Manufacturers’ Monthly speaks with Cori Stewart, CEO of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Hub, about the need for innovative models, infrastructure and networked approaches to grow the nation’s manufacturers.
The gap between industry and research is a phenomenon that is widely known in Australian manufacturing. That is one reason why the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Hub came to exist.
Manufacturers are calling out for support to navigate an innovation and automation path for their business, and they often end up at ARM Hub’s door.
ARM Hub addresses the needs of manufacturers by enabling and simplifying access to the deep technical expertise available in universities and research institutes, the same innovation skills that rank Australia in the top 15i innovating nations in the world.
The company’s CEO, Dr Cori Stewart, is passionate about sharing this unique talent and the benefits to our economy from advancing manufacturing in Australia.
Currently, Australia ranks 86 of 133 nations in terms of global complexity driven by a lack of diversification of exports. And, whilst the nation’s innovation capabilities rank highly, the commercialisation of these innovations ranks much lower.
“Covid has really brought to bear, the essential parts of having a sovereign manufacturing capability,” Stewart said. “The critical part is having talent to create this sovereign capability. It has really revealed to us exactly how smart and strategic other nations are about aligning themselves to be successful.”
For ARM Hub, it’s about Australia competing on the global stage by increasing “high value” manufacturing that cannot be achieved elsewhere, rather than competing on price.
“Australia, as a smaller country, needs to be a really successful trading nation alongside having its own capability,” Stewart said. “We really need to look at investing more in high- value product development and manufacture.”
The ARM Hub is an independent and not-for-profit organisation on a mission to accelerate the uptake of advanced manufacturing technologies, from AI and data science to robotics.
With a team of robotics experts from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and other expertise throughout the country, the ARM Hub is the first organisation of its kind in Australia connecting researchers with manufacturers across broad ranging industry sectors.
One aim of ARM Hub is to help businesses develop innovative technology solutions that will have positive impacts on adjacent industries.
The first tenants and collaborators of ARM Hub, Verton Technologies Pty Ltd are an Australian success story of global commercialisation contributing to adjacent industries. In collaboration with ARM Hub, Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC) and QUT, Verton invented an IoT enabled, remote-controlled load-management system that eliminates the need for human held tag lines on suspended loads.
Today, Verton manufactures high value AI enabled remote control units that not only deliver safer, faster, and smarter crane operations, but create real market advantages. The company has secured international joint ventures and grown from a start-up to a high value exporting Australian SME supplying to mining, construction and now renewable energy.
As Stewart describes, it’s about the transformation journey of industry towards greater digital capabilities rather than short-term gain.
The Hub has also been working on automation with a laundry company based in regional Queensland, who were hit hard by the pandemic, like many small businesses.
“This laundry company is just one example of biting the bullet because of covid, and now, they have an innovation that they can on-sell to all sorts of laundries globally,” Stewart said.
“With our organisation, multiple companies can benefit from the value of collaboration,” she said. “It’s a really important way for industry to access the best talent and have them aid their business without having to hire directly.
“Often, large institutions don’t have the agility to bring diverse capabilities together in a way that really works for industry, in particular SMEs. Our mission is to accelerate the adoption of advanced manufacturing in Australian industry.”
Overcoming the skills shortage
The ARM Hub builds expert teams around the challenges of manufacturers, working closely with and within industry to find smarter, innovative solutions.
The ARM Hub Learning Factory, located in Brisbane, enables manufacturers to collaborate, test, prototype and showcase their innovations alongside the expert teams of ARM Hub, CSIRO and Universities.
By running their own contract and project management, the ARM Hub spearheads innovation in-house by identifying and pulling out the research institution’s relevant capabilities – a critical step that fast tracks research access.
“A company can come to us with a particular problem, and we work with them to solve it in a way that makes sense to them, according to their timelines, and in a way that ensures they benefit from their IP,” Stewart said.
While models such as this have proven to be successful in other countries, this model is relatively new and unique in Australia, meaning that ARM Hub is in an unparalleled position to collaborate across industry, research and government, unlocking world-renowned expertise, and creating commercial benefits.
“ARM Hub has been set up to catalyse the commercialisation value that sits in R&D, where researchers and industry experts are linked together in projects across industry,” she said.
Delivering the ARM Hub promise
According to Stewart, ARM Hub’s mandate is to help industry – which allows the organisation to have a clear focus on how to mobilise IP and mobilise expertise – to benefit the commercial value industry seeks.
“It’s much more about the capability and the know-how, and getting the right talent to engage with the companies to realise the value of something,” she said.
“Manufacturing is not always about IP commercialisation, where you create technology in a lab, it gets commercialised, and a new company gets set up to realise that value.
“Often, it does not involve new IP at all. It’s about that expert capability.”
The ARM Hub was brought into being by what Stewart described as a huge demand from industry. More recently, the movement was further propelled by federal government incentives. The message was: “Australian industry really wants to apply digitisation, robotics and assistive technologies, and we want your skills and capabilities.”
“At the time, QUT was Australia’s number one university for robotics. As an SME you could attend the university, but you couldn’t easily and readily access the expertise,” Stewart explained. “ARM Hub was set up because businesses needed to access robotics, particularly collaborative robotics for a range of manufacturing applications.”
The Learning Factory is a site where the team test, trial and demonstrate technologies for industry. Present in a dedicated maker space, are key experts in AI, robotics, & industrial design for industry to engage with.
“It has become this meeting place that makes it easy to collaborate, easy to do business, and easy to ask all the humbling questions about technology,” Stewart said.
“We are an AI, robotics and Industry 4.0 company. We’ve managed to attract international talent such as (chair in manufacturing robotics) Professor Will Brown, by having this company that’s a platform to do his work.”
Local Brisbane SME, Voltin, worked with ARM Hub to design, develop and commercialise their innovations in building inspection technology.
With ARM Hub, Voltin connected with QUT experts to define the design to manufacture requirements of their innovative system, implementing digital scanning and artificial intelligence to conduct precise scanning tasks, and have since employed data science and mechatronics engineering graduates.
ARM Hub has about 20 projects operating at any one time, with another 70 in development at any given point. A focus on SMEs means a deep pipeline of engagement and transformative activities.
As a not-for-profit, the company leverages state and federal funding and philanthropic donations, particularly for SMEs, working closely with partners like AusIndustry, Queensland Manufacturing Institute, regional manufacturing hubs and the Innovative Manufacturing Collaborative Research Centre.
Stewart describes the ARM Hub Learning Factory as an open front door for SMEs.
“What we’re hoping is to have Learning Factories around the country, engaging innovation ready manufacturers and delivering outcomes,” she said. “We have a fairly ambitious expansion plan, so after COVID, we’ll be reigniting those initiatives.”
Understanding what’s technically feasible and where to start is one thing, but a trusted source of independent third-party advice can really make a difference. With sustained models, like ARM Hub, to provide infrastructure and innovative networks will directly contribute to carving out a dynamic future for Australian manufacturing.