Almost instantly we could see benefits from not paying the margin on production costs. We also benefited from the ability to carry less inventory; we could also change the design quickly. The laser completed up to four to five processes at once. We found that we could grow quickly, we could double the amount of beds, but not the amount of people in the department.

The R&D team can also have more flexibility in terms of their design. All and all this has kept us competitive. Without this machine we would need three or four times the staffing and floor space.

AMT: Why did you purchase this product over the competition?

GJ: We looked at a few competitors; we didn’t see a company like TRUMPF that could provide a complete solution, it just didn’t appear to be as seamless. TRUMPF do the whole shooting box and it works really well.

AMT: What are your thoughts on the support you receive in New Zealand for your TRUMPF machine?

GJ: We were with the previous distributor Aotea Machinery, which has now moved to Headland Machinery. It’s been quite seamless in terms of support as the same technicians have moved across and that knowledge has carried across with them – they know what they are doing and support us well. We also receive good support from TRUMPF Singapore if needed; it’s nice to know we can access support from Australia and Singapore (in more normal circumstances) if required.

We also enjoy being part of the TRUMPF network and meeting and networking with like-minded manufacturers.

AMT: How has New Zealand manufacturing fared through COVID-19?

GJ: During lockdown we were deemed as essential services; by remaining open we hope we have been able to support the frontline staff. I do know that many industries have not fared so well and hope that by moving to Level One (New Zealand moved to Covid-19 Alert Level 1 on 8 June), things will begin to improve for them.