The world endured two significant hits on industry and manufacturing in 2001 and 2008 when the global recessions occurred. Australia was no different, and unfortunately these times stung manufacturers who had purchased new equipment and invested in production processes in good faith only to find their investments took years to pay off.
A closer look at the industry breakdown in Australia reveals that despite mining declining and Ford, GM-Holden and Toyota closing down their plants in Australia, there is still huge opportunity for growth in industry. It is simply a case of industry changing and evolving based on customer demand and global trends, which are tending towards bespoke, highly advanced and customised products, addressing specific issues for consumers. This is seen largely in industries such as medical device implants and functional food and clothing.
The manufacturing industry in Australia cannot exist in isolation as they need collaboration and supply from global companies for inventory stock and equipment if they are to excel and play with the industry giants. This is in part due to the costs associated with production labour, accessibility of products and geographical remoteness. Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) comprise approximately 97% of Australia’s businesses, so seem an obvious place to start a review and renewal of industry. It is far easier for SMEs to adopt new technologies and create customisable products than large corporations, and these adoptions will certainly put them in a strong position on the global playing field.
What should Australian SMEs be focusing on?
The largest trend noted, which follows the state of manufacturing in China, the world leader’s in manufacturing and industry, is the advancement of technological processes and incorporating these into the factory. In fact, in 2015 China launched the world’s first completely unmanned factory in Dongguan city. In doing so, labour costs are an obvious saving but there are copious other beneficial effects stretching from customer service and experience all the way to supplier integration, shipping and health and safety. Despite there still being demand for bespoke products that have been handcrafted, to stay on the forefront and exceed in these global economic times, Australian manufacturers should consider and embrace ‘the data-driven factory’ through the adoption of new technological advancements. Four key technologies have been outlined as important for the manufacturing industry:
Internet of Things (IoT)
This refers to the factory being a connected place where all processes, machines and operators share and receive data over the internet, which facilitates manufacture, design and quality control. Specifically, IoT allows for performance monitoring in real-time and in a very precise way so that all processes can be improved. Software systems designed to facilitate factory processes operate on this premise and can be very beneficial in the recording and sharing of much information for increased efficiency. An example of this is Unleashed, which is superior in its knowledge and design for increased warehouse inventory stock control and inventory management of production processes and sales.
Robotics and Automation
Although China is the proud owner of the world’s first fully automated factory using robotics, there has still been need for human control and collaboration. The term ‘cobotics’ has been coined in the USA for this, which is where robots are used to complement human processes rather than replace them. Processes are still optimised in terms of efficiency and related cost-savings, however the ‘human touch’ is still maintained which can facilitate customisation. Automation can be implemented along the production chain, and is especially useful for inventory stock control.
Advertised in recent times by mobile phone companies, augmented reality refers to the experience of a situation other than reality, but appearing very real, through a headpiece. Businesses have incorporated this technology into things such as user training and even troubleshooting and quality control.
This technology creates solid structures from specific designs by laying down several layers of plastic or resin until the structure is created. Although still being developed, it is used extensively in many fields including the medical device and surgical implant industries. It allows for highly specific structures to be created perfect for anatomical uses where each patient is unique.
How are Australian businesses embracing these trends?
Case studies have shown that successful Australian businesses such as Nautitech and Northern Lights Technologies Australia have established themselves through collaboration with larger, global companies. Australia is too small to exist alone, yet its industry and expertise still has much to offer, therefore collaboration seems to be the best of both worlds. ANCA Tools experienced success through integrating themselves in a Japanese company’s supply chain, which is also a viable recipe for profitability. Similarly, Carbon Revolution, which has expertise in the area of carbon composite car wheels, integrated themselves with Ford for the supply of wheels for the Mustang Shelby GT350R, making them the world’s first company to supply carbon wheels en masse for a major automotive company.
In conclusion, Australia has a lot to offer to industry and the aspects that may be seen as shortcomings (small population and geographical remoteness) can in fact be used as strengths in a complementary way to major global companies through collaboration or integration.