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Women leaders in composites – Leona Reif FDP Composites

Manufacturing News

Introducing our special editorial series to celebrate International Women’s Week profiling women leaders in composites, today we talk to Leona Reif, Director of FDP Composites and president, Composites Australia. Here’s how Leona took over and drove forward her father’s business, by Kerryn Caulfield.

For many, a dramatic career change from public to private sector would be embarked on with caution.

But for Leona Reif it was an opportunity enthusiastically embraced, making the transition to her father’s business at a time when he was looking to retire, and she wanted a change.

In 2008, Ms Reif made a made the pivotal decision to leave her secure job to take over her father’s composite fabricating business, she leading in business development and brother John at the helm of production and sales.

Together they forged new careers in manufacturing composite components for some of Australia’s largest bus, coach and camper vehicle builders, as well as a range of other industry sectors.

Ms Reif admits that ‘to have grown the business from a small family company to a national manufacturing enterprise is an achievement which has brought me significant career satisfaction.’

Their Brisbane-based company, FDP Composites, specialises in manufacturing composite components for the transport, bus and coach industries.

Large roof sections and vehicle sides, as well as external bumpers, front and rear headers and flooring are fabricated in Brisbane, while the high-quality cosmetic finished internal components, such as dashboards, lockers and pillars are manufactured in their second facility on the Sunshine Coast.

Reif said: “Dad always worked in the motor and bus building industry. He was late in his career when he started the business, then known as Fibreglass Design Panels, in 1999, and was hoping to pass on his legacy and enjoy a well deserve retirement.

“John and I were up for the challenge and I’m glad we were. I was eager to bring my knowledge of business process review into practice.

“Since coming into the business, we have seen significant growth as well as a shift in focus from hand lamination to closed moulding”.

Like many Australian industries, bus and coach manufacture is transforming to a lower carbon footprint, with lighter, stronger components helping improve fuel economy and range and reduce vehicular noise and air emissions.

With customers pushing for change, fleet operators and bus and coach manufacturers are responding with the rapid introduction of more efficient electric buses.

Reif said: “The sector’s shift to sustainable mobility wasn’t quite on the horizon when I started in FDP Composites, but I am proud that we have the opportunity to make a difference to the environmental performance of public transport.’

FDP Composites introduced a closed mould reusable silicone bag infusion process which has the added advantages of producing less waste and emissions.

Producing a more uniform finish, the product addresses the dual challenges of reducing weight while preserving strength. At 13 metres long and three metres wide, FDP Composite’s largest silicone vacuum bag has resulted in both time and consumables savings, doubling output from the production mould.

Before joining FDP Composites, Reif was expert in management of service operations and business process review within government services.

“With a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, majoring in Applied Ethics and Politics, I was interested in how the decisions we make have flow on effects, and how examining the effects of those decisions can lead to improved outcomes.

“Good decision making requires systems thinking – an approach that views the system as a whole, interacting with its environment to meet objectives.

“Now in manufacturing, I am applying the same set of skills in systems thinking to continuous improvement. Lean manufacturing is fundamentally an implementation of systems thinking”.

Ms Reif has also applied her governance and management skills to Composites Australia (CA).

“Much of what I have learnt about manufacturing and ways to improve our business have come from insights other manufacturers have generously shared through their involvement with CA, be it site tours, presentations at our conference, or conversations shared when we have an opportunity to get together socially as an industry and share our passion for making things.

“Without these opportunities to learn, our industry will struggle to meet the demands of our economy as it transforms to the manufacturing environment Australia needed to compete in the world economy.”

Pictures: Leona Reif/gelcoat finish for coaches and buses/long component moulding

To celebrate International Women’s Week @AuManufacturing and industry body Composites Australia are presenting a special series of profiles of women leaders in composites. The series is written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia.

Subscribe to our free @AuManufacturing newsletter here.

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