Embracing deep tech is transforming Australia’s manufacturing sector.
Manufacturing in Australia has faced big challenges, as well as embraced big opportunities, in recent decades as globalisation impacts supply chains, competition ramps up internationally, and consumer markets expand and demand new, innovative products.
Despite the challenges, the sector is an important part of the Australian economy, employing around one million people — the seventh biggest employing industry — and accounting for 11 per cent of annual export earnings.
The Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC) runs from 2015 to 2022 and aims to accelerate Australian manufacturing into the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), helping companies transform into high-value, high-knowledge-based businesses that will flourish in the digital economy.
“Australia’s manufacturing sector is seeing a new generation of high-tech advanced manufacturers emerge,” says David Chuter, CEO and Managing Director of IMCRC. “We hope to strengthen them and the sector to be resilient to future disruptions and ensure Australia has national capabilities that are also world relevant.”
Manufacturing has been hit hard by free-trade deals and competition from low-wage economies in recent decades, but globalisation goes both ways, he says.
“We’re now seeing companies embracing innovation in every aspect of their business, undertaking extensive research, adopting advanced manufacturing techniques and looking overseas for growth.”
IMCRC works closely with local manufacturers to co-fund industry-led research collaborations that help companies explore innovative business models and new technologies, adopt additive manufacturing and advanced materials, apply automation and robotics to improve processing and use sensors and data analytics to streamline production and boost reliability.
To date, IMCRC has more than 30 research projects approved in all primary industry sectors across Australia.
“Our role is more than just co-funding manufacturing research projects that help catalyse the uptake of Industry 4.0 technologies, although that’s part of it,” says Chuter.
Most businesses in Australia’s manufacturing sector are small and medium enterprises with revenue below $10 million and employing fewer than 20 people.
IMCRC’s Industrial Transformation Program helps SMEs become advanced manufacturers to support the wider cause of manufacturing transformation.
The program offers SMEs education and advocacy resources to help them rethink their business operations and adopt a new approach to manufacturing, constantly enhance and improve their processes and embrace advanced digital technologies to drive value for business and consumers.
IMCRC has developed a business diagnostic tool called futuremap®. Since the 2018 launch, the CRC has run more than 50 futuremap® workshops across Australia, guiding hundreds of local manufacturers through identifying areas of improvement in their business.
Upgrading Mattress Manufacturing
David Kaplan, Founder and Managing Director of Melbourne-based manufacturer Sleep Corp, attended a futuremap® workshop before embarking on an Industry 4.0 research project with Swinburne University, co-funded by IMCRC.
“We’re embracing Industry 4.0 systems so that Sleep Corp can continue as a proud Australian-owned and made manufacturer on the world stage, delivering exceptional products as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible,” he says.
Sleep Corp was founded in 1980 and produces the Protect-A-Bed brand of mattress protectors sold in Australia and New Zealand, as well as other top-of-bed consumer and commercial-grade ranges. Since January 2019, the company has been working with Swinburne University to develop a novel Virtual Manufacturing System (VMS) to fully automate their manufacturing plant.
The VMS will connect robotics-based machinery to a digital twin, so product manufacture is faster and more flexible, and can quickly adapt to meet customer requirements while remaining cost-competitive.