From washtubs to high-tech dishwashers

Richard Blandy is bullish on Simpson dishwashers. This Flinders University economist is generally skeptical of manufacturing industries here. But he cites the Simpson Ltd. Dishwasher Centre here as a sign that local firms are capable of innovation and progressive management.

When Simpson, a 130-year-old firm that once made metal washtubs, decided to make dishwashers, it turned a green field into a high-tech factory in half the time consultants expected - and won a prestigious design prize the first year.

Simpson had been importing a German dishwasher and selling it under the Simpson name. But a competitor's move to produce its machines in Australia triggered a protective tariff on imports.

''We'd wanted to make our own dishwashers for some time anyway; we decided it was now or never,'' explains Beverley Hill, Simpson Ltd. group manager at the dishwasher plant.

It was a crash program: designing a product, building a factory, and designing the factory equipment and layout - simultaneously. Overseas consultants had recommended that Simpson take three years to start making dishwashers.

They got there in half the time, and the first machines came out in February 1982.

The severity of the recession and the tangle of protective tariffs - still in place, though diminishing - make it difficult to evaluate the success of the operation clearly. However, Ms. Hill points to Simpson's increased market share - from 4 percent with the imported models to over 30 percent today.

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