Feature: A design-led approach
2009 Telstra Business Awards winner Kimberley Kampers
Local RV entrepreneur Bruce Loxton rejects the notion that Australia "would not survive in manufacturing". The auto engineer, who once ran a manufacturing division in a multi-billion-dollar automation technology company, has seen others in "high labour cost countries" succeed. He purchased Kimberley Kampers in 2003, where he introduced customer-driven quoting and rolled out Solid Works (an automotive design software) as part of a manufacturing strategy focused on design.
Research and development penetrates the business, from the factory floor, to sales, purchasing and product design.
MAKING OF A VAN
According to Bruce, it took nine months to produce the digital design for the Kimberley Karavan and five weeks to make the parts for the prototype. This "design-led" approach, says Bruce, is popular in Europe, involves "more research and development", frequent updates and "less complex parts".
The strategy seems to have paid off: the Karavan is popular, with Kimberley Kampers receiving 70 orders within the first 60 days of its release.
"One thing we do is patent things in Class 12," says Bruce. "You put in the genuine research and design and put the patents in place."
Although Kimberley Kampers often redevelops its products at pre-determined stages, it doesn’t custom-build. In fact, beyond what’s required for a standard unit, nothing’s cut. The company calls on over 400 components to tailor the camper or caravan to a buyer’s needs.
"Some of those components are in every unit, others you may only call upon occasionally. You select the components to create the unique design." This process is called pull manufacturing, and the gains fund design.
MATERIALS THAT MAKE THE GRADE
The company constantly assesses the components and materials it uses to achieve improvements in the final product. Each type of material has a "master matrix": a set of criteria that prospective products are assessed against. This takes Bruce all over the world.
The honeycomb-style metal sheeting, which is being used more frequently in the Kimberley range is one example. "We were using materials (of an equivalent strength) that were twice as heavy before we found it." Kimberley Kampers
is now using ceramic cooktops from Europe. "We put in a lot of research to get that to work in our hot climate," Bruce says.
Given the focus on lean manufacturing, it’s no surprise that ecologically sound initiatives abound in Kimberley Kampers’ designs. All RVs sold, for example, are LPG appliance-free, which also allows them to be sealed.
Bruce believes that design-led strategies work wherever design is appreciated. "We are competing with the Chinese new roof-top tents," says Bruce. "With our MyCube product, most competitors in the market manufactures overseas. We have invested in and released an Australian-made product using brand-new materials. It’s been very well received."
"You don’t have to be fearful of Asian imports," Bruce says.
IMAGES - Bruce in front of the award winning Kimberley Karavan; Bruce with his wife Isabel.