09 Apr 2020
In this time of crisis, innovation, flexibility and the confidence to take your business on a new path to survive has never been more important.
Kevin Cullen remembers the 1970s when Australian manufacturing was in upheaval because of tariff reductions, a rising currency and emerging international competition.
" “Early on I had to convince people - my partner, my staff and my accountant – to get on board and understand that change is not a bad thing” - Cullen
Cullen is managing director of the Breseight Group, established in 1983 by the family’s previous generation and based in South-West Sydney. Breseight is a family-owned precision engineering and manufacturing company.
Under their BresMedical business, they manufacture a range of medical devices including orthopaedic surgical guides, generic and customised implants, oral dental implantology surgical guides and, more recently, personal protective equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The business’s origins in precision toolmaking are still evident today - the factory floor is littered with 40-year-old machinery used in the production of the tools for the original business. Cullen’s father once told him “if you are a toolmaker you will have a job for life – manufacturing is at the heart of everything around us”.
At the heart of everything around us, certainly, but radically different as an industry today compared with when that advice was given. Yet Breseight has, through the change, been able to successfully pivot to different types of manufacturing to stay relevant and viable.
That’s evident when comparing the traditional factory floor down one end to the pristine offices now occupying the other end of the premises where the precision engineering capabilities of Breseight are located.
Breseight today can produce custom-fit artificial joints using a 3D printer and a person’s ultrasound for knee replacement surgery.
Though drastically different, both the 70s and COVID-19 have demanded the same radical rethinking by Breseight.
“There was a lot of fallout with a lot of toolmaking and manufacturing operations closing due to tariffs dropping,” Cullen says.
“It was a difficult time – initially we were getting work but as time went on, it became harder and harder due to increased competition in a declining manufacturing market.”
Those financial challenges prompted him to look at other technologies and develop alternative revenue streams.
Evolution, with challenges
In 2014, Cullen and his partner Tracy Rix brought a research department in-house. Although a big risk, this move allowed Breseight to stay true to their core business of manufacturing while evolving their operations in a way that was relevant and kept the business moving forward.
With the research department in place, the company teamed up with surgeons in Europe to develop in-house, home-grown dental implantology and image-guided surgery equipment, now being exported to Europe, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
To an outsider, the move from tool making to 3D printing may seem significant but for Cullen the transition was straightforward. All that was required was adapting processes and systems to innovate new equipment and technologies.
However, Breseight’s evolution was not without its challenges.
“We needed to have everyone believe the journey we were on wasn’t just make believe. Early on I had to convince people - my partner, my staff and my accountant – to get on board and understand that change is not a bad thing,” says Cullen.
“The research department gave employees a vision of a pathway moving into the future. We had to adopt an agile business model, improve our ability to win and retain business contracts, invest in advanced machine technology and accumulate knowledge and Intellectual property.”
Another big change involved educating and upskilling employees who were accustomed to working in hundredths of a millimeter and would now have to work in thousandths of a millimeter.
“It was an eye-opener for employees to shift from toolmaking to precision engineering,” Cullen says. “Many needed to have their skills refreshed but it was also important for them to understand what was required to get to another level of precision in order to produce medical-grade implants.”
A critical aspect of Breseight’s successful evolution has been its ability to respond to challenges, rather than shy away from them, all while maintaining focus on their key strengths.
Cullen’s advice for business owners navigating the challenges of COVID-19 is to innovate and be open to introducing new ideas and technologies to their core business.
“No matter what path you take; you need to take the knowledge path to be guaranteed success and continuous improvement. Getting better than who you were – it’s a no brainer,” he says.
“Get to a place where innovation is possible and staff know they are making a difference. For us, a visual pathway helped people understand this journey and our in-house technology shows have demonstrated that our shared vision was realised.”
Jenefer Stewart is General Manager of Business Banking at ANZ
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.
09 Apr 2020
09 Jun 2020