Preparing for the next decade of manufacturing

For Australian manufacturers to ride the wave of COVID-19, a focus on high value and accurate products is needed to capture the demand for Australian-made.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Australian manufacturing sector has stepped up to provide essential goods and services to the Australian public. Whether filling the gaps in supply chains for masks, pivoting to the production of sanitiser, or increasing local production lines as imports became unavailable, Australian are now getting their hands on more Australian-made products than in the past decades.

Although plastics producers who quickly began making masks and alcohol manufacturers who swapped to hand sanitiser may go back to their previous product lines once the pandemic is under control, COVID-19 is expected to be a watershed moment in the evolution of Australian manufacturing. According to a report from BIS Oxford Economics, the value of all sub sectors of Australian manufacturing is expected to increase over the next ten years, with food and beverage manufacturing leading the way.

This is good news not just for the manufacturing industry, but for the wider community. For every manufacturing job added, at least four other jobs are created, according to the South East Melbourne Manufacturers Alliance (SEMMA). This is a figure that Paul Cibotto, CEO of Test Machines Australia, knows from experience.

“Australian made products support not just one industry, one company, or one person. An Australian made product will support the person who’s building the machine and their company, their families. It also supports the person that’s supplying the parts to that company and their families.”

What BIS Oxford Economics’ report showed was that Australian manufacturing would increase in value, not in volume. This is where Australian manufacturing will be globally competitive in the years to come. The automotive sector provides one example of how this may occur.

While vehicle assembly has largely wound up in Australia, the skills and expertise of the local sector has morphed into the production of high value components and materials. Most recently, this was highlighted in the announcement of Victorian-based manufacturer Doftek releasing a world-first Active Wheel Alignment System for passenger vehicles. The system can regulate a wheel’s camber (longitudinal angle), caster (longitudinal tilt) and toe (latitudinal angle), reducing tyre wear, saving fuel, and improving handling performance.

As an Australian-designed and engineered product, Doftek is one of a number of manufacturers who rely upon an ecosystem of precise and accurate support in the testing and development phase. In Cibotto’s case, the move to manufacture components not just for automotive applications but in the aeronautical and aerospace industry using new materials requires local testing expertise.

“We do a lot of specialised projects and projects for the defence department, while we can’t discuss the exact projects, there’s a lot more carbon fibre projects and titanium componentry being designed and developed.”

In these cases, high-value locally-designed and made parts rely upon local testing and prototyping.

“By supporting the prototype industry you’re allowing the customer to develop a stronger or more efficient prototype stronger, allowing them to build a better product which enables the Australian development side to get stronger and stronger,” said Cibotto.

By going local during the testing and prototyping phase, product development is streamlined, and the industry can leverage its natural advantages.

“You’ll benefit from a faster response as well as a smoother and an easier transaction,” said Cibotto. “You’ll benefit from the local knowledge and understanding of the situation, and you don’t have to deal in different time zones. Everybody will understand what’s going on.”

Having worked with Australian manufacturers of all sizes, from small businesses to large corporations and universities, Cibotto can see the potential for local manufacturing.

“I’m a strong believer in Australian manufacturing. It can be made to good standards, it can be made repeatably, and the quality can be checked all the way along the manufacturing process. You’re not just inspecting the final product, you can keep an eye on the whole manufacturing process, or you can oversee it. And you can make sure if there’s an issue, you can see it before it becomes a problem. Ideally, you’re overseeing the production start to finish.”

Having a partner who knows how to ensure quality is vital to this approach. Test Machines Australia supplies locally manufactured testing equipment to make sure that the components and the machines that are producing those components are correctly calibrated.

“We look for quality componentry and we look for the way it’s assembled,” said Cibotto. “Anybody can purchase good parts but assemble it badly and create a bad machine that doesn’t work. We can see through our manufacturing experience whether the machine is going to do the job as required.”

With demand still high for COVID-19 supplies and borders closed, Cibotto argues that now is the time to get ready for the next ten years, and for Australian manufacturers to think about how they are going to come out of the current crisis ready to meet the demand for locally made and supported products.

“We should be using this time to prepare for the future. People are looking more and more towards Australian made and they understand that it may cost a little bit more but we’re actually now paying a little bit more attention to where things are made. If we don’t prepare for what will come, people will want Australian-made but the products won’t be there to meet the demand.

“We need to be trying to set up our manufacturing, whether it be our tooling, our labs, or our processes for the future. The situation we’re in right now isn’t going to be there forever. The important thing is we’ll need to be prepared when it does come.”

Ensuring that Australia has the capacity and capability to product high-value products requires local testing expertise, something that Cibotto is continuing to provide to Australian manufacturers despite COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’re an Australian company, we have our own service people in every state. We’re still doing calibrations and service, we’re doing a lot more phone conferences and through our knowledge of the industry and experience we’re still able to discuss the requirements, make sales, and repair and service machines.”