10 of 2014’s biggest manufacturing stories

10 of 2014's biggest manufacturing stories

Listicles are unavoidable in internet publishing, especially at the writing-year-in-review-pieces time of the year.

It mightn't surprise you that we've put together a list of the stories that grabbed the most attention in 2014. Here are 10 of the most popular stories for the year.

Thanks for visiting our site and please continue to do so in 2015 and beyond.

1)The top 100 manufacturers in Australia

What did we just say about lists being popular? We were unsurprised to find that the list of the Top 100 Manufacturers In Australia (kindly compiled for us each year by IBISWorld) was the most-read story we published all year.

In the top spot was Caltex. Maintaining their number one position was the foreign-owned – as with half of the companies in the Top 10 – Chevron brand.

One of the strongest among the categories, noted IBISWorld’s analyst Caroline Finch, was what she called “mining winners”, those such as equipment and chemical industries serving the resources sector. The effect of depressed commodity prices, and the effect of this on mining-linked manufacturers and the broader economy will be interesting to watch in 2015.

2) The boom in 3D printing

Perhaps the world’s leading authority on the market for 3D printing/additive manufacturing, Terry Wohlers, was nice enough to speak to Manufacturers’ Monthly ahead of his keynote address at Inside 3D Printing Melbourne. The founder of Wohlers Associates, which releases the closely-watched annual Wohlers Report, explained a few things about why – despite being around for more than a quarter of a century – the sector grew at 32 per cent for the last three years.

Though there’s plenty of hype about, and some in manufacturing who are well and truly sick of hearing about 3D printing, the technology continues to get better, cheaper and more widely available. It’s also arguably growing in relevance as Australia’s policymakers and industrialists try and make local industry more advanced, adaptable and, basically, more competitive.

3) A big fine for unlicensed CAD use

Wulguru Steel was slapped with a hefty $17,500 fine in August, shelling out this amount to the BSA | The Software Alliance over pirated versions of Autodesk’s AutoCAD. The story gained a surprising amount of traction, with those in the industry (and probably quite a few outside of it) curious about the punishment given to the Townsville steel fabricator.

“We encourage all businesses to review and acquire software licences, as required to keep their software deployments legal," Clayton Noble, BSA Australia’s committee chair, said at the time. We have to agree with him.

4) “The end of the road” finally arrives for Australian car making

When Holden followed Ford and announced it would end car assembly in Australia (Ford in 2016, Holden 2017) many considered it inevitable that Toyota would have to do the same. Toyota Australia confirmed this to be the case on February 10 this year, and will be an import, service and distribution business by 2018. As no shortage of headlines reminded us, this was “the end of the road” for Australia’s passenger auto manufacturing industry.

The task of adjusting the country (not to mention about 45,000 workers directly employed in automotive) and the manufacturing sector to the future will be difficult. There are serious concerns about how local economies – such as those in northern Adelaide and Broadmeadows – will adapt to a post-auto future. Mitigating the effects is made more difficult still by the lack of federal money available to assist.    

5) The best Endeavour Awards yet

Held during the night of the Federal Budget 2014, Manufacturers’ Monthly’s Endeavour Awards still managed to be the most successful we’ve had yet. If you’ll permit us a moment’s self-indulgence, we will tell you that attendance and entry records were smashed at the May event, and we’ve never seen more coverage of our annual awards elsewhere.

The real story, however, is the industry success stories that were able to be celebrated on the night. The overall winner (and the Global Integration category champion, too) was Marand Precision Engineering, a supplier to the Joint Strike Fighter F35 Lightning II Global Program. Other successes included RØDE Microphones  (Exporter of The Year), Australian Trade Product of the Year (Hoshizaki Lancer) and Keech Australia (Most Innovative).

Awards are, incidentally, currently open for the 2015 Endeavours, and you are encouraged to enter. (Click here for more info. Go on…)

6) Submarine uncertainty

Last week saw Australian Submarine Corporation workers sent the ironic gift of a canoe to defence minister David Johnston. The gesture was in response to Johnston’s jibe that he wouldn’t trust ASC to build a canoe, let alone Australia’s next generation of submarines. Johnston afterwards explained away his unpopular comment (used by senior Liberals to explain the party’s poor showing at the Fisher state by-election) as a “rhetorical flourish”.

The federal government is yet to reveal where the replacement submarines for the Collins Class will be built, but it last week ruled out an open tender process. Companies from Japan, Germany, France and Sweden have declared interest in building the subs, with Japan’s Soryu Class often tipped as the most likely option.

7) Graphene

As with 3D printing, there’s a huge amount of interest in what the future might bring when it comes to graphene. Physically isolated only a decade ago, graphene’s come a long, long way since then. However, there’s still plenty to be figured out before it makes its way out of the labs and into mass-produced items. The atom-thick layer of carbon has some remarkable properties: 200 times stronger than steel, the most electrically conductive material (at room temperature) known, and very flexible yet harder than diamond.

The challenges in bringing products containing graphene to market are many: it’s expensive to produce high-quality samples, retaining its properties can prove tricky, and at the moment – as CEO of NanoCarbon Chris Gilbey told us – “At this point in time graphene is all promise and no realisation.” Still, the potential of this 21st century super-material is incredible, and there’s a global race on to exploit it commercially.

8) Australia’s Hidden Champions

Over one week in August we profiled one of Australia’s many “Hidden Champion” manufacturers each day. There were niche, globally competitive businesses who create products that trade on value rather than price. According to Albert Goller, chairman of META, they “share a common set of values and leadership mindset, demonstrating a strong foundation to build a bright future for Australian manufacturing.” We looked at the fast-growing motorsports company PWR Performance, smart textiles company Textor, fashion business Nobody Denim, custom implants maker Anatomics, and electronic measurement company Rinstrum. The five were from a range of sub-sectors, but they each had a lot to teach us about how Australian manufacturers can be among the very best in the world.

9) The Internet of Things

Call it the Industrial Internet, the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 or something else, the influence of networked, internet-connected machines doesn’t appear to be going away. In an interview with Chris Vains, head of Siemens Automation Systems Australia & NZ, we were told "From a Siemens standpoint, with all our advanced technology and software, we believe we are at 3.8 and we want to take customers on the journey towards 4.0. However, there are certain things that still need to happen.” What needs to happen, and when will we see the full benefits of Industry 4.0? Feel free to click here and find out more… 

10) The PMI

Manufacturing was in growth by the absolute smallest possible value in November, but any result above 50 in the monthly Australian Industry Group Performance of Manufacturing Index is good news.

The overall results per month have seen only two positive results in the 2014 calendar year: July (50.7) and November (50.1).

The Ai Group, which compiles the results by surveying a representative sample of companies across Australia, said the most recent result showed resilience, but headwinds persisted for the industry. The dollar remains historically above average and, as the AiG’s chief executive Innes Willox noted, “the steep decline in mining investment and the impending closure of Australian automotive assembly is stifling business sentiment and the appetite for investment.”

 

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