A materials assessment has reaped huge benefits for plaster-board supplier Plaster Profiles with significantly reduced waste generation, driven by an unanticipated internal culture shift.
Growing from a single plasterboard outlet, Bayswater-based Plaster Profiles is one of Melbourne's largest decorative plaster and architectural mouldings manufacturers. It is an integral part of the Plaster Products Group, which supplies plasterboard, accessories and tools via four outlets and an online retail site to plasterers, builders and DIY customers throughout the Melbourne Metro area.
'We engaged a consultant to carry out a materials assessment and it was a real eye opener,' says Plaster Profiles owner and director, Phillip Rafferty. 'Not only in terms of how we had been functioning for many years in relation to waste generation, but also in the way in which we managed plaster by-product.'
Noticing a high flow of materials across the business the senior executive team's priority was to find opportunities to reduce the waste generated within the manufacturing process and reprocess that waste for reuse. The materials assessment was instigated with the overall objective of improving materials efficiency across the business. The overall assessment approach was adapted from the 'six sigma' project method, with an initial brainstorming session identifying several key factors that were driving the over-use of materials.
- plant operators needed further training with focus on careful measuring of plaster for the batch
- fibreglass was being overused due to poor operator skills on the chopper guns used to automatically chop and deposit fibreglass strands into a mould
- contamination of plaster waste rendered it unusable
- waste was not a key focus for management
- moulds were in poor condition
- there was no appreciation of waste handling and disposing costs.
A workplace inspection revealed that staff skill and experience in measuring materials, waste contamination and the poor quality of processing equipment were key areas for improvement.
Findings from performance data collected over three days included significant differences in yield between operators and moulds with the range of yields across moulds going from 88 to 53%. The greatest source of waste took place at the moulding stage. Further data analysis showed that major savings could be had from reducing the amount of waste generated and reprocessing that waste for reuse.
'Through the materials assessment it quickly became apparent we were not operating as efficiently as we thought,' says Rafferty. 'Evidence collected showed that by reducing our waste and working smarter, not only could we save money, we could recycle a renewable resource that, until now, was dumped in land fill.'
In fact Sustainability Victoria programs and research have shown that businesses who put in place improvements following a materials assessment can expect payback within one and a half years.
Once data analysis was complete, Plaster Profiles was presented with a summary of the findings and an initial series of trialled recommendations for improvement.
Key recommendations from the materials assessment included:
- training staff in standardised approaches – improving their skills and understanding of processes
- improving measurement across all procedures
- replacing damaged moulds and other key equipment and machinery
- immediately separating clean from dirty waste.
The next steps involved trialling some of the recommendations and reporting back to the senior executive team with a view to implementing several innovations immediately. These included separating waste into clean and dirty (contaminated with fibreglass) bins, and sourcing and trialling new equipment.
Each operator also undertook a number of production runs using a good quality mould to identify if the waste reduction target could be achieved or if any further staff training or other steps were required.
Through the materials assessment we gained an understanding of the intricacies of our processes and it quickly became apparent we were not operating as efficiently as we thought. Evidence collected showed that by reducing our waste and working smarter, not only could we save money, we could recycle a renewable resource that, until now, was dumped in land fill.
Phillip Rafferty – Director
'We had anticipated waste would be reduced by approximately 40%, and we could re-use some of the residual plaster surplus. It was also anticipated that there would be benefits to the company culture and business profitability through managers leading the way to a high efficiency process,' says Rafferty.
'What we didn't anticipate was the interest the assessment and recommendations would create in the staff, their "buy-in" to the related projects and their subsequent valuable suggestions to help improve our efficiencies.
'The assessment brought about a culture shift. Training staff to focus on reducing waste at the same time as producing quality product has been a real change for management and staff that has seen us all working more efficiently as a cohesive unit.
'Engaging management consultants, JW Group, to undertake a materials assessment was tremendously valuable as it kick-started important operational changes that have helped drive a workplace culture of environmental awareness. While we still have a way to go, we are on the right path to achieve our goal of 100% plaster waste reduction.'
As part of a waste reduction project new moulds and other key production equipment and machinery were purchased. Plaster Profiles aims to continue data analysis to ensure the business stay continues to improve and control its materials efficiency. New staff will now undergo structured training, while current staff will be offered on-going training.