Oasis Engineering and Industry 4.0 – Just do it!
Oasis Engineering began as the maintenance division of the Gisborne Oasis soft drink brand before moving to Tauranga and becoming known for its close-tolerance machined parts in difficult to work materials, including stainless steel and titanium.
They now make parts for every major compressed natural gas (CNG) company in over 40 countries. Oasis and its team of 30 manufacture precision stainless steel machined and assembled components, primarily for the natural gas industry.
We recently caught up with Kevin Flint, General Manager of Oasis, to hear how their Industry 4.0 journey has been progressing.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your role at Oasis?
I’m the General Manager of Oasis Engineering Ltd. From Blackpool in the UK, and I’ve been in the manufacturing industry for over 30 years. I emigrated to New Zealand in 2006 and I’ve been with Oasis Engineering since 2007.
I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering, a Masters in Product Development, and am a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (UK).
My first professional role was to design Automated Production Machines and write the PLC programs. Industry 4.0 has been in my blood since I began my professional career.
Can you tell us what you do at Oasis Engineering?
We are a manufacturing company based in Tauranga with 30 employees. We design and manufacture products for the CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) Industry, Hydrogen Refuelling Industry, Food and Dairy Industry. Currently, 80 per cent of our products are exported to over 20 countries, but mainly the USA and Canada.
When did Oasis begin their Industry 4.0 journey?
I first became aware of Industry 4.0 after Oasis Engineering was bought by German company, Elaflex Hiby GmbH in April 2017.
They have a factory similar to ours in Plettenburg Germany, with over 100 employees, and they had been on the Industry 4.0 journey for about five years when I visited them in 2017. When I first visited their factory, I was like a kid in a toy shop, and I’ve been back five times since. I’ll be there again next month!
My first visit inspired me to research Industry 4.0 in more detail to see how it could help us improve further. When I heard about the Callaghan Innovation / EMA / Beca Industry 4.0 promotion, it was like music to my ears.
We signed up for the SIRI Assessment immediately. Industry 4.0 has now been absorbed into our Lean Journey, and we are on a “Continuous Improvement Journey” which incorporates Lean, Industry 4.0, Training and Education.
Can you tell us about your Industry 4.0 journey so far, specifically around SIRI?
The SIRI Assessment helped us identify where we were strong and where improvements could be made. We have since developed a roadmap for Industry 4.0 projects. The projects we are currently working on are:
- We have a PhD student from Auckland University working on a “Predictive” Production Scheduling System. This will be at least a three-year project
- There are two Degree students working with us on automated assembly of one of our products – Automated Stem Assembly Project
- We have commissioned a Developer to work with us two days a week on various projects. These include, production scheduling dashboard, assembly scheduling dashboard and semi-automated invoice processing
Can you share 2-3 key learnings or benefits Oasis experienced from adopting Industry 4.0 practices?
- The SIRI assessment helped us identify areas in our business which were not being given the emphasis they should have been, from a Continuous Improvement perspective.
- Industry 4.0 has reinvigorated our Continuous Improvement Journey. Having been on a Lean Journey for over ten years, it is exciting to now step back and take a fresh look at our Continuous Improvement roadmap, systems, and processes.
- We are now taking on projects that were considered only “pipe dreams” before we began pushing Industry 4.0 practices.
What impact, if any, has COVID-19 had on your services, customers, and staff during your Industry 4.0 journey?
Oasis was part of an EMA webinar on 9 December 2021 – ‘How Industry 4.0 is helping us through COVID-19’. Following this event, Oasis is now liaising with Ferret, an Auckland-based company about our semi-automated invoicing project.
COVID-19 has made us think differently about how we work. Working from home (for those that can) is now an accepted practice. The inability to have face-to-face meetings meant that we use online platforms like Zoom and MS Teams a lot more.
COVID-19 reminded us that we all have the technology to be able to do this, and we have had to accept this new way of working. We also automated more processes so that less direct human interaction was required.
The usual “resistance to change” wasn’t an option, so progress in these areas has been swift.
What advances have you seen in manufacturing during your time with Oasis?
This is an interesting question. From some perspectives, things have not changed much over the past 30 years. They’ve just become, better, faster, cheaper, and easier to use.
ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems are now easier to use and often don’t require dedicated programmers to make simple changes. CAD software (Computer Aided Design) is now very much the norm, and hand drawings are rarely seen.
We are still experiencing issues with our CAM (Computer Aided Manufacture) programs, much like I did 30 years ago.
Industry 3.0 technology, e.g., robots, have become much cheaper and simpler to install.
When I joined Oasis in 2007, we had no CNC machine automation, and all parts were inserted into the machine by hand.
Now, all our CNC’s have some form of automation, and many can run eight or more hours unmanned with a robot in front of them – instead of a human.
What does the future look like for Oasis?
We will continue to grow and invest in more Industry 3.0 Automation and Industry 4.0 improvement projects.
Automation in our assembly department is high on our priority list, as is upgrading our current manufacturing equipment.
Our Product Development Team has doubled to six engineers in recent years and is likely to double again in the next 1-2 years.
The industries that we serve require more new products, particularly for Hydrogen and Renewable Natural Gas projects.
What advice can you give to other New Zealand manufacturers who are considering starting their own Industry 4.0 journey?
- Just Do It – if you do it right, you won’t look back.
- Be careful. With Industry 4.0, it’s very easy to run down a rabbit hole. It can suck up time like you won’t believe.
- Choose your projects wisely and understand exactly why you’re doing it and what benefits you’re expecting. I’d always advise that you write a detailed scope before starting an Industry 4.0 project.