Advanced Manufacturing Factory in Action

Wollongong Leads Advanced Manufacturing Push

Recent global impacts of Covid-19 have been many. For industry in developed nations in particular, it has exposed a lack of onshore manufacturing capabilities and highlighted the vulnerability of our reliance on global supply chains and distribution networks. In Australia, the Covid-19 era has shone a spotlight on the challenges and opportunities for manufacturing onshore. It has also been a stark reminder that we are yet again at a turning point as a Nation. Will Australia evolve, innovate and continue to develop capabilities for high value onshore advanced manufacturing, or increasingly rely on manufacturing offshore? Perhaps, the answer is somewhere in between.


We know that collaboration between research and development teams, Industry and Government, as well as investment capital and shared determination from all parties will be required to truly reach our full potential as an advanced manufacturing nation.


Collaborative projects between Australia’s Universities, Industry, and Government seek to develop advanced manufacturing opportunities with renewed focus on innovation and the overall objective of driving renewal and success for Australia’s manufacturing sector. The Illawarra is playing a leading role in this push.


But what exactly is advanced manufacturing and how is the Illawarra contributing to the current evolution of Industry towards cutting-edge advanced manufacturing?


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Characteristics of Businesses in Selected Growth Sectors defines the advanced manufacturing growth sector as ‘any manufacturing process that takes advantage of high-technology or knowledge-intensive inputs as an integral part of its manufacturing process. It includes chemical and medicinal manufacturing, as well as vehicle and transport, professional and scientific equipment, computer and electronic, and specialised machinery and equipment manufacturing.’


The growth body for advanced manufacturing in Australia, Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) describes it as ‘not what you make, but how you make it’. That is, a manufacturer is more ‘advanced’ when it uses advanced processes, advanced knowledge and advanced business models. The AMGC believes that every single manufacturer in Australia has the potential to be advanced with the key elements outlined below;


• Advanced knowledge: continuously innovate with a high degree of Research and Development (R&D) investment.

• Advanced process: focus on using state-of-the-art technology, become familiar with digitalisation.

• Advanced business model: offer niche solutions, often highly customised and highly valuable.


Dr Jens Goennemann, Managing Director of the AMGC, believes that the growth potential is positive in the Australian manufacturing sector.


A new era of manufacturing requires a new definition to accurately measure where we stand and how we benchmark our progress. We have learnt through our analysis that our sector is larger and more dynamic, yet there remains ample opportunity to grow. Dr Jens Goennemann, Managing Director, AMGC


AMGC in 2018 also reports that the manufacturing sector has grown to nearly 1.3 million manufacturing employees, almost 10% of the Australian workforce when accounting for the entire value chain of manufacturing activities.


The AMGC report also states that upwards of 80% of Australian manufacturers could break new ground to collaborate with academics, researchers, increase Information and Communications Technology (ICT) spend or use patents to protect their ideas. That’s quite some potential indeed.


The Advanced Manufacturing sector specifically is continuing to grow. It’s contribution to manufacturing employment is summarised by the ABS (2016-17 year) as:


    • 24 per cent of total manufacturing employment
    • 28 per cent of Industry value added
    • 25 per cent of sales and service income
    • 25 per cent of merchandise exports


Most Australian manufacturers have considerable room to grow in developing Advanced characteristics. Read more in the AMGC Advanced Manufacturing Report, 2018.


But the strategic and practical importance of improving onshore manufacturing capabilities has been exposed by recent bottlenecks and supply chain issues during the Covid-19 pandemic, such as to the ongoing supply of suitable respirators for frontline medical personnel.


As the Covid-19 era continues to challenge us all on a number of levels, stark realities now face our manufacturing sector; how does manufacturing in Australia respond to move beyond its current settings and into the future of advanced manufacturing? One way is through collaboration, innovation, R&D investment, proactive Industry, Government and Academic partnerships, such as the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Program currently based at Wollongong University.


In July 2020, via the ARC the Australian Government announced the extension of support for an additional five years for the Wollongong University based ARC Industrial Transformation Research Program, as well granting support to many other research and development programs Australia wide. The grant funded 5 million dollars over 5 years, with the Steel industry committing a further 13.9 million and the University sector a further 9.5 million in kind, in total a 28.4 million boost to the Wollongong led Steel research and development collaboration program, directed by Dr Paul Zulli. The overarching goal of the Steel Research Hub is to support the transition of Australia’s steel manufacturing industry to a more sustainable, competitive and resilient position.


Other ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hubs granted government funding in 2020, include:


• ARC Research Hub for Australian Steel Innovation

• ARC Research Hub for Transforming Energy Infrastructure through Digital Engineering

• ARC Research Hub for Transformation of Reclaimed Waste Resources to Engineered

• Materials and Solutions for a Circular Economy

• ARC Research Hub for Innovative Nitrogen Fertilisers and Inhibitors

• ARC Research Hub in New Safe and Reliable Energy Storage and Conversion Technologies


The University of Wollongong more broadly is a leader in innovation for Industry, generating over $2 billion in economic activity each year. Its innovation ecosystem reaches across the Illawarra and NSW. Areas researched include 3D printing, high-strength alloys, battery innovation, bionic implants, nanomaterials, innovation in building materials and machinery innovations such as high productivity welding, metal forming systems and autonomous robots.


In the Covid-19 era the importance of Industry/ research partnerships to develop future industries has never been more apparent. With Australia’s impressive academic and research history- including globally renowned institutions such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and research such as that conducted at Wollongong University, Australia has often excelled at research and development, creating opportunity for those willing to back ideas and invest.


The biggest challenge for Australian Industry’s Advanced Manufacturing future, however, is turning world leading research into leading, thriving industries and businesses. This not only requires innovative ideas and collaborative research and development such as the ARC Research Hubs, CSIRO and University R&D innovators, but requires industry collaboration, investment capital and a commitment and sustained drive to scale ideas into competitive, commercial entities for an exciting Advanced Manufacturing Future.


But these are not just future problems to solve, newly formed H2X are already pioneering the way in the Illawarra, with plans to manufacture hydrogen-powered heavy and light vehicles, right here in Australia.


“With the development of many green energy projects in Australia at the moment, we have a unique opportunity to bring a significant manufacturing operation back into the country,” H2X, Chief Executive Officer, Brendan Norman.


In 2021, H2X will release two heavy vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel-cell units. Targeting major transport companies, these vehicles will have minimal reliance on publicly available fuel sources, and H2X are already in discussion with industry partners to begin the rollout of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. A hybrid electric plug-in and hydrogen-fuelled passenger vehicle is also scheduled for production in 2022.


The good news: they will be manufactured onshore. Initially H2X will need to rely heavily on imported parts, but within five years the new manufacturer aims to have a minimum of 80% local content in its vehicles, a capability it plans to develop by partnering with local universities, Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes, Australian unions, companies and Industry groups.


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