Australian companies’ curiosity in disruptive trends growing

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According to Autodesk, Australian manufacturers are cautious in adopting a collection of trends that are redefining how things are made. Brent Balinski spoke to Autodesk’s Rod Hunt about local interest in some of the disruptive technologies highlighted by the company.

As it has for the last two years, US software giant Autodesk brought its Autodesk University event to Hilton Sydney, presenting examples from around the world of what it calls “The Future of Making Things”.

With clients across a broad set of industries – including synthetic biology, architecture, entertainment and advanced manufacturing – the collections are both varied and tailored to inspire.

This time around, the mood among its Australian manufacturing audience at the event was buoyant, according to sales manager Rod Hunt.

“Buying trends are definitely up; the one thing that manufacturers can see through our discussions is we’re a lot broader than just the engineering department,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“And it’s taken a little bit of time for that to sink in, but right now, a lot of it’s to do with the Future of Making Things, and that message we’ve been taking out to the market.”

Regarding some of the big trends embraced by the picked-to-inspire Future of Making Things examples, though, the Australian industrial community seems to be cautious in latching on. This includes concepts such as microfactories, wearable technologies and the internet of things.

For these three examples, local clients seem interested rather than eager adopters, according to Hunt.

In terms of microfactories – highly flexible factories enabling short, highly variable runs, often of very different products – there is interest but no specific local examples right now. US examples of such factories include GE’s Appliance’s FirstBuild and those used by Local Motors.

When it comes to wearables, there is potential and even a few impressive examples (such as Catapult Sports). This is, however, another area where local manufacturers have not latched on to a significant trend, said Hunt.

The internet of things boom is predicted to bring the world 5.5 million new connected devices, every day, this year, according to research firm Gartner. There will be, according to the same report, 6.4 billion connected devices by the end of 2016.

There are local examples, certainly, of IoT businesses and research-led efforts. Though again, things are at an early stage of development, said Hunt.

“Everybody that I talk to, it’s on their mind. They’re thinking about ‘how do I take advantage of this? I know it’s coming, so how do I adapt my products?” he said.

“[There’s] the opportunity of $200 million alone of connected consumer devices within Australia this year, right, and that market is about to grow more and more. So it’s a massive opportunity.”

Another area where there is potential is in a “power by the hour”- type model, whereby manufacturers, particularly those with industrial clients, sell uptime rather than a product.

“I’m in the midst of conversations with quite a few companies that are looking to do exactly that,” said Hunt of local clients.

This magazine knows of one Australian manufacturer preparing to launch such an offering, and there may be others, but according to Autodesk it is an area of still-untapped potential.

“They’re just sort of trying to understand that,” said Hunt.

“I don’t think you’re going to see [examples] for maybe another year or so. But then I think it will take off in a hurry, and I think we need to be ready to handle it.”

While the above trends might not be ones local companies are leading the world in, Hunt predicts them to catch on soon.

After 13 straight months of growth, widespread optimism seems to have returned to Australian manufacturing. Many companies are investing again and have switched from survival mode, are looking to invest, and are considering newer demands from consumers and newer ways of designing products.

“What we actually see now is it’s taking manufacturers a bit of time to get their head around ‘how do I move out of what I used to do? And how do I transition to this new market, this new opportunity?’” he noted.

“So we’re seeing the manufacturers within our space ask the right questions, and the questions aren’t ‘how am I going to survive?’ It’s “now I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and what do I do to make sure I position myself for success.”