Advanced manufacturing: driving growth through collaboration

By Bruce Muirhead

July 15, 2016

Engineering Innovation concept on the gearwheels

Advanced manuacturing has been extolled as one of areas of potential growth with huge benefits for Australia in near to medium term — having been identified as one of the government’s five targeted sectors for growth in the economy.

The two major parties have both committed to tax relief for SMEs in a bid to boost entrepreneurship and take advantage of what has been hammered home as “the most exciting time to be an Australian”. The truth of the matter is that these businesses are expected to do a fair portion of the heavy lifting over the next five years to move Australia to above trend growth and increase job creation. And while putting faith in the enterprising nature of small business owners is a tried and true method, the next five years present an incredibly different business environment and there are still many risks inherent in shifting manufacturing models, especially for smaller operators.

One such area that both parties seem keen to promote as a potential for increased growth is in advanced manufacturing — manufacturing that takes advantage of innovative technology to improve processes and products.

Advanced manufacturing requires increased input from varied sources to add increased value to products and processes. The out-dated perception of manufacturing as being a “metal bashing” industry, doesn’t take account of the incredible amount of strategy, creativity and collaboration that go into advanced manufacturing.

For many smaller manufacturers the shift towards advanced manufacturing presents inherent risks for this very reason, increased research presents as an increased input cost. To this end its important Australia improves its ability and capacity for collaboration between industry and research — currently, Australia ranks 81st in the world in terms of efficiency in our innovation system. In a global market, this won’t be good enough to ensure out manufacturing industry competes and outperforms those other countries.

Australia has always had access to world-class research and is rightfully proud of our research institutions. But access to, and commercialisation of this research is a regrettable weakness. Technology presents not only incredible opportunities for advancement in research but also for increased collaboration between industry and research. The same technology that presents manufacturing with incredible new opportunities, also presents us with the means to enhance collaboration and access to research.

All stakeholders need to recognise the fact that research needs to be more readily available to smaller and medium sized manufacturers. While there are obvious incentives to collaborate with larger industry manufacturers the potential pay off for researchers who are wiling to collaborate with small, nimble manufacturers willing to take risks is indeed very high. Small and medium business are expected to become the real growth drivers of our economy, but areas such as manufacturing that are increasingly reliant on innovation and research to get an advantage in a competitive market need support. They need support from government in to take risks and be and support in increased collaboration and access to the brightest minds in the country on the part of our research institutions.

Manufacturing is part of a long list of industries to feel the disruptive inertia of technology. But the opportunities outweigh the risks and through targeted collaboration and strategic partnership development the Australia will have a bright future as a leader in advanced manufacturing.

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