Fostering collaboration at the German-Australian Growth Summit 2021


Manufacturers’ Monthly attended the German-Australian Growth Summit 2021 to garner insight on important economic topics relevant to manufacturers, from key business leaders.

Held on 24 March at the International Convention Centre Sydney, the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce hosted representatives from both nations collaborating on projects centred on manufacturing and Industry 4.0, resources and critical minerals, medical technology and healthcare, and renewable energy and hydrogen.

Dr Jens Goennemann, managing director of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) and chairman of the Board for the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, opened the German-Australian Growth Summit 2021 to a buzzing crowd.

Then, CSIRO chief scientist Professor Bronwyn Fox live streamed a keynote presentation that highlighted opportunities for collaboration around digitising and Industry 4.0 technologies across multiple sectors. Specifically, creating and curating collaborative networks.

To do this, Fox said that the CSIRO has refocused and changed their strategy, which aligns with the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce’s goals.

“Our strategy has seen our organisation transform and deliver significant economic benefit to Australia,” Fox said. “We’re focused on facilitating access to international pathways for Australian innovation. How can we get Australian technology out onto the world stage? How can we make sure that we’re supplying our technology into global value chains and global markets?”

One such pathway the CSIRO is taking is implementing several different structures to help transition Australia through the “valley of death” (the funding gap that often occurs in the translational and early development stages). These include de-risking structures, like vaccine manufacturing; the ON accelerator program, which aims to make a difference to the research culture within an organisation; and Main Sequence Ventures, a model centred on company creation that works with researchers in the early stages. The latter promotes a knowledge of TRLs and then brings researchers together with a focused end user to create a new technology. Cases of Main Sequence Ventures’ success include a hydrogen electrolysing technology called Endure and v2food’s plant-based protein used in Hungry Jacks burgers.

Around digitalisation within the manufacturing Industry 4.0, Fox went into depth about various processes and innovations that are being created in university test labs across Australia in partnership with the CSIRO. One of these was the Swinburne-CSIRO National Industry 4.0 Testlab for Composite Additive Manufacturing, which discovered the world’s first industrial scale 3D printing multilayer approach to near net composite manufacture. Now developed by Fill, an Austrian engineering company, this was also a prime example of international collaboration.

“It was co-designed and co-created as part of a global network and process,” Fox said. “I’m so grateful to my colleagues at ARENA2036 (a German research association) because when we identified that Fill multilayer process, which was a world-first piece of equipment, we really struggled to engage with Fill. Our colleagues in Stuttgart really helped show that we were credible.”

Fox concluded her presentation by encouraging the audience to cultivate similar collaborative partnerships in the future – both between industry and academia and between nations.

“I’m passionate about how we can create and curate collaborative networks and how we can bring together industries, universities and the CSIRO to create something special,” she said. “It’s important that we remain focused on the wonderful collaborations that we have, to make sure that we’re nurturing and growing those important international partnerships. I’m really keen to see how we can do that all together.”

Precious Earth

Following Fox’s presentation, a video message from Fortescue Metals Group chairman, Dr Andrew Forrest, sought to instil a sense of urgency in the industry attendees to facilitate the use of green hydrogen to decarbonise. The sustainable, environmentally friendly theme was carried over later in the morning during the “Precious Earth” panel.

The “Precious Earth” panel focused on critical minerals and the challenges and opportunities for the manufacturing and mining industries that are paving the way to a more sustainable future. With speakers from EcoGraf, Lynas Rare Earths and BASF, the panel discussed why the mineral supply chain is at risk and how Australia can manufacture a domestic supply of resources, such as graphite.

Manufacturers’ Monthly caught up with one of the panellists – EcoGraf managing director, Andrew Spinks – to find out more about how graphite is part of the evolving supply chain and what government and industry can do to protect the resource.

“We’ve got to see more leadership from electric vehicle manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen in supporting alternate supply chains. Pleasingly, I think we will see it and it’s a great opportunity for Australia to manufacture our own minerals,” Spinks said.

“We’re also seeing greater effort from the federal government in connecting with South Korea, Japan, India, Germany and the US. China produces all the natural purified spherical graphite and uses hydrochloric acid – and this is inconsistent with all the ESG messaging from the car manufacturers. But with federal government support and industry support, we’ll see much greater opportunity to develop it in these industries.”

Earlier this year, the Commonwealth of Australia also conditionally approved a loan of up to $54 million under the Australian government’s $2 billion Critical Minerals Facility fund, to support the planned expansion of EcoGraf’s Australian Battery Anode Material Facility to 20,000 tonnes per annum. Spinks said that this will be the first graphite production facility located outside of China. The aim is to secure the vital supplies of resources needed to drive the new energy economy and support future resources jobs within Australia.

“We’re very pleased to be leading the charge on the $2 billion Critical Minerals Facility fund,” Spinks said. “We’re developing our first facility in WA, which will start off with a demonstration size plant, and then we’ll expand that to 20,000 tonnes. We’re working on the approvals process with the WA state government now.”

Spinks said the highlight of the German-Australian Growth Summit 2021 for him this year was the opportunity to network and express what challenges EcoGraf has experienced on the Precious Earth panel.

“The German-Australian Chamber is a great forum for connecting with German industry. They can show a lot of leadership in supporting alternative supply lines and manufacturing,” he said. “We’ve got a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to really get back our manufacturing centred around our critical battery minerals.

“It’s been a great networking event – sitting next to Amanda Lacaze from Lynas Rare Earths and talking through her challenges around the market not wanting to pay one dollar more for an alternate clean, green material is consistent to the messaging we get from the anode cell manufacturers; that nobody wants to pay anything more for an alternate supply. We have developed and adopted our own business plan around the principle that we have to compete with China. So, being on the Precious Earth panel and expressing the challenges we’ve experienced is a great opportunity.”

Beautiful Intelligence

In the afternoon, Weidmueller Australia managing director Rafael König, Siemens senior account director Leonie Wong, Graphite Energy COO Byron Ross and ALDI Australia director of Finance and Administration Tim Regitz took the stage.

This panel, named “Beautiful Intelligence,” focused primarily on the importance of collaboration between manufacturers and investigated the impacts of automation on workforce and skillset needs, as well as how automation can aid in sustainability targets.

In a brief presentation from Weidmueller Australia, the sponsor of the panel, Rafael König highlighted that although many companies are collecting data, only one per cent of them are aware of how to use the data to enhance their operations.

In speaking with Manufacturers’ Monthly, König admired ALDI Australia’s insight on the panel, as Tim Regitz detailed what actions the supermarket has taken to both understand and use its unique data to pinpoint their primary needs and targets.

“I was very pleased to hear from ALDI, as they know what they want to get out of their data and how they want their operators rostered to better understand the condition of the product,” König said.

“This is where companies have to learn that it’s not only about understanding the technology, but they need to understand what they want to do with it. That will be a long journey, but it’s very exciting because I think this is an example where the technology is growing faster than the use case.”

In making data fit-for-purpose, analytics is a discipline that is growing in popularity. Weidmueller Australia is currently undergoing a project to optimise the manufacture of compressors, where they are helping a client to harness a large volume of data within approximately six months. Another Weidmueller client is using the acoustics of their machinery to produce analytics.

“You can imagine that in a traditional manufacturing site, there are some operators who know when a machine is going to break down simply from listening to it,” König said. “So the question is, how can we actually turn that into tangible data? How can we interpret the data in the same way the experienced operator does?”

A video from Siemens during the panel session highlighted a case study where a small brewery based in Victoria has been able to optimise and upscale their processes using data.

“I think the example of the Wolf of the Willows is a very good one,” König said. “It is a family business that has used data, AI, IoT and Industry 4.0 methods to build a business and upscale. This is exactly what we wanted to show too – the use of data is not exclusive to big companies. There are a lot of IPs in there where I see Weidmueller as a facilitator of the technology, and able to help them use the data.”

Leonie Wong from Siemens summarised the session well, saying that “the one takeaway that everyone should be thinking about when it comes to digital transformation is to think big, start small, scale fast.”

“The panel highlighted that digital transformation is happening now whether we like it or not, and that also the technology is becoming much more accessible to companies of all sizes,” Wong said. “It also means that sometimes when there is a smaller business unit within a larger company which is feeling a bit lost or doesn’t know where to start, you don’t want them to feel cut off from the technology – it is very accessible and very scalable.

“Then when we look at the data, we need to understand it’s not just about collecting data for the sake of it but being able to ensure that the data we’ve collected is of high quality – meaning that it is complete, accurate and timely.”

The German-Australian Growth Summit 2021 hosted representatives from both nations

Collaborating for a brighter future

In the final panel session, the light was shone on energy and renewable hydrogen under the headline “Powerful Planet.”

Here, Dr Fiona Simon, CEO of the Australian Hydrogen Council, notably stated the primary need for industry and academia to work with government to develop a cohesive plan to establish Australia’s greatest priorities and end goals, with regard to implementing renewable hydrogen nationwide.

This emphasised the underlying theme of what the whole German-Australian Growth Summit 2021 represented – that collaboration is the key to fostering growth and creating a brighter future for both nations and the world.