Back in 2012 the task force report, Smarter Manufacturing for a Smarter Australia, found there were a number of opportunities for Australia to become more entrepreneurial including investment in incentives for start-ups and scientific development. It called for more targeted research and development funding with a focus on small to medium sized businesses. What is Smart Manufacturing? It refers to creating things that are faster, lighter, more efficient and better than those already provided by mass-manufacturers. Anything from vertical garden components to green energy products to precision medical instruments.
Although Smart Manufacturing has been touted since that report, according to Remy Davison, the Jean Monnet Chair in politics and economics at Monash University, virtually nothing has happened since. ”We talk about investing in smart industries and moving into high-tech industries, but nobody actually does it. Not state governments, not federal governments, and to be fair the private sector doesn’t really invest in it either.”
One of the reasons why might be the need to diversify and re-learn. Car-part maker Diver Consolidated Industries saw the changes coming to their industry years ago and decided to change direction. Chief executive Jim Griffin has been working with designers to create new applications for his steel parts – ‘There are a whole lot of skill sets you have to learn. All of a sudden you’ve got to take responsibility for the design of your product and the quality of the product. Then you have to worry about distribution and marketing.” The focus on design has led to a number of new products including woodwork tables, retractable ladders, hospital bed frames and respiratory equipment. ”I worry about the suppliers who haven’t begun that journey yet, and have only a couple of years to get going.”
Experts say the new technologies set to transform manufacturing (eg. 3D printing and cloud computing) provide Australia with a new opportunity to break open new markets and overcome its long-time barriers of isolation, vastness and access to capital for small operators. They say people want something different, they want something unique, they don’t want the mass-produced universally available brands.