Wrapping up 2022 with 13 site visits completed, it’s about time to compare and contrast.
First off, lets look at some of the demographics. Most of the visits were to manufacturers of machinery and equipment, then food manufacturers, and chemical manufacturers. Two would be considered multinationals, with the rest being either fully or mostly based in Christchurch, with a few additional factories internationally. The majority engage in exporting their products, and those that don’t manufacture for companies who then do export their goods.
I could drill down into further specifics that show the differences between each manufacturer, but I’d rather focus on the similarities when looking from a macro point of view. Each manufacturer that I’ve visited has been, and continues to, suffer to varying degrees with the same issues – people and supply chain. When it comes to the people issue, I’ve heard the same thing repeatedly; it’s hard to get reliable people who are happy to come in on time, get the job done, and go home. A lack in skilled workers has definitely been an issue, but now there’s also a lack of semiskilled – workers, and that’s been hitting hard. There are several ways to try and deal with this issue, and the manufacturers I’ve seen have been trying different tactics. Some have moved to robotics and new machinery, though that’s often been a solution to low staff levels and the desire to automate coinciding. Some have offered higher pay or incentives but have found that that can only go so far before you’re either unintentionally poaching others’ staff or you hit your budget ceiling. Others have changed their whole production plans, reducing product lines to focus resources on the products that are most profitable, or of most strategic value for keeping key customer relationships. There’s also a number of manufacturers that will be holding out hope for the school holidays, hopefully getting some university and high school students in for the summer. Of course, no ones found a clear-cut solution to this problem, but these strategies seem to be working to varying degrees. Supply chain issues are a tough one. When you’re a small player there’s really only so much power that you have when it comes to shipping companies or large raw material suppliers. With COVID, inflation, and any other number of international issues, suppliers have massively increased their costs or are just no longer supplying out of their country. Several different manufacturers have had to very quickly look to alternative suppliers, and this has affected a whole range of products – from potato flakes to chemicals to steel. Some have been able to find new suppliers, often at a cost, and some have had to find entirely alternative products to fill the space. Some say shipping issues are diminishing, that everything is more consistent and settled, while others still find lead times continuing to be ridiculous and the freight companies are charging an arm and a leg. It would appear that there is roughly a balance between those with more positive experience, and those still suffering, but at a higher level of pain. Lead times are ridiculous, in some cases tripling what they used to be, and costs are through the roof – however, in some spaces they’ve settled into fluctuating less. Prices are high and lead times are long, but almost consistently so.
Of course, with the bad we’re lucky that there’s usually some good. All of these international crises weigh heavily on all sectors, but one benefit that manufacturing has had is that it’s been encouraged to focus back on local resourcing. The population had a great deal of encouragement to buy local, campaigns being everywhere you looked throughout lockdowns. Being cut off from the world and having to become more inwardly focused has meant that New Zealand manufacturers have looked to each other for partnerships and business to business functions.
It’s easy to see just how interwoven manufacturing is in Christchurch the second you start looking for it. On a site visit to Tumblar products I could spot in their warehouse products made by EPL and Argus Group immediately. At Custompak I saw packaging that would go to Original Foods, and Metalcraft Engineering use extrusions from EPL in a large amount of their products. If someone was given the time and the information, they could likely create an extremely interwoven spiderweb across Canterbury manufacturers showing all the different interlinking points.
The original starting goal of these site visits was to try and get some feelers for what manufacturers in Canterbury have been up to, how they’re feeling, and what’s been going well or poorly. It’s also been an opportunity for myself to become more familiar with manufacturing, and the extreme variety of production happening in the region. My personal main take away has been that the variety of manufacturing, and the scale of production here, is massive. The number of products made, ranging from extremely niche components being contract manufactured to large scale branded goods is something that the average person wouldn’t expect without seeing it for themselves. The community is very tightly woven, which may be partially due to the New Zealand two degrees of separation as opposed to the typical six, or it may just be the almost casual familiarity that comes from those in a similar field. Regardless of the reason, visiting different manufacturers has meant seeing people passionate about what they do and about what others do.
If you want to read more about each site visit have a look on our Show and Tell forum.