Promoting collaboration and communication in instrumentation

Members of the instrumentation, control, and automation profession discussed how their field will be impacted by Industry 4.0 at the IICA’s Christmas in July event.

As the sun set behind the Harbour Bridge and the towers of the Sydney CBD began to light up, members of the Institute for Instrumentation, Control and Automation (IICA) gathered at Athol Hall on Bradley’s Head, Mosman.

Inside the 150-year-old venue, the wooden beams of the 19th century hall were wrapped in tinsel and garlands, giving the evening a festive vibe.

Peter Veron, chairperson of the Sydney Branch of the IICA, reflected on the past year for the Institute’s NSW branch, noting the successes that each tech expo reached. With over 50 exhibitors at the Unanderra expo, 66 in Newcastle and a healthy turnout in Griffith, each expo provided an opportunity for IICA to facilitate the connections between providers of instrumentation controls and customers. The next NSW expo will be held at Sydney’s Rosehill Racecourse, for the first time, on October 30.

“We’ve got 66 exhibitors already booked, so we’re looking forward to a really successful event there,” said Veron.

In addition, IICA has organised expeditions to Sydney Water, Origin Energy, and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

Finally, to get members up to speed on the pressing issues confronting the sector, the IICA has led tech evenings covering the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0. Veron noted that these technologies are just around the corner.

“It’s going to hit our industry before we know it. We’re all waiting for it, the digital connectivity and wireless connectivity, and we’re about to get it,” said Veron.

With dinner served, Michael Sharpe, national director of industry at the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Sector (AMGC), expanded on these current concerns.

Currently, the AMGC has close to 800 members and, similar to other growth centres established by the federal government, looks for ways for Australian manufacturing companies to expand.

“If we can accelerate and transform manufacturing, we’ll see Australia break out into the world. We need more companies to look at the export potential,” said Sharpe, in opening his presentation.

Sharpe identified the $220 billion investment by the federal government in defence, the largest in Australia’s peacetime history, as an opportunity for Australian businesses to be part of significant global supply chains, as government contracts require local content. Leveraging this investment could allow Australian businesses to not only scale up their operations, but increase their technological complexity, Sharpe highlighted. This creates the opportunity for the adoption of Industry 4.0 technology, the focus of Sharpe’s speech.

“The fourth industrial revolution, which is Industry 4.0, is intelligent or digital production, and we’re just riding the crest of that wave now,” said Sharpe. “It’s no longer what you make; it’s how you make it. That comes down to integrated supply chains, investing in technology to boost the business to add more value than ever before.”

According to Sharpe, manufacturing has the opportunity to add value at the beginning and end of the production process, in areas where traditionally it has not been as focussed. At the beginning, this is greater investment in research and development via collaborations with universities.

“If we can get more Australian manufacturers partnered with our great universities, we can unlock all this potential for Australian companies to export to the world,” said Sharpe.

Although there are language barriers to overcome in the translation of academic jargon and business semantics, Sharpe sees great potential in the collaboration between these two sectors of the economy.

“I’ve been taking some of these professors to places like Dubbo, to Wagga, up to the north coast, and out to Western Sydney to talk with manufacturers big and small and
to exchange knowledge. You know what, when I get professors on the floor they too learn something new,” said Sharpe.

At the other end of the production process is a greater focus on the sales relationship. Holding up his iPhone and addressing its ubiquity in pockets around the room, Sharpe highlighted how a manufacturer, in this case Apple, had created a sales environment through its online and physical stores that encouraged customers to purchase Apple products. In addition, Apple is utilising the intellectual property that it holds in the applications which run on the iPhone as a revenue stream by offering subscriptions to services such as iTunes or Apple Music. Sharpe encouraged attendees to think about whether manufacturers were looking at this potential in the same way.

With these thoughts in the air, Sharpe’s speech encouraged those in attendance to network with each other and connect over where their industry was headed. As Veron noted, the work of the AMGC fitted with what he hoped the IICA would provide to its members.

“Our industry sees manufacturing shrinking and going offshore, while the AMGC are trying to bring some relevance back to Australian manufacturing, so I think there’s a lot of synergies between what we’re trying to do for manufacturing and what their group is trying to do,” said Veron.

More broadly, Veron hoped that through nights such as this and other events, the IICA can continue to be of service to its members, connecting them with industry and each other, while pursuing professional excellence. Veron noted the tech expos in particular were a successful way of connecting members with potential clients, something that Veron hopes to continue in the future.

One area that Veron sees as needing improvement, however, is the standards and education for instrumentation.

“The TAFEs have rolled instrumentation into electrical engineering courses, so by default electricians are becoming instrument technicians, but they’re not trained well enough, so we hope to provide training courses to give them that edge to understand the latest in technology and keep up with what they need to know,” said Veron.

Ultimately, Veron hopes that the IICA can develop its educational offering to the point where greater collaboration in the industry is possible.

“I hope to see a more open platform where people share technologies –– you might have
an instrument that competes with someone else’s instrument but the technology is uniform across us. Often the end user has trouble with different brands communicating with each other, so getting together benefits the end customers,” said Veron.