SEMMA (South East Melbourne Manufacturers’ Alliance) argued strongly in our Submission to the Senate Committee on COVID 19 Recovery in 2020 that the federal government should establish effective models for Industry – University collaboration to take innovation through to commercialisation, with production retained in Australia and outputs exported globally. In a global environment innovation is key to our future growth and development of new products. Such action is essential to reverse Australia’s decline on the OECD list of the world’s most innovative economies.
“Innovative countries are more productive, resilient, adaptable to change and better able to support higher living standards” is a quote from the recent Industry Innovation and Science Australia’s (IISA) report, ‘Driving Effective Government Investment in Innovation, Science and Research’. The IISA report goes on to say,” Investment in innovation … provides the foundation for ground-breaking technologies as well as new and significantly improved processes, products, marketing and organisational practices.”
IISA cited information from the OECD “that innovation needs a strong and efficient system for knowledge creation and diffusion that invests in systematic pursuit of fundamental knowledge and that diffuses knowledge throughout society … Innovation policies are needed to tackle a range of barriers to innovation and entrepreneurial activity”.
In assisting our manufacturers to be more innovative, SEMMA has been pleased to partner with the team at Swinburne’s Factory of the Future, located at the Hawthorn campus, which provides industry with state-of-the-art facilities to work through concepts for manufacturing next‑generation products. The Factory of the Future enables research and provides capabilities such as rapid digital prototyping to test new design concepts. The team also provide training and support to manufacturers looking to commence or enhance their adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies and Industry 4.0.
Swinburne’s Director at the Factory of the Future, Associate Professor Nico Adams, believes that a critical thing to learn from both overseas and very innovative manufacturing companies here in Australia is how to set the conditions for innovation in business.
Professor Adams commented that through the Factory of the Future/Advanced Manufacturing Industry 4.0 Hub, they have recently put out a number of webinars around how to innovate on business models, how to create and validate value propositions for products and services and how to set the conditions for innovation inside a business. There has been a very significant uptake on this from manufacturers which indicates that there is a real appetite for these topics.
To create new ideas and innovation, manufacturing companies should learn how others overseas determine:
- How to define business outcomes: where are we and where do we want to be next as a business? Are those articulations incorporating major influences such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, additive manufacturing and smart materials?
- How to engage in value driver thinking: do we just want to innovate in our products and processes or do we need to consider the whole value chain/ecosystems that we operate in (e.g., logistics, design, services) and do we need to innovate in these too?
- How to become an employer of choice: how do we attract people that can really drive an innovation agenda in the business. What attracts them? How is nature of work changing and how does our business need to respond to this?
- How to build an innovation enabling network around our company: How can we partner with other businesses to assemble an ecosystem of capability around us that enables our innovation? How do we work with research providers and universities? How do we bridge the language and cultural gaps?
- How to manage innovation: what KPIs do other businesses have around innovation: How do they make sure they get an ROI for their investment? How do they manage risk and how do they de-risk innovation?
Professor Adams observed that there is a lot of best practice and new thinking to learn from overseas which manufacturers can employ to inform and define their own innovation strategies for their particular context. Fortunately, collaborations between universities are frequent and those collaborations extend to working with international counterparts to undertake research.
In terms of getting overseas knowledge and the lessons from innovative Australian manufacturers out of academia and into business, there are some challenges, but also opportunities for industry engagement with a university or research body like CSIRO.
Partnering with universities enables businesses to adopt Industry 4.0 more quickly or to take advantage of capabilities such as new material development and digital prototyping. In addition to working directly with initiatives such as Swinburne’s Factory of the Future, one of the fastest ways of getting innovation out of unis and into business is via students. Ideally students should be brought on as part of a well-managed plan so that their work is derived from, and contributes to, the company’s innovation strategy.