Local manufacturing benefits everyone – the makers, their customers and even the planet. UCI Manufacturing is part of a new crop of Australian design brands that firmly believe in and use local manufacturing.
Foreign manufacturing of Australian furniture and interior goods has witnessed a rapid surge in popularity in recent decades. But how does working in factories overseas really affect local design businesses? The vast geographic distance between a designer and their products could potentially create a design and quality disconnect. Plus, there’s the issue of miscommunication that could hinder the outcome of a product or design.
This is where local manufacturing can fill the gaps and prove so valuable. And it’s not just that; the process is also sustainable – environmentally, socially and financially.
From a social sustainability perspective, making locally can create room for quality education and also open opportunities for businesses to deepen their social ties in cities and towns nationally as well as around the globe. Economically, companies can thrive in sustainable profits in a free market. Even cutting down on energy and shipping costs makes smart economic sense.
UCI Manufacturing is a certified Australian-made company, recognised for its unstinting support to produce quality commercial workplace design within Australian shores.
Located in Adelaide, its main workstation manufacturing facility sprawls over a whopping 10,000-square metres and incorporates a warehouse, machine shop, assembly and a state-of-the-art powder coating plant. Utilising the latest in design technologies, the brand provides solutions during every stage of the design lifecycle, from conception, execution to product delivery.
Speaking of the advantages of local production, Timothy Dyer, Managing Director, UCI Manufacturing, says, “The direct benefit of manufacturing locally is that there is more room for customisation combined with shorter lead times. This means workstation ranges can be designed to be highly configurable, of any size, powder coating or colour. Moreover, unlike most imported products, the concept of minimum quantity is practically non-existent.” This philosophy also informs the brand’s current business model.
UCI invests consistently in new technology, using the latest equipment in robot welding and sheet metal fabrication to help streamline design timelines for delivering new products to the market.
The brand’s conscious effort to stay true to its roots is reflected in the choice of componentry too. “We are a true manufacturer, not an importer of components,” says Dyer.
Elaborating on the manufacturing process, he adds, “Manufacturing starts with locally-sourced raw materials such as aluminium from Capral and Bluescope Aluminium; sheet and tube steel from BlueScope & Orrcon Steel. We then add value by machining, punching and welding using high precision CNC and robot equipment. The finishing touch is the in-house powder coating using Dulux, or Interpon sourced powder (both Australian manufacturers of powder), and in-house upholstery in customer-specified fabrics, generally from Australian mills.”
By bringing the focus to local production the brand has also been successful in achieving sustainable manufacturing. For instance, thanks to UCI’s reliance on locally-sourced raw materials, the overall impact on the environment is also considerably lower. All the products are free of volatile organic compounds, easy to disassemble and also make for easy recycling. Hazardous materials have been replaced with more sustainable alternatives. UCI also uses alternative packaging methods and recyclable packaging materials help minimise landfill post delivery and installation.
Speaking about the environmentally-conscious operation, Dyer says, “Our manufacturing facility has a business management system that is ISO accredited for quality and environment. Three years ago, we added a 30-kilowatt solar system, which we recently increased to a 120-kilowatt system. During our summer months, the system provides over 50 per cent of our site’s energy requirements.”
UCI Manufacturing’s powder coat line focuses on minimising environmental impact too. By working with environmental consultants, the brand has been able to achieve almost 80 per cent savings in water usage and 40 per cent less energy consumption. What’s more, chemical concentration levels have been brought down by 90 per cent in the online pre-treatment process.
So, what makes the manufacturing powerhouse tick? Dyer is quick to attribute the brand’s success to his entire team. “Our biggest value is our team. Without them, we wouldn’t exist. The in-house design team is a force to reckon with. Even the production and sales teams are known to come up with valuable design inputs. Overall, the average length of service for the UCI Manufacturing team is greater than ten years.”
Naturally, the process is not without its challenges. For instance, when the global financial crisis hit Australia in 2008, locally manufactured products were unable to compete with imports. Unfazed, UCI Manufacturing continued investing in new equipment and processes to help bolster the brand’s efficiency and boost reliability.
The brand is today a significant player in this industry shift towards keeping furniture manufacturing within Australia. UCI’s commitment to making locally is admirable, but it’s also not without reason. By producing on Australian shores, there is an opportunity to stay closer to the product and maintain its overall quality. And while it’s a clear win for the business, the win for the economy is even greater.