From automobiles to planes: could new aerospace hub help salvage skills, jobs?

The automotive industry’s days are numbered, but there’s hope that some of the jobs and skills it contains can be saved through Australia increasing its role in global aerospace supply chains.

 

As reported earlier by this magazine, collaborative manufacturing network META, with Aviation/Aerospace Australia, has launched a new National Commercial Aerospace Hub at the CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit 2014.

 

“What we’re looking at [for] this sector – the hub is basically getting together industry, universities, coming up with ideas where we can tap into the global supply chains,” META's managing director Zoran Angelkovski told Manufacturers’ Monthly after the launch.

 

“Because we’ve already got capabilities in aerospace.”

 

According to review released by Austrade in May last year, Aerospace Manufacturing and Services, exports currently represent over a fifth of the sector's $4 billion revenues.

 

The Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 feature Australian-made parts, and according to Aerospace Manufacturing, this country has advantages in terms of the “highest product quality levels” in the region, an excellent skills base, and expertise in areas including composite manufacture and assembly, and systems engineering.

 

“I think we’re really good at putting high skills and value around quality and consistency of product,” Bob Paton, the CEO of Manufacturing Skills Australia, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

 

Those participating in the hub see Australia well placed to capitalise on the region’s sharply rising needs for passenger aircraft.

 

The Boeing: Current Market Outlook 2013 – 2032 report forecasts 35,280 commercial planes will be delivered (worth $US 4.8 trillion) during the next two decades. The biggest demand will be in the Asia Pacific region: 12,820 planes and a value of $US 1,890 billion.

 

“If you look at the backorders of Boeing and Airbus it’s huge,” said Angelkovski.

 

“There’s a huge demand, and Australia has the capabilities.”

 

Angelkovski and others involved in the hub hope to identify “projects with tangible outcomes”, pooling the expertise of members and identifying unmet opportunities.

The managing director says there are “15 manufacturers and three to four universities” involved, with Boeing and Airbus on-board, joined by other companies including BAE, Cablex, Lovitt Technologies, and smaller firms such as Bentleigh East’s Cablex.

 

“SMEs are often too busy with their noses to the grindstone sometimes to understand where the opportunities are to collaborate with other companies,” Cablex’s chief operating officer Heidi Krebs told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

 

Krebs’s company is involved in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, as well industries besides defence, and hopes participating in the hub will assist her company to enter the market for passenger aircraft.

 

"We'd see it as a natural transition – going from defence into aerospace," she said.

Besides SMEs being exposed to opportunities, the networking project hopes to transition some of the jobs that will be lost as the passenger automotive industry wraps up in Australia in 2017.

 

“Workers out of the auto industry are very familiar with advanced manufacturing techniques, technologies and equipment, so they’re quite adaptable,” explained Paton.

 

Paton believes that abilities gained by those with careers in automotive, particularly those with mature skills, could be put to good use if Australia can grow its $4 billion, 14,253-employee aerospace market through new projects.

 

“And I think if you look at the Commodore that’s being produced [for example] it’s the best that’s ever been churned out. It’s unfortunate we won’t end up with a market for it.

 

“The capacity to adapt into new environments, as many of us know is certainly there. [We’re] just trying to join those dots up and get those connections made for people to be able to realise that potential.”

 

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