Tag Archives: advanced manufacturing

growth centres

The bigger picture

Featured image above: the Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals Industry Growth Centre, MTPConnect

The Growth Centres launched in October 2015 with $250 million in government funding to 2019/2020. With six now up and running, new collaborations, with the CRCs and others, are beginning to bear fruit.

Take the pioneering idea of using a 3D printer to build joints and limbs damaged through cancer or trauma. The Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals (MTP) Industry Growth Centre, MTPConnect, extended BioFab3D@ACMD a grant to set up Australia’s first robotics and biomedical engineering centre within a hospital.

A group of researchers, clinicians, engineers and industry partners will work together to build organs, bones, brain, muscle, nerves and glands – almost anything that requires repair – for patients based at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. One of the big benefits is that the 3D printing will be more cost-effective for patients.

The path for BioFab3D from clever research to commercial success is still a long, complicated one. Collaboration is key and BioFab3D is working with St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, University of Melbourne, University of Wollongong, RMIT University and Swinburne University of Technology.

According to Sue MacLeman, CEO of MTPConnect, Australia has many strong and innovative medical and health groups that are on the cusp of realising their full commercial potential.

This is where CRCs come in. “CRCs already have research before it is picked up by the multinationals,” she explains. MacLeman says MTPConnect works with 12 CRCs and aims to help drive their commercial success.

“The MTP sector is hindered by constraints including a lack of collaboration between business and research, skills shortages, the need for more focused investment, and the need for more streamlined and harmonised regulatory and market access frameworks,” says MacLeman.

To meet these challenges the Australian government has provided six Growth Centres (see “Six of the best” below) with funding to help smart projects realise their full potential.

“Growth Centres have an enormous range of things to do. Everyone wants them to do everything. They work in tight timeframes,” explains Professor Robert Cowan, CEO of The HEARing CRC, which has been meeting with MTPConnect.

“We have 48,000 people in our sector, but we can’t speak to all of those people,” explains MacLeman. The MTP is well served by membership organisations such as Medicines Australia, the Medical Technology Association of Australia, and ARCS Australia (previously the Association of Regulatory and Clinical Scientists), adds MacLeman. It has signed a number of memorandums of understandings (MOUs) with membership associations to appreciate what is important in the sectors, particularly global best practice.

But Growth Centres need to remain independent, not heavily skewed to certain groups, says MacLeman.

“What is important is that we don’t take paid membership. You can sign up and showcase your work, but we want to keep it independent and not to be seen as a lobby group.

“That is very powerful for us. To have a strategic voice and a lot of alignment.”

Collaboration was essential for The HEARing CRC when it recently trialled an electrode that released an anti-inflammatory drug into the cochlear post-implantation. The trial brought together devices, drugs, analysts and the ethical and regulatory approvals.

“This new electrode array helps reduce inflammation and the growth of fibrous tissue around the electrode array triggered by the body’s immune response,” says Cowan.

Unlike a drug trial that involves hundreds and thousands of patients, the trial could be tested on a small number of people undergoing surgery. The world-first study was only possible through an interdisciplinary team of researchers, engineers and clinicians from Cochlear, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children’s Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre, The University of Melbourne and the University of Wollongong.

Cowan says he expects MTPConnect will provide assistance to med-tech companies and research institutes in finding and developing new markets, collaborators and investors for Australian medical technologies.

Growth centres for the future of mining

The mining industry is also tapping into groundbreaking research coming out of universities through CRCs and engaging with the new mining equipment, technology and services (METS) growth centre, METS Ignited.

Extracting minerals from the Earth has become much more challenging. Mineral grades are dropping as reserves are being used up and environmental issues are impacting on mining operations. As a result, mining companies are looking at new ways to extract minerals, using technology as cost-effectively as possible.

“The downturn in the mining market is really focusing the mind,” explains Clytie Dangar, general manager, stakeholder engagement at the CRC for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE). “We can’t afford to stand still.”

CRC ORE has around 20 active research programs that span robotics, mathematics, data science, predictive modelling as well as broad engineering that focuses on blasting techniques and efficiently extracting minerals from waste. Dangar says the CRC has total funding of $110 million up until mid-2020. This is made up of $37 million from the government and the balance from industry.

CRC ORE and METS Ignited signed a MOU in January to work together to improve commercialisation and collaboration outcomes for Australian METS companies.

Australia has the world’s largest reserves of diamonds, gold, iron ore, lead, nickel, zinc and rutile (a major mineral source of titanium), according to METS Ignited. “Australia is at the forefront of mining innovation over the years. A lot of countries have looked at Australia, certainly over the boom years. The challenge is to stay there when the money isn’t there and the nature of the reserves has changed. One way is to utilise the skill set,” says Dangar.

With sharp falls in commodity prices, mining companies are keen to participate in game-changing technology, she says. CRC ORE is engaging with big miners, such as Newcrest and BHP Billiton. It’s also tapped into the $90 billion mining sector, together with universities and PhD students who are carrying out innovative research.

The role of the Growth Centre is to link up all the stakeholders and capture the research, says Dangar.

“It is important to be well engaged. Our job as a CRC is to translate the needs of the miners to the researchers and make sure the researchers are addressing those issues.

“It is very applied because we have a short timeline. We must meet our guidelines and we provide small buckets of funds in grants,” says Dangar.

The key is being nimble as well as courageous in supporting research, even though it may not always work, says Dangar. CRC ORE is not in the business of funding long-term research with a horizon of seven to 10 years, but prefers a two- to three-year timeframe.

“In the past, there was a natural tension between METS and miners, but now they can’t wait until it is up and running,” explains Dangar. “Miners need to support METS earlier.”

Some of Australia’s step-change advances in mining include flotation to separate materials, bulk explosives, mechanised mining and large mills. One of the biggest issues for miners is how to separate metal from rock more efficiently. Dangar says CRC ORE is working on solving this problem to lower unit costs, and reduce energy and water consumption. Some of these approaches helped Newcrest Mining get better mineral grades at a cheaper cost at its Telfer mine in Western Australia.

“A lot of mining companies had their own research departments, but some of the issues are industry-wide issues, and it is better to be collaborative than go it alone,” says Dangar.

Six of the best

1. The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre Ltd (AMGC) is working with the Innovative Manufacturing CRC, which kicked off in the 2015 CRC funding round. In February, the AMGC funded Geelong’s Quickstep Holdings, a manufacturer of advanced carbon fibre composites, to the tune of $500,000. The AMGC believes the project has the potential to generate export revenue in excess of $25 million.

2. The Australian Cyber Security Growth Network is an industry-led organisation that will develop the next-generation products and services required to live and work securely in our increasingly connected world.

3. Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL), based at the CSIRO in Victoria, works closely with the relevant CRCs. CRCs have a long history of work in food and agriculture and have included the Seafood CRC, Future Farm CRC, CRC for Innovative Food products and many more.

4. MTPConnect covers the medical technologies and pharmaceuticals sector and includes the Wound Management Innovation CRC, Cancer Therapeutics CRC and HEARing CRC as members, among others.

5. National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) is the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre, and will work with the CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) to “encourage industry-focused research and unlock commercial opportunities”.

6. NERA also has links with the mining equipment, technology and services growth centre, METS Ignited, which works closely with the CRC for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE).

– Susan Hely

job growth

What are the big three drivers to job growth?

Increased collaboration, stability of policy and acceleration of commercialisation are three main drivers of innovation and job growth that must be addressed to accelerate Australia’s economy in the next 15 years.

The top three drivers were identified at the AFR National Innovation Summit today by Chairs of the boards of Telstra, BHP Billiton and Innovation and Science Australia.

The panel warned that fears around the effects of disruption on jobs must be part of the conversation, and that the effects of digital disruption through automation, and artificial intelligence were inevitable.

This disruption will affect people and jobs whether they are “in Woomera or Sydney”, says Bill Ferris, Chair of the board of Innovation and Science Australia.

“In five years we’ve seen the rise of Uber and Instagram, and the collapse of the mining boom. What is coming towards us will dwarf the change of pace [in disruption] to date,” says Dr Nora Scheinkestel, Chairman of Macquarie Atlas Roads and Director of Telstra Corporation and Stocklands Group.

Policy and R&D tax incentives

Crucial to Australia’s ability to innovate is the stability of policy such as the R&D tax incentive, which aims to encourage private investment in Australian R&D.

Along with Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Bill Ferris was part of a team that reviewed the incentive for government to evaluate how much investment the incentive has created and the scheme’s effectiveness.

“I agree it is valuable and should be continued,” says Ferris. “Can it be improved? I think so. It’s been a $3 million cheque and the largest there has been. But there is nothing in the scheme that requires collaboration, whether CSIRO or academia.”

Incentivising collaboration is a no-brainer next step, says Ferris.

“I don’t think business is trying as hard as academia. Universities are getting on with business, creating spin-offs like QUT’s Spinifex, and Ian Fraser’s cancer vaccine. It’s very impressive.”

Stability of the R&D investment scheme is key to its success, says Carolyn Hewson AO, Director, BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee.

Hewsen says BHP Billiton was ‘deeply’ affected as a company by the collapse of the mining boom this year. “Every company is under pressure to innovate.” (See “How big companies can innovate)

“There is a role for government to address the KPIs they set around research funding.

KPIs need to move to speed of commercialisation rather than publication in tier 1 journals.”

“My concern is it is very easy for government with 3-year time horizon to make decisions on funding over a long term investment. Research projects extend out many years. To be subject to be changing regulation of government regulated by short-term political cycle is very worrying.”


How big companies can innovate

– Carolyn Hewson AO, Director of BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee

  • Hastening production
  • Accelerating technology competencies
  • Innovation hubs working to address innovative solution to specific challenges, eg. automation of trucks and drills
  • Step-up programs to build from the inside of the company
  • Partnerships with universities and CSIRO, CRCs on engineering and remote operations

Collaborate and commercialise for job growth

Ferris is optimistic about Australia’s ability to respond to the challenge to grow jobs by 2030. Agribusiness, aquaculture, cybersecurity, environmental services, renewables, and new materials were all strong potential job growth areas, he says.

“A lot more work needs to be done by business on reaching in. If we can’t commercialise around our inventiveness we won’t create the jobs that we could and that we deserve.”

Scheinkestel says the ecosystem is essential to drive innovation and job growth.

“The big message from Israel is the ecosystem created between business and academia, and in their case the military, where young people are taught strong leadership skills. They commercialise or adapt tech they have been looking at, get the backing of VC, which are supported by consistent policies from government around tax regimes.

“Again in Silicon Valley, you are talking about an ecosystem, a constellation of start-ups with shared resources and again consistency in policies and tax incentives.”

Hewson agrees that work skills are essential to our future and that there is concern about workforce skills in Australia across a number of advanced manufacturing, mining and medical sectors.

“We want to enhance global competitiveness and build on strategic collaboration within these sectors,” she says.

“It’s not just about growth, it’s about survival,” adds Scheinkestel.

Heather Catchpole

Advanced manufacturing

The advanced manufacturing flagship

We have a rich seam of transformative advanced manufacturers in Australia who are not only securing their own future; they are helping to underpin a sustainable Australian economy.

But our future in an uncompromising global economy is precarious. Few decision-makers in OECD countries believe they will remain prosperous without a thriving, high-tech manufacturing sector.

A prosperous Australia depends on supplying higher value solutions to the world – and the recent national focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is fundamental to this aspiration.

How can we, as a nation, facilitate this growth? The Federal Government’s Innovation and Science Agenda released last December is the most substantial recognition we have seen that advanced manufacturing is the future face of Australian industry. The agenda pulls a number of policy “levers”, and places unprecedented emphasis on leveraging our research excellence for greater commercial outcomes.

Of all the interventions of governments, however, the defence procurement “lever” obliterates all others.

Manufacturing’s best hope lies in “flagship” projects like Australia’s future submarine and shipbuilding programs. Some economists have estimated the knowledge spillovers from such programs produce multiplier impacts 2–3 times the initial investment. For example, one study estimates the Gripen multi-role combat aircraft project in Sweden generated at least 2.6 times the government investment in terms of additional production, and skills and knowledge transfer. What large national projects can mean for jobs growth, technology diffusion, skills development and market development in the short term is important. What they mean in the longer term is critical.


“The digitisation revolution will be a key enabler for Australian manufacturers to enter the global supply chain – it conquers distance and helps bring ideas into production sooner.”


For the advancement of Australian industry, we must ensure that Australian companies are actively engaged in the high value technology creation and development of large defence contracts. And these companies must be able to sustain their businesses through exports. Denmark and Sweden provide good examples of countries successfully exporting their defence capabilities. If Australia does not do the same, we doom our high value defence manufacturers to the same fate as the automotive sector.

Technological change doesn’t just bring disruption; it also brings opportunity. The digitisation revolution will be a key enabler for Australian manufacturers to enter the global supply chain – it conquers distance and helps bring ideas into production sooner. Digitisation will enable Australian manufacturers to leap ahead of many of our competitor nations.

And embracing the digital age requires greater emphasis on STEM education. In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

With a thriving advanced manufacturing sector, employing a higher proportion of skilled engineers and scientists and successfully investing in research and development in order to stay at the leading edge in their sectors, we can ensure Australia’s continued prosperity.

John Pollaers, Chairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council

Read next: Vish Nandlall, Telstra’s Chief Technology Officer, on the skills we really need to be teaching our children.

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