Australian manufacturing must improve how it communicates with the community, keep pace with technological changes, and give its employees the “authority to dream”, attendees at the Sydney Factories of the Future event heard yesterday.
Keynote speaker at the packed breakfast forum, Keech Australia CEO Herbert Hermens, said that responsibility lay with the industry to better articulate its importance.
“I really blame ourselves; we’re letting people take this conversation away from us,” he told the sold-out audience at Parramatta’s Novotel.
Ineffective communication of both the importance of manufacturing and what was needed for it to remain competitive was detrimental to companies operating at the moment and to attracting investment from abroad.
“We have many examples of companies looking at Australia and choosing not to come here, and that is the reality of what we’re facing today,” said Dr Hermens.
Afterwards, Dr Hermens cited the conversation around the end of automotive manufacturing – and the huge predicted knock-on effects to suppliers and employment – as an example of where the industry should be taking responsibility in the conversation.
“This starts with each CEO letting their political masters know what they do for their suppliers and communities as well as letting staff and suppliers know how important they are,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
The local industry also needed to welcome a transition from repetition to an environment of constant change and of production tailored to individuals. The point was amplified by Autodesk’s Sales Director, APAC, Rob Malkin, who cited the “batches of one” approach from Normal, which creates customised 3D printed earphones based on a scan of a consumer’s ear.
To be globally relevant, Australian manufacturers needed to shift their methods to adopt an “advanced manufacturing” approach, said Dr Hermens, which was relevant to both newer and traditional businesses. Keech, for its part, is an 81-year-old castings company, primarily serving the mining sector.
“While much of advanced manufacturing’s focus is on developing new and emerging technologies we must not forget that its benefits of delivering efficient, productive, highly integrated, tightly controlled processes can be applied equally to new and ‘old’ products and services,” Dr Hermens offered.
“At its heart is the goal of responding quickly to customer demand by using high-precision information technology and this applies equally to new and old.”
Having advanced manufacturing “assimilated into the Australian manufacturing DNA” would increase the chances of companies being globally relevant, according to Dr Hermens’s keynote, with nurturing near and far markets necessary.
The third-generation Keech has increased its international reach since Dr Hermens joined as CEO seven years ago.
It opened a Chilean subsidiary in 2012, has been in South Africa more than a year, and announced a reseller partnership with Peru’s Recolsa early in 2015. It currently invests around a tenth of revenue in R&D, opened an additive manufacturing subsidiary last year, and this year became the first company to secure guaranteed access to the CSIRO’s Lab 22 metal 3D printing facilities.
Constant innovation had kept the Bendigo business relevant, said its CEO. It has received numerous awards recognising this, including a Manufacturers' Monthly Endeavour Award for Technology Application of the Year in May and three consecutive years in BRW’s Most Innovative Companies list.
Within the company, this covers operations, production, strategy and management, and was, according to Dr Hermens, underpinned by giving all staff “the authority to dream”.
As with communicating to the public, communication throughout a business was critical.
“We support people to take time off to consider their roles and ways to improve their productivity and share their thinking,” he said, citing “tool-box” meetings, covering everything from job roles to business units, with an encouragement to “suggest even implausible or seemingly impossible” changes.
“This gives us a chance to look at how we invest and if we can make that change.”
To listen to a podcast of yesterday’s Factories of the Future keynote address, click here.
Special thanks to Autodesk, CISCO / Secure Agility and Netsuite for supporting the second Factories of the Future breakfast. Stay tuned for another FotF event announcement.