A switchboard manufacturing company that has doubled its size since establishing in WA attributes its success in the booming state to strengths such as outstanding Australian technology produced locally.
Progress Switchboards’ WA branch – which opened its doors in January 2020 – produces Vector technology by lean modular manufacturing techniques delivering top safety, operational and compliance standards built in.
Proprietor Austin Fagan says his company saw a gap in the market for its winning formula when it opened its WA operation in the thriving industrial area of Bibra Lake near Cockburn in Perth, building on the outstanding reputation of its existing business in Launceston Tasmania.
“We knew local manufacturing was the way to go for quality, delivery, and service, particularly when combined with the best-of-type Vector™ modular technology we selected for license production with lean manufacturing technology. That is a core of our business and delivers consistently excellent product with compliance and quality built in,” said Fagan.
The Vector modular switchboard system has been independently verified for top performance and safety, including short circuit withstand (up to 100kA), arc fault containment to AS/NZS3439.1:2002 Annex ZD, and temperature rise in accordance with AS/NZS3439.1:2002 and AS/NZS61439:2016.
“The Vector Group continually develops, refines, tests, and verifies the Vector switchboard system, which we are building in the most cost-efficient, safest and most sustainable way, so we can deliver proven product to the customer’s site as quickly as possible,” says Austin Fagan, noting that the quality, on-time performance has attracted big State and national customers,
These range from Mining road and rail defence and include sectors of the Western Australian economy, including health, commercial, retail, plus food and beverage and agricultural operations requiring advanced low-voltage switchboard design to meet their process, power distribution and building infrastructure needs.
Expanding into the competitive, fast-moving WA market
The business expansion to Perth from Launceston – where the company maintains its northern Tasmanian leadership – began with Progress Switchboards developing an engineering and business model that was capable of leading the market anywhere, says Austin Fagan, who has three decades of industry experience, from practical trades knowledge through to leadership of successful enterprises now employing more than 45 people.
“The model is particularly suited to the highly competitive and fast moving WA market, which is increasingly insistent on top quality, reliability, and standards compliance. Progress’ model for Australian markets was from the outset Australian-made. Quite apart from overcoming the maintenance and supply bottlenecks exacerbated by Covid, which arrived later, this focus on achieving about 95 per cent local content enables our company to control quality and costs throughout the planning, production, and delivery cycles,” said Fagan.
Key developments and focuses when moving to this vibrant market included:
- Essential to Progress Switchboards’ cost-competitive quality formula is the lean manufacturing process it applies to Vector modular switchboard assemblies, which not only cuts out waste and cost, but which also allowed dollars to be invested in the areas where they were essential. These include built-in quality, adaptability to widely varied local conditions, and attainment from the outset of production of important Statutory standards, such as AS/NZ 61439 and ISO 9001. Progress Switchboards introduced standards-compliant lean manufacturing techniques to its established Launceston operations six years ago, transferring the already-successful model to WA when setting up there with the most modern and efficient plant.
- The company also brought to Perth its proven and refined Vector modular system, which was inherently efficient and sustainable because it removed the waste of costs such as time, steel, and copper associated with manufacturing expensively different designs each time. Modularity also enables Progress Switchboards to respond quickly and cost-efficiently to the varied needs of many industries, using the same proven quality and performance components in different formats to exactly fit the needs of different applications. The system is intensively quality compliant from the outset, because the locally made modular components of the process are manufactured here under our direct supervision, without long supply chains, and those imported components we do use – such as those Schneider, ABB, and NHP – are also world class for the tasks which they are selected, says Austin Fagan.
- Sustainability is also a prime requirement in Progress Switchboard’s whole-of-process operations. “While modularity provides built-in efficiency of material use and sustainability, we also employ the most modern production technologies to ensure accuracy, safety, and best use of materials. For example, we use the latest fibre laser machines to cut materials from 3D drawings fed directly to them. This means components are so accurate they can fit precisely without welding in many cases, rather than cutting and grinding and burning to get it right. Sustainability is becoming a big thing in educated markets – clients who build and produce to world standards have sustainability front and centre in their briefs to suppliers. We appreciate the role of the National Electrical Switchboard Manufacturers Association (NESMA) in supporting the drive to sustainability and educating both switchboard manufacturers and our markets.
- Ongoing education of all staff is also a key to sustained performance. Both the WA and Launceston staff are required to commit to ongoing lean manufacturing education in which we invest, including the MCA41108 Certificate Four in Competitive Manufacturing. This is a State and Territory government initiative, which accords strongly with our priority on achieving the same advanced standards of efficiency, quality, safety, and compliance across all jobs, regardless of where they are produced and where they are applied.
Education, training, and safety Standards
Fagan says shortages of skilled labour can be a substantial issue in WA particularly, “So we invest in the best training we can, when recruiting and retaining staff. If we need to move staff resources between our operations in the two States, we ensure there is no disconnect – all staff are trained and totally up to date at the same level.”
“We also appreciate the efforts of NESMA in promoting such education, and in giving both manufacturers and the market accurate information on the need for Statutory compliance – particularly now that the phase-in for the AS/NZ 61349 series of Standards is completed. This particularly important set of Standards is now compulsory for low voltage switchgear and control gear assemblies, replacing the AS/NZS 3439 series.”
“The market needs and deserves to know that this Standard AS/NZ 61439 is now compulsory – there is no room for corner-cutting by manufacturing to old Standards and potentially leaving customers exposed to unwanted surprises if their equipment is inspected for maintenance or safety and is found to be non-compliant.”
“Second-best is nowhere in WA – the scale and importance of the growing enterprises in this booming State means that quality, compliance, and safety are right at the top of the “must-have” list. That’s what we did when a number of years ago we sat down to consider all the things we know about building custom-built sheet metal switchboards and translated it into the excellent design of our Vector Shift modular switchboard.”
“There are some huge public and private enterprises here in WA, for all of which quality, standards and traceability are absolutely fundamental. And this leadership focus quickly spread across the board to all quality producers, of whatever size, because is no good producing a cheaper product just because it is cheaper – but which might have important elements lacking down the line. What you have to aim for is quality cost-efficient and compliant inputs that start at the beginning of the engineering process and follow it the whole way through, to a safe and reliable installation.”