Technological breakthroughs open up markets

AUSTRALIA has historically been regarded as a fertile nursery for the conception and development of innovative ideas, and sometimes these lead to the launch of entirely new and unique products onto the international market. Hartley Henderson reports for Manufacturers’ Monthly.

AUSTRALIA has historically been regarded as a fertile nursery for the conception and development of innovative ideas, and sometimes these lead to the launch of entirely new and unique products.

Olex is Australia’s largest manufacturer of power and data cables, with more than 20,000 individual lines. But one recent product development in particular stands out.

According to Olex’s marketing manager, Tony Kiernan, Pyrolex Ceramifiable fire performance cable, which is manufactured with an insulation layer that hardens into a protective ceramic shield when exposed to fire, is a world first.

“This cable is designed without stiff mica glass tape and layered with a unique polymer coating that provides greater flexibility and cost savings at installation as well as superior performance in emergency situations”, Kiernan told Manufacturers Monthly.

“The special ceramic material was jointly developed by the CSIRO, the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Polymers, and Olex scientists and engineers.

“In a fire, the cable maintains energy supply to life-saving essential services such as pumps, fans, lighting and alarms.

“This flame resistant and halogen-free innovative cable is ideal for installation in any building that has an evacuation system, such as hospitals and high-rise commercial buildings.

For example, installation of the product was recently completed at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, and installation at the Royal Women’s Hospital is about to commence. The Australian market is estimated at some $50m, and there are big potential overseas markets.

“Pyrolex Ceramifiable is fire rated to AS 3013 testing requirements. Fire rated cables are designed to continue functioning during a fire for a specific period of time to assist evacuation by maintaining essential services such as smoke handling systems and emergency lighting.”

Apart from its success in developing innovative products, Olex also has a strong focus on ensuring its manufacturing facilities are at the cutting edge. The company recently commissioned a new $4m central stranding machine at its Tottenham factory to increase efficiency and cable output. Kiernan says the 60m long machine operates eight times faster than other stranders.

“In addition, new cable winding and cutting equipment installed at our Wetherill Park distribution centre in Sydney has resulted in a significant improvement in the ability to provide delivery in full and on time (DIFOT). Bulk drums of cable are held in readiness and are cut to length as required for the same or following day delivery.”

Innovation key to success

In the Melbourne suburb of Dandenong South, INC Corporation produces a range of innovative engineered materials including DECI-TEX acoustic materials, Radical UV-cured pressure sensitive adhesive tapes, and Aerotex waterproof breathable textiles, primarily for the highly competitive automotive industry.

INC was the first Australian manufacturer to produce a comprehensive range of acoustic materials for a variety of OEM customers.

Company MD, Michael Coates, says the company has always been a technology leader, being the first to introduce new environmentally friendly laminating technology, CAD/CAM knife cutting, laser trimming, a UV-coating line, and 3D nonwoven textiles.

“We place a very strong emphasis on product and market differentiation, and proudly innovate where others imitate.

“Winning the Society of Engineers-Australia Gold Award for Engineering Excellence for our DECI-TEX acoustic textile technology was one of our proudest moments, and helped to take our technology into major markets,” Coates told Manufacturers Monthly.

“We now have a manufacturing facility in South Carolina supplying our US licensees, and Teijin Fibres, our licensee in Japan, is about to officially open its new DECI-TEX production facility.

“Our materials provide a high performance alternative to the traditional options, and our flexible manufacturing processes allow us to engineer to our customer’s requirements.”

Coates emphasises that the company, which has some 50 employees and is Australian owned, operates a strong product engineering department.

Accordingly, an important strategy is to ensure protection of intellectual property through patents and trademarks. Despite the high cost of IP protection, Coates sees this as a vital exercise for long-term sustainability.

“For example, our most recent US patent will further open up that market for us.

“To fully capitalise on our technology we must have a strong international presence. Within a few years, our offshore activities will generate substantially more revenue than our domestic manufacturing.

“After only 12 months of operation, almost 25% of our revenue now comes from the US, and this is growing exponentially.

“With Teijin just now coming on-stream, we are well placed to work with Japanese manufacturers, such as Toyota and Mitsubishi, in three continents.

“Global success is critical to the survival of Australian industry. Our proprietary technology has enabled INC to become a small, cutting edge, and increasingly important player in the global market,” Coates said.