Australian women “breaking the bias” in manufacturing

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Image credit: AMGC.

On International Women’s Day this week, the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) highlighted the leading female voices who are “breaking the bias” in the manufacturing industry. 

AMGC research – “Perceptions of Australian Manufacturing” – showed that public debate that amplifies false stereotypes is the result of biased perceptions in Australian manufacturing. This impacts students, particularly female students, in choosing not to consider a manufacturing career. 

According to this research, 48 per cent of Australians aged 16-25 viewed manufacturing as important compared with 75.2 per cent for those aged 25-65. 

The Australian manufacturing industry has a variety of well-paid roles across the whole value chain, including R&D, design, logistics, production, distribution, sales and marketing and service. 

For International Women’s Day, AMGC spoke to eight members with distinguished female leaders in their respective fields. 

CSIRO chief scientist Professor Bronwyn Fox 

Professor Bronwyn Fox chose science and engineering over music and literature as a career – and found that she loved working as a team to solve problems. One of the main highlights of her career to date was visiting the Boeing factory. 

“I’ve always loved visiting factories,” Fox said. “One highlight was the Boeing factory in Seattle where the 787 Dreamliner is made which is bigger than Disneyworld. 

“The heroes of the 21st century will be the technologists, the innovators, the problem solvers and people who are willing to take a risk to make a difference. Be one of them.” 

Micro-X senior mechanical engineer Caitlin Wouters 

Being able to witness the progress from an idea to a finished product is part of the reason why Caitlin Wouters loves engineering and manufacturing. 

“You are creating something in the world that people want or need, so that you can really make a difference,” she said. 

“Working at a company which has manufacturing and design at the same place has many benefits, as you get to not only see through the design process but follow to see how suitable that design is for manufacturing and then all the way to customer feedback.” 

Micro-X is a maker of miniaturised x-ray machines based in South Australia. 

“Manufacturing in many products these days is quite the opposite of the traditional view from the past,” Wouters said. “At Micro-X, since we make x-ray tubes, we require a ‘clean room’ environment when creating vacuum tubes. 

“This involves an extremely clean environment, down to dust and particle removal from the air, and using automated tools like laser welders and machinery that can be very interesting to design and use.” 

b.box head of Product Design Lisa Edlund Tjernberg 

Lisa Edlunch Tjernberg joined b.box in Victoria to collaborate on everything from the initial idea to the finished product, with design informing both art and science. 

When considering what manufacturing involves, production is only one element – it also includes “user research; concept development; CAD development; prototype and testing; design for manufacture; and communicating with the factories – in achieving the right aesthetic, functionality and quality,” Edlunch Tjernberg said. 

“Manufacturing processes these days are being more and more automated, especially in countries where labour is expensive, which would offer some great opportunities in automation, robotics, electronics and mechanics, to name a few.” 

Additive Assurance operations manager Clare Bellchambers 

Clare Bellchambers joined small 3D printing technology company, Additive Assurance, after a career in manufacturing spanning sales, strategy, finance, operations and logistics. 

“I decided to take what I had learned from the corporate world and use it to help start-ups grow and scale,” she said. “I’ve been with Additive Assurance for around 18 months, and I still get excited about coming into work each day!” 

Bellchambers said that her new role has come with a strong culture of collaboration and likens it to “conducting an orchestra.” 

“Logistics is at the centre of the organisation, so you get to see a little bit of what goes on in each area of the company,” she said. 

Bestie Kitchen founder and managing director Amanda Falconer 

Amanda Falconer spent her career in marketing for corporates before discovering what she wanted to do at age 55. Manufacturing has given her a newfound appreciation of technology. 

“I’ve always ‘made things’ – I just didn’t realise how much STEM was an enabler of this,” she said. 

Bestie Kitchen has developed peer review research-based nutraceutical snacks for dogs, in collaboration with a holistic vet and CSIRO. According to Falconer, moving prototypes developed with CSIRO in their pilot plant into improved versions produced in Bestie Kitchen’s factory has been “both terrifying and really satisfying.” 

Far from being based on manual labour in dirty factories, she has found manufacturing a fascinating universe of “computers, automation, and robots” as well as “brimming with opportunity.” 

Great Wrap co-founder and co-CEO Julia Kay 

Julia Kay was working in architecture and designing buildings with an education focus when she and her husband noticed a lot of environmentally damaging waste arriving on pallets. This led to an environmentally friendly, compostable stretch wrap based on food waste. 

“Now we have two factories making it, powered by renewables, where we’re creating inclusive jobs and a solution – it’s just such a brilliant and rewarding industry to work in,” Kay said. 

“In our case, the performance happens when our product lands in our customer’s hands, so distribution, be it direct from our facility, or via a retailer is absolutely crucial to our manufacturing business. Without a robust, efficient distribution function, that is easy for our customers, there would be no Great Wrap.” 

ANCA Group Strategy and Communications manager Johanna Boland 

While Johanna Boland found that a career in communications can be transferred to any industry, she affirms that manufacturing is an exciting one. 

“I have also loved working in manufacturing,” she said. “The people are intelligent and given the different teams that need to get involved in making a product you can work on some really dynamic projects.” 

ANCA employs over 1,000 worldwide, half based in Melbourne, and builds high-precision machinery and software used by customers like Boeing and SpaceX. 

“There are also so many opportunities at ANCA and in the manufacturing industry as a whole,” Boland said. “I would say most people just haven’t heard enough about manufacturing to understand all the opportunities that exist.” 

ZellaDC co-founder and CEO Angie Keeler 

Angie Keeler’s company ZellaDC makes micro data centres, built to withstand the most demanding environments they could be asked to operate in.  

Keeler said that all the steps involved in manufacturing are important. 

“Manufacturing is not just putting things together – there is a huge amount of work to do even before you get to production,” she said. “Logistics and distribution are also very important, especially for exporting to other countries. Exporting is an essential part of growing your business, but this can’t be achieved without a solid logistics and distribution department. 

“But of course, without sales you have no business – you need to focus on sales first and foremost. Service is probably the second most important aspect. We focus on delighting our customers – if you focus on offering lifetime value, you gain returning customers that turn into ambassadors for your brand.” 

Australia’s manufacturing industry employs over 1.3 million people and contributes more than 10 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

“These exceptional female leaders are an example of the incredibly diverse capability which exists in Australia’s manufacturing industry,” AMGC director of Corporate Affairs and Board member Kelly Godeau said. “These women represent a model for the 21st century on what we can achieve together, and to focus on what we do best which is to approach manufacturing as an enabler of innovation that can change the lives of many and solve great global challenges.” 

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