Automation tech helps nursery through Christmas rush

CHRISTMAS casuals are a thing of the past for Marlborough Nursery, with automation systems taking care of heavy lifting during the busy season. 

AUTOMATION UPGRADES: Marlborough Nursery manager Kristian Spink said automation technologies have increased production by up to 33 per cent.

AUTOMATION UPGRADES: Marlborough Nursery manager Kristian Spink said automation technologies have increased production by up to 33 per cent.

Since early 2016, the wholesale nursery in Redland Bay had undergone upgrades to introduce automation into all stages of production, including transplanting, potting and dispatch.

“We have technology from traylines to high-tech potting machines and forklifts for transportation,” nursery manager Kristian Spink said.

“This all used to be done by trailer and by hand.

“We now have around 200 metres of conveyors and the automation allows us to eliminate 80% of manual handling work.”

Mr Spink said the amount of time each process took was drastically reduced, with teams taking only a couple of days to do what previously would have taken up to two weeks. 

He added that while staff were initially worried, they had since embraced the upgrades.

“There’s always going to be worries when there’s innovation that there will be less work,” he said.

“But because we’ve been able to increase production, in some areas up to 33 per cent, we’ve been able to hire even more (long-term) staff.”

Staff retention had also improved, he said.

"It’s been less physical on our staff and this has boosted morale around the site.

“Once the team understand how these machines work, it just makes good business sense.”

Mr Spink said the systems meant the nursery had not needed to hire more staff over the Christmas period.

“We used to hire at least four Christmas casuals, but we can now do everything in-house,” he said.

“This makes the safety aspect a lot better. We don’t need to worry about people working with machinery they’re not familiar with, and there’s no need for training new crew.”

During a three week period over Mother’s Day in May 2018, when much of the automation system was already in place, Mr Spink estimated the business saved $10,000 in labour hire.

With the change in technology also came a change in management, with Mr Spink taking part in the Growing Green Industry Leaders program in 2018.

Consisting of two forums held in May and August, the program aimed to improve leadership skills of nursery managers.

Mr Spink said the program helped him transition staff to new systems and processes.

“It’s helped a lot with communication, which has been a big part of adjusting to our upgrades, like dealing with change and worries the staff might have,” he said.

In 2019, Mr Spink had plans to further reduce manual labour for staff by introducing more conveyor systems.