Whilst 2020 has brought significant challenges, we have seen the manufacturing industry pivot quickly to address short-term needs, particularly around products like PPE.
This kickstarted a renewed focus on industry development policy, as Australia’s manufacturing capability during COVID-19 was a proof-point there is a bright future with the potential for real change for those who can spot the opportunities.
While manufacturing, both more traditional and advanced manufacturing has been talked about often in the past six months, the federal government’s $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy adds a vital layer to the discussion.
The success of the strategy to build scale in Australian manufacturing will be dependent on our ability to ‘productise’ and ‘commercialise’ the intellectual property that exists within industries where we already have competitive advantage.
Australia has built world leading capability in the areas where we have been fortunate to thrive because of the richness of our primary industries.
Resources technology and critical minerals processing is of course the obvious one and it has led to other competences in data analytics, automation and robotics technologies.
Those technologies, particularly robotics and automation, data and analytics, and future energy needs are also in demand in other sectors.
Australia’s deep and mature recognised expertise in METS in the last 30 years will be critical in providing a pipeline of technology to support a high value manufacturing sector.
These technologies are not just for the benefit of global mining market, but directly impact and benefit the key sectors identified by the government, including defence, space and clean energy.
Report after report also tells us that we have very strong technical and research capabilities but when it comes to commercialising this IP, particularly to develop products to sell in global markets we often miss out on the opportunity.
This impacts our manufacturing sector if we cannot get this right, as our manufacturing sector can and will only thrive if these companies can produce commercial products developed from the intellectual property that currently exists within the sectors where we are global leaders and contribute to a horizontal approach to a home grown technology industry.
A good example was the recently announced 3ME underground mine electric vehicle (pictured) in Newcastle, promising a revolution for mining operations.
This purpose-build electric loader and Integrated Tool (IT) carrier was developed in Australia for the mining industry, requiring the design and collaboration between 3ME Technology and manufacturing and design capability to deliver this innovation which boosts a significant increase in sustainability and durability compared to the existing options which are typically converted diesel vehicles.
The IT is the result of national and international collaboration, with Perth-based Safescape, 3ME Technology from Newcastle and Agrale from Brazil partnering to respond to a significant industry need.
Contributions to significant innovations like these in battery electric vehicles can only happen with the inputs of advanced manufacturing design, build and implementation skills and expertise, which currently exists in the mining and resources industry. But the same technology can also have cross-industry application in space, defence, logistics and agriculture businesses.
As an example of how these technologies are being developed with cross-industry applications in mind, 3ME has recently won its first contract with C4 EDGE, a defence industry cooperative developing a sovereign land battlegroup communications environment for the Australian Army – a proof-point for its focus on developing advanced battery technologies for mining, military and marine systems.
Building a competitive future for Australia
The capability that exists within the manufacturing sector is a critical contributor to driving the technology and innovation sectors. This has been identified as a priority for Australia’s economic recovery and improved competitiveness on the world stage.
According to a recent CSIRO report COVID-19: Recovery and resilience, there are opportunities for manufacturers to apply cross-industry expertise through providing manufacturing capability to improve health and safety measures (e.g. diagnostics, detection and traceability), digitalisation, and other economic growth opportunities.
CSIRO Futures Lead Economist, Dr Katherine Wynn said by acting now, Australian industries could increase productivity and cost efficiencies as well as create additional revenue from products, services and markets over the next few years.
Dr Wynn said: “The manufacturing sector could maximise its local manufacturing capabilities, creating jobs and adding value to Australia’s growth sectors, particularly in pharmaceuticals, food and beverage manufacturing, mineral resource processing as well as in space and defence.”
For manufacturers that have already invested in technology, how are you making sure it is used effectively and moving towards the right market opportunities? Which industries will be the right ones to place your bets for emerging opportunities?
It is time to take a look at what your business does and where you need to view in the future for the next opportunity.
Adrian Beer has global experience in industrial technology organisations across mining and resources, energy, utilities and infrastructure. He is CEO of mining equipment, technology and services industry growth centre METS Ignited.