Addressing manufacturing’s image problem

Our manufacturing sector is misunderstood, according to the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council. Brent Balinski asked the group’s chairman John Pollaers about why this is, and why it matters. 

This week is, among other things, National Manufacturing Week: as good a time as ever to consider the public’s opinion of the industry.

The Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council – representing the leadership of some of the country’s leading makers of things – believes there’s an image problem that needs a remedy.

There is something like 2,500 thriving Australian manufacturers, according to John Pollaers’ reckoning, all making their way in the world and employing the latest ideas in technology and design.

“An Australian manufacturing company, in order to compete in the world, must be advanced – because the conditions are tough; they are unforgiving,” Pollaers, chairman of the AAMC, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

And how should we understand “advanced”, exactly?

“They are globally competitive manufacturers. It’s as simple as that,” he added.

The image problem – arguably an injustice for the many businesses succeeding at what they do – doesn’t help with attracting investment or talent. Who wants to go work in a doomed industry?

Why does the man (or woman) on the street still think of local manufacturing as old-fashioned, dirty, hazardous, and unable to compete globally? (See video below.)

Far from being uncompetitive, an advanced Australian manufacturer is able to command higher margins for what they make.

“It means being creative about what you do, whether it is designing a phenomenon in the global toy industry (as Moose Toys in Melbourne has done) or researching and developing a process to make carbon fibre more efficiently (as Carbon Revolution in Geelong has done),” added Pollaers.

Another common theme for these globally minded businesses is their adoption of cutting-edge technologies.

The topic has been high on the agenda for Pollaers’ group recently, with the chairman part of the Prime Minister’s Industry 4.0 Taskforce. The taskforce travelled to Germany for Hannover Messe last month for discussions on developing global, interoperable standards

“Our group met with the German Plattform Industrie 4.0 organisation and the Industrial Internet Consortium (the US/international equivalent) and the two bodies are leading the development of international standards,” said Pollaers.

“We are looking at ways to support that work here, potentially through the development of test labs here in Australia. It’s very exciting.”

On the flipside of the “manufacturing-means-old-and-dirty-and-unsuccessful” image, is there too much of a focus on high technology nowadays?

No, Pollaers contends. That’s the way the world is heading: simple as that. The top manufacturing nations – namely the US and Germany – are also leading the way when it comes to digitally transforming even their “traditional” types of production.

Australian industrial businesses – even the traditional ones – are headed that way, too.

“Companies often develop and implement new technologies in side businesses, if you like, in test laboratories, so they don’t impact the mother ship,” said Pollaers.

“But they are bringing these innovations in. Traditional manufacturing is the perfect place to engage and support innovation because you can make iterative changes.”

See Australian Manufacturing Is Misunderstood, released this week by the AAMC and Australian Industry Group, below. Pollaers will also present the keynote address at the Siemens PLM Industrial Insights 2016 event this Thursday. Click here to register a spot.