Keywords: Australia, continuous improvement, manufacturing, quality management
Continuous improvement in Australian manufacturing firms: findings of a survey in New South Wales
As in many industrialised nations, the manufacturing sector in Australia has been forced into rapid change in recent years due to the twin pressures of rapid industry deregulation and increasing business globalisation. These pressures have resulted in dramatic increases in competition in most market segments and industry rationalisation in many previously protected industry sectors. Manufacturing companies that wish to survive and prosper into the new millennium will have to adopt flexible strategies, leading-edge technologies and an acceptance of change across all levels in the company workforce. One approach to counteract these pressures being used successfully in many Japanese and European companies is continuous improvement (CI), defined here as “a company wide process of focused and continuous incremental innovation” (Bessant, 1994). As part of an international study examining CI in medium to large manufacturing firms, survey responses from 203 firms based in New South Wales, Australia, with turnovers greater than Aus $10 million, have been analysed in order to determine the level of CI implementation and the tools and techniques used in such implementation. General conclusions from the study suggest that while awareness of the importance and value of CI is widespread amongst these firms, implementation is frequently limited to manufacturing and operations areas; employees below senior management level have little or no involvement in direction setting; quality improvement and cost reduction are by far the main drivers for CI activities; and adoption of specific tools and techniques is generally limited to the basic problem-solving and process-analysis tools.