We speak to the managing director of Quickstep Holdings about how the company became one of Australia’s great manufacturing exports.
1. What’s the best thing about being MD of Quickstep?
I love working in the global composites industry, which is undergoing such a dramatic transformation at the moment with the move towards lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles – we’re already seeing cars and aeroplanes that are almost entirely constructed of composite materials, and over the next 10 years I think that shift will really start to accelerate.
Against that backdrop, having the opportunity to lead a company that’s commercialising a ground-breaking technology with the ability to cure composites faster and more cheaply is really exciting. Our patented ‘Quickstep Process’ has the potential to dramatically change the way composites are manufactured across major global industries such as aerospace and automotive.
I’ve spent most of my career working in multinational corporations and have been involved in some key strategic decisions with worldwide consequences. Quickstep may be smaller company, but the complexity of the company and its market are every bit as challenging. Every day I have the opportunity to work with some of the world’s largest multinational corporations – companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Audi.
2. How much time do you spend at your global manufacturing facilities?
At the moment I split my time fairly evenly between our existing manufacturing headquarters in Western Australia and our new facility which is under construction at Bankstown Airport in New South Wales.
As we transition more of our manufacturing business across to New South Wales I will increasingly spend more of my time there.
In addition to our manufacturing facilities, we also have Quickstep development centres in Germany and the United States, which are primarily focused on Research & Development initiatives associated with our ‘Quickstep Process’ for composites manufacturing. So in addition to my time in Australia, I also make a number of trips to the US, Europe and Asia each year.
3. What’s the one piece of technology/equipment that the Bankstown plant couldn’t live without?
Definitely our ‘Quickstep Process’ curing technology. We use traditional autoclave technology for most of our manufacturing contracts at the moment, but our aim is to introduce our own technology into the manufacturing of parts once we move to Bankstown.
The Quickstep Process offers significant advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques such as autoclave, including significantly shorter cure cycle times, reduced energy consumption and enhanced design flexibility.
Manufacturing parts using our own technology is the best way to demonstrate these benefits to potential customers.
4. Your RST and Quickstep Process are now being used to develop Audi automotive components, as well as JSF defence components. Which other manufacturing industries do you have your eye on?
For the moment, our sole focus is on the aerospace and automotive industries. In these two industries we know we have the right market knowledge and technical solutions to deliver real change in the way carbon vehicles are manufactured.
Being a small company, we have to focus on the highest return industries where we know we can make a difference.
5. Quickstep is a great Australian manufacturing success story. When Quickstep the company was born, did you ever think it would be as successful as it is today?
I wasn’t part of the adventure when it began, but when I joined the company three years ago I analysed the technology and immediately knew the potential was immense.
Carbon fibre was a fast growing market. New aircrafts were already being designed using full carbon like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 models. It was therefore a certainty that the use of this material would grow exponentially and that Quickstep’s technology was a sure way to reduce the cost of manufacturing these very expensive products.
However, the potential for success in the automotive sector was a lot less obvious at the time. When I joined the company, our automotive manufacturing technology had just been successfully patented, but the car industry was moribund. Our first contacts with automotive manufacturers were very disappointing – they didn’t know if they would survive the next day and some of the big names in the industry did fall over, so no one had any interest in new technologies.
However we persevered with the development of this technology and as soon as the market recovered, we had very encouraging results to report on our research. In addition, suddenly there was a compelling argument to reduce the weight of cars – restrictions on CO2 emissions and the increasing price of fuel. These obligations forced a very conservative industry to change their way very quickly.
6. Do you think the Australian government does enough to help the manufacturing industry?
The Australian government has a very positive attitude towards R&D. It allows generous tax deductions and funds new technologies in a positive way.
However the long term support to industry in terms of incentives beyond R&D is sometimes reactive rather than proactive and is tainted by the market approach that both sides of politics have been defending. Most European countries, Asian countries and the US are mandating that a large percentage of public purchasing must be done domestically. They are helping to develop and sustain local industry by forcing purchasing from their home manufacturing base. I believe the Australian Government could do more to support local industry by introducing similar measures.
One thing that the government has not done is limit the rise of the Australian dollar. The Swiss had a similar problem and their government actively sold their currency to an announced level, cutting short the speculation against the Swiss Franc. Their industry benefitted greatly from that policy. Our industry and tourism have been decimated by the AUD strength and I would like to see the government step in to assist. Unfortunately a lot of people believe, wrongly in my opinion, that it is good to have such a strong currency, however they need to remember that most Australian jobs are still in the manufacturing and tourism sectors, not in mining.
7. Do you think the mining and manufacturing industries in Australia can co-exist?
I believe they can co-exist, but I think it’s vital we recognise we’re mining finite resources and the mining boom can’t last forever. We need to nurture the manufacturing sector by fostering innovation and by encouraging consumers to buy locally produced technology if it is good enough. I think the mining industry has too much influence in determining exchange rates, which is very bad for industry, and that a better balance needs to be reached. I also believe Australia is not taking full advantage of the mining boom to create more infrastructure and save for the future. Wise countries that have such a windfall should reinvest that money into their industrial sectors or other long term investment that will outlast the boom.
8. What would you be doing if you weren’t the MD of Quickstep?
I would probably have taken a job in a large international organisation. However I have dreamt of driving a technology intensive international company for many years, so what I do in Quickstep is a dream come true – however hard it is to make this dream happen.
9. Have you been allowed to go for a joy-ride in the JSF vehicles?!
I am not a pilot and the Joint Strike Fighter is a single seat aircraft… so I haven’t and will probably never fly in a JSF aircraft. I would love to do a run in a simulator – that would be real fun!