Articles by: LEADWEST LTD

Posted on: 13 Apr, 2016

Downer’s operations in Melbourne's west are set to increase


A global company with sites in Newport and South Dynan, Downer promotes innovation to ensure continuous improvement and business success. Recently it has improved process technology, introduced a comprehensive production system across the organisation and is offering a point of difference to suppliers who may otherwise deal with competitors overseas.

Downer is a leading provider of services to customers in markets including transport, technology and communications and utilities services, engineering, construction and maintenance, mining and rail. The rail business has been operating for over 100 years. At its Newport site, Downer provides maintenance, overhaul and refurbishment and specialist engineering services to customers including Metro Trains Melbourne, Yarra Trams and V/Line.

General Manager – Key Accounts, Adam Williams, outlined the way the company approaches innovation and collaboration.

“At present we’re working on projects to do with condition monitoring, which involves gathering information remotely from trains in operation, looking at how the trains and components operate, analysing data in real time and providing information to clients on how to improve performance. We are performing this work largely in-house, but collaborating with specialist technology providers where we need their expertise.

“We’re also making active improvements to our process technology used in the factory. This involves new equipment and upskilling our workforce into modern production processes. As part of our maintenance contract for the Millennium passenger train fleet in Sydney we undertake periodic major overhauls of bogies, and we’ve invested in a new custom-designed bogie line that will improve the way we do things. Next we’ll translate the same ideas into improvements for our locomotive area. Again, this has involved some collaboration with partners to obtain the best results through continuous improvement.”

Adam went on to explain that while the functions that the machines perform haven’t changed much over the decades, what has changed is the control the business has and the ways in which it continues to increase productivity. At the moment Downer is aggressively pursuing large project opportunities in Victoria. If successful, that will mean unprecedented investment and growth in the business.

“Our market is getting more and more competitive, and we’re facing a number of challenges. A key one is offshore competition. Instead of sending products to us for an overhaul, some of our customers are returning them to the manufacturers, who are usually overseas in countries with low labour costs.

“To stay ahead of the game, we try to provide services that our overseas competitors can’t. We have the advantage of being very familiar with products and operations in Australia and Victoria. We offer short lead times, without the complexities of dealing with a long supply chain. We provide better service and with a high level of interaction with our customers. And we do a lot of thinking around our processes, adopting some of the methods perfected by auto companies.”

Another issue that Downer faces is the complexities around compliance across the different states and territories.

 “The rail market in general is a difficult one,” added Adam. “But rather than looking to ‘batten down the hatches’, we’re strengthening the core of our business, investing in our people and facilities, and developing processes and technology that will provide us with a sustainable advantage into the future.”