SIEMENS has signed a historic research agreement with Defence Science and Technology Group and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to advance the use of high temperature superconducting (HTS) in Australia.

The partnership will conduct research into HTS and explore its applications to Australia’s maritime defence and industrial power requirements with the intent to transition research findings into technology that can be trialled in naval applications.  

HTS technologies under development today in superconducting motors, generators and magnets can carry high-density currents with virtually no loss and have the potential to reduce the size and weight of conventional motors by more than 30 percent.

Siemens Australia CEO, Jeff Connolly, said the unique partnership reinforces Siemens’ proud record of introducing technologies that matter to Australia. It exemplifies the benefits of a strong bilateral relationship between Australia and Germany.

“For the Australian Navy, this partnership opens a pathway to more energy-efficient vessels with huge leaps forward in size, weight and capacity. HTS will also mean less environmental impact and reduced operating costs,” Mr Connolly said.

“Imagine the benefits of a motor with the same power but 30 percent less size and weight!”

With this partnership, Siemens is investing 15 years of HTS knowledge to develop the next generation of Australian HTS experts. This five year agreement starts with an initial investment of about $2.5 million – some $2 million in equipment and resources and $0.5 million in research and development (R&D) hours has been committed. This will increase as new projects are initiated under the collaboration.

Mr Connolly said the partnership is aligned to the Federal Government’s vision for advanced manufacturing where innovation and R&D is closely aligned to the practical needs of the country. He said the application of HTS technologies is not limited to defence industries and could revolutionise other high energy-use sectors such as power and transport.

Defence Science and Technology Group has strategic alliances with 12 defence companies and research agencies. They partner with 28 universities across Australia to deliver game-changing capability for the future of the Australian Defence Force and continue to seek opportunities to expand this network.

Chief Defence scientist Alex Zelinksy said the partnership will focus on transitioning research to outcomes that can deal with real world problems, starting with its potential applications to defence.

“This agreement is in line with our strategic goal to partner with the best talents in industry and academia to achieve a capability edge for defence,” Dr Zelinsky said. 

QUT deputy vice-chancellor for  Research and Commercialisation, Arun Sharma said the university was uniquely equipped to undertake this research and development because of its expertise and facilities, including the Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct, a leading specialist research centre for structural, mechanical and electrical engineering.

“QUT’s purpose-built facility has specialist capabilities for large-scale engineering research, testing and validation,” Professor Sharma said.

“Our partnership with Siemens puts QUT at the international forefront of superconducting motor research, an area of research that has the potential to radically transform many industries including maritime propulsion and transport drive systems.

“As the world strives to find more efficient and cleaner ways to power ships and other forms of large-scale transport, QUT will be testing this superconducting motor and at the same time looking at the other potential uses and benefits of this new technology.

“QUT’s partnership with Siemens is immensely valuable to us as it enables our university to pioneer research into superconducting motors and generators that can potentially replace diesel propulsion by superconducting derived magnetic fields,” Prof. Sharma said.

The announcement was made at the recent Pacific 2015 Maritime Exposition.

Professor Richard Taylor will lead the testing of high temperature superconducting technologies at QUT's Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct.




Professor Richard Taylor will lead the testing of high temperature superconducting technologies at QUT's Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct. Image: QUT.

THE Federal Government is basing its new $14 million Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre in Geelong, Victoria – and setting up a new TradeStart Office to accelerate utilisation of the new free trade agreements with Japan, South Korea and China.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the move would support the Greater Geelong region’s transition from traditional manufacturing to a centre of innovation. 

He said the centre would be integrated with a network of innovation centres across the country and would develop a “sector competitiveness plan to link local businesses with global companies”.

“The plan will identify jobs and skills needs, provide a pipeline of innovations ready to commercialise, and consider areas for reforming regulation, manufacturing transformation and growth,” Mr Abbott said.

As part of the announcement – made in conjunction with Federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, and Federal Member of Corangamite, Sarah Henderson – Newcomb Secondary College is also to introduce an industry partnership to better prepare students to enter the workforce. The Federal Government has committed $500,000 towards establishing the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) model at the college in 2016.

“The P-TECH school programme will focus on the jobs of the future in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, partnering with local industry, and providing vocational pathways,” Mr Birmingham said.

To complement these announcements, a further $1.3 million has been allocated to extend the role of the Geelong Employment Facilitator.

The Government will also establish a new Job Connections Office and Geelong Region Future Jobs Taskforce.

“The Geelong Employment Facilitator will continue to assist people affected by Geelong’s economic transition and work to identify and deliver new job opportunities across the Geelong region,” Mr Birmingham said.

A new local Geelong Region Future Jobs Taskforce will also be established to identify and promote job creation opportunities. It will be supported by the Employment Facilitator in a new Job Connections Office housed in the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre.

“The Employment Facilitator and Geelong Region Future Jobs Taskforce will work closely with the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre to identify jobs and the skills needs for the region,” Mr Macfarlane said.

Mr Abbott said to build on the free trade agreements with China, Korea and Japan, access to Austrade’s export advisory service would be provided through a TradeStart Office in Geelong.

“This will give local businesses in the Geelong region access to Austrade’s export advisory services across all sectors, enabling them to access these key export markets for future jobs and growth,” Mr Abbott said.

“These new measures build on the $15 million investment in the Geelong Region Innovation and Investment Fund.

“Geelong is a great city with a great future. The Commonwealth Government is helping Geelong forge a stronger future.”



GRIFFITH University is embarking an ambitious venture to ‘transform the very nature of Australian manufacturing’ as part of the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC) and with a focus on ‘additive’ manufacturing..

Bringing together a powerful coalition of businesses and researchers from across the country, the collaboration has recently been approved for Federal Government funding of $40 million to accelerate Australia’s transition to new design thinking and manufacturing processes, including additive manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing. 

IMCRC interim chair, Peter Jonson, said the Federal grant would be matched by more than $210 million of cash and in-kind contributions from industry, research institutions and state governments to lift the total budget to over $250 million and seed the process of transformation.

Jennifer Loy, program leader of industrial design at Griffith University, said the initiative would help stimulate small-to-medium-sized businesses to adopt the latest wave of technology in additive manufacturing.

“Making the transition from conventional technology to innovative manufacturing is more than just investing in the technology, it is also about understanding the opportunities technologies such as 3D printing are providing, and how to maximise it your business,” Dr Loy said.

“The investment of over $85 million in cash by government, industry and research will allow us to support a host of businesses from film to construction, lighting and furniture, mining through to medical devices, as they transition to 3D printing technology over the next seven to eight years.

“Griffith’s expertise is in the redesign of products to utilise the advantages of innovative manufacturing technologies,” she said.

“We have researchers working in disciplines as diverse as regenerative medicine and fashion, dentistry and industrial design who all bring experience in these technologies, which means we have the expertise available to work side by side with the IMCRC to regenerate our manufacturing industries.”

The goal of the IMCRC is also an ideal fit with Griffith’s “outward looking focus” according to Dr Loy.

“It’s the perfect synergistic relationship as Griffith University has a collaborative working model and are particularly good at cross disciplinary projects – which innovative manufacturing creates – and we are keen to work with industrial partners on pushing the capabilities of innovative manufacturing for their new applications.

“Griffith is working hard to develop graduates who have the specialised skills needed to help industry and maximise opportunities for growth.

“Our industrial design and 3D design digital media students are learning world leading software for additive manufacturing, and gaining hands-on experience of designing with advanced digital technologies, including 3D printing, scanning and electronics for new design applications.

“We envisage that the students of today will have the jobs of the future – ones that may not even exist yet, but that are clearly on the way, with 3D printing alone being forecast as a $7 billion dollar a year sector by 2020,” Dr Loy said.

“For this reason they are being equipped to develop new thinking in terms of digital fabrication and design process to ensure Australia is in line with, or ahead of, global trends in 3D technology.

“Even in this last month our PhD students have been excelling in design for 3D printing, with one winning the distinguished paper award at RAPID, the world leading industry and academic conference, and another having a design featured on Today in the US, with 6 million viewers.”

IMCRC’s research will be concentrated on high-growth sectors to help companies build the innovative capacity to develop market-ready opportunities.

The IMCRC is a collaboration of 14 initial manufacturing companies and end users who are already global, innovative and prepared to innovate further including many participants from the successful Advance Manufacturing CRC; four peak industry bodies that will help recruit over 300 additional SMEs as ‘portal partners’; and 16 Australian universities, CSIRO and the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology.

The venture was announced by Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane on May 26.


AN EASING in Australia’s jobless market has largely come about through an improvement in manufacturing.

According to Steve Shepherd, employment market analyst at research group Randstad, the June Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Labour Force figures show another positive month for full time jobs and he attributed this largely to the manufacturing sector. 

“Over 24,500 full time jobs were created in June, offsetting the decline in part time work, which lost 17,224 jobs – the first time we have seen a decline in part time work this year,” Mr Shepherd said.

 “From looking at Randstad’s job demand and increases in job ads, we have seen a 24 percent year on year growth in jobs advertised in the manufacturing sector,” he said.

“There are positive signs the sector is having a revival. This is great news, as Australia currently has an oversupply of job seekers in the manufacturing sector. This will help those looking for jobs in this sector where demand has been slow.

“This growth is likely to have benefited from the falling dollar, which has made Australia a more attractive market for manufacturing.

“Looking at the monthly trends and the fluctuations in full and part time jobs numbers, it will be interesting to see how the July will play out. After a big decline in part time work, we often see the numbers correct themselves the following month, so we could see growth in part time work.

“Whether this will impact full time jobs is yet to be seen. However two full months of full time jobs growth is good news for job seekers.”


EXTRA >> By Mike Sullivan

FROSTY BOY, one of Australia’s most successful food manufacturers and exporters, is not just riding the crest of a wave, it is creating a wave of interest in icecream and yoghurt products in markets across Asia previously thought as too hard.

In fact, Frosty Boy last year custom built a new 6000sqm factory at Yatala, in the Gold Coast City region, from the ground up to incorporate its state-of-the-art manufacturing systems designed to meet both domestic and international demand. 

Frosty Boy CEO Dirk Pretorius said the facility, which produces the equivalent of two million serves of soft serve ice cream daily, is boosting Frosty Boy’s international expansion and helping its clients succeed in 48 countries – ranging from small restaurants to food outlets including KFC Asia, Burger King Asia, Wendy’s from the US and the 1000-store Jollibee chain in the Philippines. 

Frosty Boy, which started with icecream products  in 1976 in Brisbane, is now manufacturing deserts and beverages, producing versatile powder bases ranging from its ever-popular classic vanilla soft serve icecream to frozen yogurt, frappes, slushies and, more recently, hot drinks. 

“Export now represents 75 percent of our sales and this part of our business continues to grow as more companies realise the quality of our product,” Mr Pretorious said. “Further export opportunities are constantly on the horizon, particularly with the rapid expansion of the frozen yogurt industry, and the ever growing demand for top quality, Australian dairy products in Asia.”

Mr Pretorious has spent many years developing business relationships throughout Asia and these are now paying off – especially with the new flavours developed to suit Asian markets, and a growing awareness of probiotics and so-called ‘superfoods’.

“We see it as following the lead of the US where it has been a big thing for a long time – but we see that taking off in Asia now,” Mr Pretorious said. “I really think we will see strong growth in frozen yoghurt continuing in Asia.”

He said developing flavours for Asia was one of Frosty Boy’s advantages.

“I don’t think that’s a pressure for us, it’s really actually our point of difference. We manufacture more than 130 different types of icecream here. So we really work with the customer in a market to determine what the consumer really needs specific to that market – what flavours do they want, what price point do they want? What specific product do they want to launch in the market?

“Then we work with their R&D team to come up with a product that suits their profile. I think that’s a large part of the success that we have had over the years, to really zone in to that niche market and focus on that niche market,” Mr Pretorious said.

“We (the Frosty Boy leadership) do a lot of travelling and our food teams do spend time in the market as well. The technique is to really work in very closely with the customer to work out exactly what they are after.

“It is about subtle changes in flavour. A vanilla that you would sell in Australia is not a vanilla that you sell in China, for instance. So we work with the suppliers, the food houses and the customer in fine tuning the product accordingly.”

There have been surprises along the way. For Mr Pretorious, one of these has been the popularity of green tea flavours.

“Green tea flavour is one that I thought would be really niche, but we see that starting to take off now as a flavour that is more mainstream,” he said. “We see some icecream shops in Asia that have all their products based around the green tea product. Although green tea has always been a big flavour in Asia, I never really thought it could work on its own as an icecream base.”

Frosty Boy supplies the base product and the flavour is usually added by the client as part of their unique product process.

“So they might add a durian flavour or you might even see some teas – different tea flavoured icecreams,” Mr Pretorious said. “Every time I go back (to Asia) I am amazed at the growth – the number of stores and you have got a growing middle class in all those markets with disposable income.”


Once thought of as the staple of fast food chains, the fast-serve icecream products that Frosty Boy creates are now underpinning products meeting the needs of a global trend towards healthy foods.

“Healthy foods? That’s a trend all over the world I reckon, people are more aware of eating healthily,” Mr Pretorious said. “So we are aware and have developed products that are sugar-free, low in sugar and low calorie, reduce calories, low fat. Low fat has been a big thing but that is on the sideline now, but the big things now seem to be lower in sugar and lower in calories – that is what we are working on now in coming up with concepts and ideas. 

“We have got such a wide range of yoghurts available – they’ve got anything from high protein to low sugar – there is a huge range available – and they all contain pro-biotics and pre-biotics as well.

“Pro-biotics became well known from yoghurt that you buy in the supermarket. Obviously we add that in and the health benefits of that has been well documented over time. We add the pre-biotics to it which is basically the fibre – or, the food for the pro-biotics – to make sure that you get the best benefit from that.

“We’ve known the benefits for a while and we have looked at all options and as food technologists – we have got very good food techs on our team as well – we are constantly looking at what is going to be the next big thing.  So while it has been in the market in normal yoghurt, we looked at the options of adding it to frozen yoghurt, for the benefit of consumers of frozen yoghurt as well.”

Frosty Boy’s growth in Asia has been accelerated by its products reliability and safety – especially in meeting logistical challenges. 

“The product that we do has got a 12-month shelf life on it, as long as you store it at about 25 degrees, so it is a very easy product to handle, particularly for Asia,” Mr Pretorious said. “For that reason as well, it helps us to be successful because the cold chain and supply chain is not as sophisticated in a lot of these countries.

“So our product makes it really easy for them from a logistical point of view. We do design products that are very robust for that reason. It is still a big problem in a lot of those countries, that supply chain. Our product fits really nicely into that format.”

Frosty Boy works in two main areas of the supply chain: supply groups for the major food chains and with independent importers.

“We are exporting now to 48 countries,” Mr Pretorious said. “It is a process of finding the right distributor, getting them on board and getting them trained up, and then developing that market outside of the chain business.

“I am always amazed when you are travelling and you see how many chains there are that you have never heard of. That you don’t know about, but they may have 200 or 300 stores somewhere in Asia. And you’ve never heard of them. Those are the ones that you need a distributor in market to find them.”


The new Frosty Boy factory at Yatala now provides a firm foundation for meeting growth demands globally, Mr Pretorious believes.

“I think the main thing the new plant does is it gives us some sanity again. At the old plant (at nearby Loganholme) we were running flat out with shift 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And that’s as well as developing markets.

“We have doubled capacity moving into this plant and we are sitting now at around 60 percent capacity. So it gives us the capacity to really develop new markets again and we are looking for new opportunities.”

Fundamentally, the new facility has allowed Frosty Boy to streamline its processes through re-design.

“When you can design something from scratch you can always get it to run more efficiently,” Mr Pretorious said. “So the flow of raw materials through to finished goods is excellent. We also designed it for quality assurance purposes. It is one of the key things now if you are an Australian food manufacturer – to make the absolute most of the great name Australia has got for quality products. Design it to reduce costs.

“If you want to manufacture in Australia you have really got to get your costs under control.

“So we have put in a lot of robotics, in terms of the packing side. So even with the quality assurance focus we are cost effective. So we have computerised many areas of the plant, for instance in terms of the recipes, so they are always strictly following the recipe. Systems are giving them a lot more efficiency.

“We have also developed a good R&D facility here. We bring a lot of customers in to Frosty Boy to work with us here, either working on their own recipes or to develop something specific for them in their market. We prefer to do it here – we make the most progress if we can get them in, or we would send a food tech in to market, to work with the customer in market. Sometimes you have got to do both as well to get it across the line.”

That capability is helping to drive new sales and increase volumes to existing customers, as Frosty Boy products are designed to help their customers grow.

“Because we are so focused on a very niche market and we see so many different markets, we really can give a lot of insights to our customers on what’s the next trend that’s coming – and what do we see that works in other markets. From that point of view I think we can give a lot of input to them.

“We also do a lot of menu innovation work here. We would not just manufacture the product, we would take it all the way through to the menu. And then we would work with the customer on the next launch for them and how is their next menu going to look. We’d work on costings and show them operationally how it should be done to present that product.

“At the end of the day we do not sell a carton of soft serve mix, we sell something that is on a menu somewhere that the consumer has to buy. We really focus on that end of the business in terms of innovation.”

An area Frosty Boy has been a little surprised by is the growth of the beverage market in Australia and Asia– coffee in particular..

“The whole coffee market and the beverage market is a massive trend at the moment,” Mr Pretorious said. “We have developed a range of products called the The Art of Blend, which is a range of products that has been specifically designed like that.

“With seven products you can develop, literally, 100 menu options, by combining them, by adding fruit to them, by adding flavours in there. The idea is that you give a coffee shop or a chain the ability to use these seven products.  You have constant menu changes, limited time offerings, you know, the things that consumers want.

“What we see now is that consumers don’t want to be told what to buy – they don’t want to see two or three items on a menu and that’s it. They want lots of options, and they want those options to change constantly.

“That puts a lot of pressure on the outlets ... and the range is designed to give them that ability to make changes without changing the base product.”

The range has hit markets in Asia at just the right time.

“I am always amazed when I am travelling in China the amount of coffee shops and the quality of the coffee you get there now,” Mr Pretorious said. “Ten years ago you would not get a coffee shop there and now they are on every street corner.

“Obviously that has given us another angle. We can serve those beverage companies.”

Mr Pretorious said Frosty Boy was keeping an eye on food trends such as so-called ‘superfoods’ – but probably not develop such products until they become more mainstream.

“Superfoods … we are keeping an eye on it but you’ve got to remember it has got to be available to mainstream,” he said. “It’s a niche at the moment … and it is obviously a volume thing as well for us – but we are keeping an eye on it and seeing what’s happening in that area.

“We really focus on our niche. We don’t want to try to be everything to everyone. We’ve got big competitors out there – big multi-national companies – and we are still a small player and we have got to always remember that, know our place in the market and focus on what we are good at.”


Mr Pretorious sees a very bright future ahead for Australian food production and manufacturing, based on what Frosty Boy is experiencing as a result of its constant innovation.

“I think Australian manufacturing – and food manufacturing in particular – has got a great future,” he said.

“There are a few things you have got to get right: one is that you have got to spend money on innovation, on things that will reduce costs and give you that ability to compete in those markets. If you get that bit right and then really focus on innovating your product to really give you a point of difference in the market.

“You focus on quality assurance and drive that quality assurance message through to the customer. Those things, I think, are crucial to Australian manufacturers. And then sell Brand Australia.

“We always say we sell Brand Australia long before we talk about Frosty Boy. It has such a good name for the quality of its products. And we use that.

“If you can get that combination right, and obviously customers want good service – it is all about really servicing those customers and taking care of their needs. Then I think we have got a great future for manufacturing in Australia.”

Frosty Boy has not been linked to any major export programs or development organisations so far, but it does recommend working with Australian government bodies to foster new markets.

“Of course, we have worked over the years with Trade and Investment Queensland (TIQ) and their offices overseas as well, to help us with leads and open new markets,” Mr Pretorious said.

“We find if you are going to a meeting with a customer for the first time and you take a government representative with you, like Austrade or TIQ, it just adds to that feeling of confidence in the customer. It says, these guys are seen by the government as worthy of support and to represent – and that really helps us as well with that process, to speed it up a bit.

“But it is a long process, we always say it takes us two to three years from starting before you get the first order out of a market. It is a long process of constantly visiting that market and building relationships.

“I really think that’s where a lot of exporters fall flat, because they start that process and then after a year they say, this is too hard, you know? They say this is taking more time than I thought it would and is costing me money … But it is a process that you have got to stick with to get the end result.

“A lot of times you have got to have that long term vision along with your customer as well. You may start small, but they (grow and) become a substantial customer over time. That has happened many times with us in Asia, where what seems like a fairly small customer to start with grows into a substantial customer.”

But the real key to success for Frosty Boy has been the commitment and innovative nature of its staff.

“The important thing for Frosty Boy is our team and our people,” Mr Pretorious said. “At the end of the day, Frosty Boy is not about the shareholders of the business, to me it is the team of people that has gotten us here and we’ve got a really amazing team. The way they are and the way they work makes it a fun place to work.”

Frosty Boy constant strives to improve its flavour, in both product and production, Mr Pretorious said.

“Keep it a fun place to work. You can’t be in a happiness factory and not be happy.”



QUEENSLAND is home to one of the world’s most advanced microwave radio and satellite communications manufacturers – EM Solutions – and there are other world-leading manufacturers in that ecosystem.

Yet, laments EM Solutions managing director and CEO, Rowan Gilmore, there remains a public perception that advanced manufacturing is dying in Australia – a myth he wants to dispel. Instead, Dr Gilmore wants to get the news out about certain advantages and challenges in the local manufacturing environment that have led to EM Solutions success, to encourage others. 

“Did you know that one of Australia’s eight new national Science and Research Priorities is ‘high value and innovative manufacturing?” Dr Gilmore asked. He said it was important to set such priorities to assist growth in the manufacturing sector.

“According to the Commonwealth Science Council, ‘setting priorities and aligning a proportion of Australia’s research investment to them will help us build critical mass and scale in areas vital to our future’,” he said.

“Can Australia ever succeed at advanced manufacturing? As an exemplar, Queensland company EM Solutions (EMS) would respond with a cautious ‘yes’.

“EMS has designed and manufactured in Brisbane the world’s fastest microwave radios (used to connect the Nasdaq and New York exchanges at fibre-like speeds) and is supplying maritime broadband satellite terminals for disaster recovery to technological leaders such as Japan, but the manufacturing path has proven far more difficult than any of the company’s founders could possibly have imagined.

“There have been numerous contributors to success. One has been the judicious use of overseas supply chains where appropriate, to take advantage of lower cost materials and labour and to undertake initial product assembly,” Dr Gilmore said. 

“Another has been ongoing collaboration with research organisations such as UQ and CSIRO, to share risk and incorporate intellectual property that has helped EMS move up the value chain.

“A third has been exposure to global markets, where the incessant pressures of both demand and competition have kept alive the hunger to do better. Finally, a lower Australian dollar has undoubtedly improved competitiveness of our pricing in global markets.”

However, Dr Gilmore said the major disappointment has been selling within Australia.

“Too many potential Australian buyers prefer to procure advanced manufactured product from offshore suppliers,” Dr Gilmore said. “Whether they work in telecommunication or utility companies or defence, purchasing officials feel safer buying from a large offshore corporation than an innovative Queensland small business. 

“The attitude that ‘nobody ever got fired by buying IBM’ is pervasive in our culture. But as the Queensland Health payroll fiasco proved, bigger is not necessarily better, nor risk-free,” he said.

“Until our very own procurement people are prepared to themselves innovate, no amount of research in advanced manufacturing will yield Queensland or Australia a good return on its investment.”

EM Solutions is a Queensland Leaders Alumni Member.



By Mike Sullivan

TECHNOLOGY diffusion organisation QMI Solutions is adamant manufacturing has an extremely bright future in Australia – but not as we have known it.

QMI Solutions chief executive Gary Christian believes the demise of the major automotive manufacturers in Australia has blindsided the community and most politicians to the real opportunities and competitive advantages Australian manufacturers retain – and need to develop hard and fast. 

“Is it advanced manufacturing or is it ‘advancing’ manufacturing?” Mr Christian asked. “I think we are advancing it to the next level.” 

Mr Christian made the point in relation to world leaders in manufacturing, based in Australia, that are doing it very differently – companies like defence contractors Micreo and Ferra Engineering, marine manufacturers Riviera and Maritimo, composite materials manufacturer Wagners, global medical device designers and producers Cook Medical and Cochlear, and architectural doors innovator Centor.

All are leaders in their manufacturing fields and going from strength-to-strength, Mr Christian said. Other up-and-coming companies can learn from them. He believes the decline in major car production and the falling away of the mining sector infrastructure boom may actually play into the hands of other Australian manufacturing sectors, long term.

“When a big resource boom pops up, there is a big drain on skills automatically – they all head out west to capitalise themselves, I suppose, on the growth they experience there,” Mr Christian said. “And you see a skills drain in the cities.

“I think the Australian auto industry has done some great things in the last few years. We have some pretty smart stuff in our cars now … they talk about cars starting to park themselves, well, Audi have done it and Holden are doing it. We got there. I think it’s sad that we got there when the market started to shrink around us. 

“You are taking about the in-car componentry – well, that’s electronics so that’s transferable.

“Over the next few years I think we will see a transfer of those skills to other industries. It may be the medical area, for instance, and we have a very good medical device manufacturing industry here.”


The impetus to make motor cars in Australia in the first place came from the need to make vehicles for ‘Australian conditions’ – in fact, that was the catchphrase that General Motors-Holdens Sir Laurence Hartnett and Jack Horn used when convincing the GM board to establish Australian-design and manufacturing in 1944. The pair also made their proposal with the full knowledge that at that stage the Holden operation was the most efficient manufacturing plant in the entire General Motors network.

But ‘Australian conditions’ involved more than just the vast distances to be travelled, the wide temperature variations and the rugged state of most roads at the time. They also referred to Australia being a small but relatively sophisticated market, a long way from the world’s major industrial centres, and with a need for innovative engineering for reliability and to overcome the tyranny of distance.

While the increased cost of labour and fluctuations in the Australian dollar may have cruelled the great auto manufacturers, the design-led innovation that has been a characteristic of Australia’s auto industry for more than a century – witness Ford Australia’s famous creation of the ‘ute’ and Australia’s expertise in braking and cooling systems – will keep the industry here. Both Ford and GM are holding and expanding their design and prototyping assets in Melbourne.

Holden has just completed the final designs for the new Buick range – a car that will not even be sold here, as has been the case with its famed latest generation Camaro development program. Aftermarket accessories manufacturers like EGR are expanding their markets in utility canopies and off-road accessories.

“If you are a component manufacturer and you are good enough to compete in a global market – and that’s getting a whole lot of things right in your business so you are competitive—I think that you can collaborate with others and be an end-user supplier to the auto market. I can definitely see that,” Mr Christian said. “A little bit of auto capability is going into marine industries.

“We have come across a lot of great companies operating in the aviation space over the years. I suppose defence takes up a lot of that,” he said.

“If you look at where we see the growth, you look at aviation, medical devices, and to some point even in marine. Even though you may get the (marine vessel) shells made elsewhere, we still have to do the fit-outs, and the electronics (made and fitted) here.

“So I think the electronics (design-manufacture) area will be a huge flow through for us as we go forward.”


Mr Christian said one sector in which Australia has a distinct lead already, agribusiness, is also perhaps its greatest manufacturing opportunity – both in food manufacturing systems and in farm management technologies.

He mentioned the world-leading research being conducted by Central Queensland’s Swarm Farm group on agricultural robotics, in tandem with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Swarm Farm founding director Andrew Bate believes specific robotics can be applied to farming to make it more efficient and eliminate the need for pesticide use by using robots to tend to plants on an individual basis, while also tending the soil – and it can all be done 24 hours a day, seven days a week in any weather conditions. He set out several years ago on a global quest from his Central Queensland family farm to seek out such state-of-the-art systems – only to find that QUT was actually leading the world in this area, so Swam Farms is now a collaborator in developing a series of agricultural robots, now dubbed AgBots.

“He was very focused on not losing his skills and trying to grow the skills to actually pick up the new technologies and putting them into his business,” Mr Christian said. “They are doing well. It’s a processing manufacturing business with the farming. They are one of those stand-out companies that are really embracing the technology.”

Another stand-out design-led company QMI has worked with is Centor. The company is a world leader in sliding and folding door systems and is now one of the world’s leading designers and manufacturers in this area.

“They are one that has made a major transformation over the past four or five years,” Mr Christian said. “We worked alongside the State Government up here to launch a program – the Ulysses program – to help design their transformation.

“To talk to the managing director Nigel Storm about their transformation, it’s a great story about how one day he just went forward on changing his customer base. The business had grown to a point where it was being eroded, so he changed his whole customer base over to more of a direct relationship with the end user – the consumer.

“If you talk about the bi-fold sliding door systems, probably some of the best products I have ever seen would be coming out of Centor ... to the point that he has entered the North American market and his business is growing at a phenomenal rate.

“That is a great example of how a business was able to transform from what they had been doing for many, many years; taking their product range back to what the end user really wanted. I suppose cutting out the middle man in the large end of town and dealing more with the smaller customer (builders and end-users).

“When we first approached them on behalf of the State Government to see if they would do a pilot program, I think there were a lot of vacant looks around the room, trying to understand this design-led concept and what it really meant. But having said that, by the time we got to the next round of discussions with them, they were very interested.

“They knew they had to do something different, because they could see their own balance sheet and they could see their profits. Things were shrinking because of who they were dealing with (at that time),” Mr Christian said.

“Now it has completely turned around to the point where profits are growing based on who they deal with, which is that end customer,” he said.

“Talking about Centor, that whole design led concept is starting to emerge. All companies are asking, what is this transformation of my business model to be better at what I do? Who is the end user? Where am I on my designer journey?”


Mr Christian believes governments need to get behind rejuvenating manufacturing, but in a way that is consistent with a 21st century industry. He said manufacturing is and should remain a vital pillar of economic growth in Australia.

“I think government needs to understand the importance of manufacturing – the number of jobs it creates and the overall effect it has on GDP in our country,” Mr Christian said. He uses the recent manufacturing recovery in the US as an example.

“It is interesting when you look at what happened in America over the last couple of years. They had outsourced so much and then they started taking it back in again. They were probably taking the high value products that were more highly automated back in, but they have concentrated on creating more manufacturing and bringing more jobs back internally and it has assisted in turning the economy back around.

“For every manufacturing job there are another five created in the supply chain. Every time manufacturing is not looked at and starts to wind down those volumes, there is a huge flow-on effect. Most people in manufacturing know that.

“I watch the federal scene and it is interesting that we are now going to pump more money back into the auto industry again. Something has happened that people have realised we can’t step back, we have to take things more aggressively and be on the front foot and support our manufacturing – it needs to be a transitional thing.

“It is not something that happens overnight, it could take 10 or 20 years to do that efficiently.”

The outlook right now is hardly bright, Mr Christian admitted and he said as far as QMI could observe there was no appreciable increase in manufacturing start-ups at this stage.

“I think overall it is static – I am seeing some movement there, but not enough to be confident in saying people are starting to want to start up in manufacturing,” he said.

“We have been through X number of years in which manufacturing has largely been attracting negative comments, in a phase that is largely driven by the big end of town.

“Australia is made up of about 96 percent SMES, so most of our manufacturing is done by smaller businesses, between 20 and 200 employees and in that $40-60 million bracket. Those are the ones that actually do transform and become bigger companies down the track. Small business is important because it becomes medium sized business and medium sized business becomes bit business.

“So government does need to support small business but there always comes a point where they need to stand on their own two feet – the issue is what is the point where you stop supporting?”

There has been a prevailing view that Australian banks and their business loan programs are not conducive to manufacturing growth – but Mr Christian did not see it that way.

“We talk to banks because we like to represent manufacturing, and there is interest,” he said.

“Some of  the smaller guys  (banks) are certainly focused on trying to engage with that SME market. The comments that we get are that they are very focused on manufacturing help. I have not been getting that negative feel that banks are not wanting to finance manufacturing.

“It’s like anything, the business has to be able to stack up to the bank because if you are a start-up company and you are really only doing this because it is a passion and you do not understand business, you become a high risk to the bank.

“We have  a lot of processes in QMI where we have benchmarked organisations to give banks that confidence. Those sorts of business tools and benchmarking give companies the confidence and banks the confidence – and provide the documents that assist greatly in front of a banker.

“We tend to go through and benchmark them on the core things in their business. We have done over 1400 benchmarks alone in Queensland in the last 10 years. We can talk openly and honestly about what our findings have been.”

A recent innovation at QMI will play an increasing role in improving business development and helping to make positive cases for finance, Mr Christian said.

“Recently we brought a new product out to the market, Core Value software out of the US, and it is a lot better benchmarking tool again,” he said. “What that is doing is helping companies to make the decision on whether they need to stay in the game or hop out. It goes a lot more into the financial measures of a business.”

He has seen Core Value successfully applied to make a compelling manufacturing finance case to a bank.

“Of companies I have seen over the years, some successful and some not, it always comes back to the skill set in the business,” Mr Christian said. “They are companies formed out of their tech background, I suppose. So they had a passion for what they did.

“Some of them are lucky along the road and had gotten to learn about business and survived – and some didn’t. Those could never get past that ‘I bought myself a job’. It’s unfortunate. But most business people have had to learn along the hard road. A lot of them didn’t go to university – but even those that did often were not prepared for business and it was only by getting into the business and running it that you actually learn.”


While the challenges to successful manufacturing in Australia are there, Mr Christian said help was available from an increasing range of sources as well.

“There are a lot of places you can go,” he said. “The Federal Government runs the Infrastructure Entrepreneurial program, and they come in and do business reviews around the country. These can be very useful.

“State-wise there is QMI Solutions. We have been here for over 22 years now and we have been supporting new businesses for all of that time, whether it be the uptake of new technologies or the implementation of new soft technologies to actually help them get better at what they do.

“Along that path we have benchmarked those companies to help them realise where they are at and what they need to do.”

QMI’s roots are in leading the way with new manufacturing technologies – it was originally known as the Queensland Manufacturing Institute – and then diffusing those technologies to commercial industry. A good example is its early diffusing of 3D printing technologies, which are now coming to the fore.

“Back in 1993 we were funded by the State Government to take up the stereolithography which was a form of 3D printing,” Mr Christian said. “That technology, which you see everywhere now in 3D printing, was a sizeable machine in those days and it as good for prototyping your products or testing existing products.

“It was a great spin-off technology and there was another company formed out of that called Anatomics and they operate largely in the cranial facial reconstruction area, with medical parts. So there were some really good stories that came out of the forming of QMI and the relationship with Anatomics – and now we see that technology talked about almost every day.”

In fact the two lading medical manufacturers in Australia, Cook Medical and Cochlear, are now adapting 3D printing technologies for their products, to maintain a world lead.

“Cochlear and Cook Medical are both heading that way (3D printing),” Mr Christian said. “At the end of the day, to be able to prototype some small part to get a better feel for it, and it is quite inexpensive to do that, as opposed to the huge outlay. The original 3D printing that we had 20-odd years ago was not $1200 that you pay today, let’s put it that way. It was a significant investment made by QMI and the State Government to be able to bring that technology to this country.

“When you talk about 3D printing (in the future) we can look at the whole concept of growing organs – instead we can be 3D printing them. That’s real. That’s going to happen.

“Same with 3D laser sintering, printing in 3D with powders, they are technologies that will grow more; 3D printing within a few years will be something we talk about as past … it will have migrated and transformed into the new age of printing – even body parts.

“They have printed a car already overseas. So 3D printing is transforming  and while it is industry picking it up now, who is to say that in a few years time you won’t have a printer that you pick up from Harvey Norman for $1000 that you could print your own knob that just broke on your air conditioner? Downloadable.

“Where is it going to go? This is something we are watching carefully to see where this technology is really going to end up. We have already seen the police getting alarmed about people making their own firearms using 3D printers.”

Mr Christian said Australia’s peak science organisation, CSIRO, is heavily involved in 3D printing innovation and its learnings are likely to be taken up by industry. An unusual example was a specific horseshoe CSIRO designed and printed, which ended up saving a horse’s life.

“They were aware of a horse that was likely to be put down, but CSIRO but ended up keeping it alive by making a specific horseshoe, because they discovered one of the horse’s legs was just slightly shorter than the other. That’s technology for you.”

Mr Chrisitian highlighted the value of pure research, even if it was not clear in the early stages how this would play out commercially.

“Some of the things we diffused to this country never really took hold until some years later,” Mr Christian said. “It was on a curve in which we researched and were able to diffuse that technology and, ready for when it really got its full commercial take-up.

“For example, we have an incremental sheet forming machine housed out at the University of Queensland, and they have been doing a lot of work with Boeing over the years – Boeing are a big recipient or interested party on the research side of incremental sheet forming.

“I wonder sometimes, if in 10 years time suddenly everyone is going to be talking about incremental sheet forming, yet we have had the only one in this country for the last nine years.

“I’ve talked to manufacturers over here who may have an applications for it … they don’t understand it, yet. But they can see how it can help their business.”

Mr Christian said Australian industry often struggled with new technology adoption.

“It’s difficult,” he said, “you have really got to try to get them to embrace.

“This is a new technology, you need to stop working in your business and start to work on it – there is an application here that can save you a lot of money and make you more competitive.

“I find that in Australia: some companies struggle with that take-up of technology.”

In some ways, QMI sees resurgence in Australian manufacturing as a ‘back to the future’ process.

Australia has a fine record of invention: the lawn mower, the black box flight recorder, the Cochlear ear implant, Gardasil vaccine, over-the-horizon radar and, perhaps most commercially impactful of all, CSIRO’s creation of wi-fi. An exciting new development in Australia is wireless power connection technology, Mr Christian said.

“We have been starting to get some interest in this kind of area – the whole idea that your mobile phone can just sit there on the desk and charge while you are having a cup of coffee …” he said. “I think this whole wireless transmission of electricity is going to be a huge growth area. I think there is still room to move in other areas like solar panels – for example, why doesn’t Australia have solar roofing, say the whole roof of your house?

“I am lucky enough to run across a lot of great companies doing great things. I ran across a gentleman recently who had a way of charging (electric) buses. As a bus pulled up at a bus stop, it was charging. On to the next stop, charge. They had worked out how many minutes the bus stopped.

“I was also talking to a gentleman the other day who can scan underneath the bitumen at 100kmh for holes. So think about the floods we have over here, we can scan along at 100kmh, scanning 8ft (2.5m) down. It’s a great invention, but once again it is hard to get the right kind of investment in these companies.

“They have a great concept but trying to get funding to take it to the next level and commercialise it is very difficult for them. Trying to get somebody to fund this sort of thing in Australia is very difficult, because of the population.

“There are only 23 million of us here, living in a place bigger than America. That’s the problem. These things will happen, but they are more likely to happen (commercially) in other countries before they happen here.”

Mr Christian said this was the ongoing Australian dilemma, where new inventions and innovative companies go offshore because they can only find funding offshore. For manufacturers, the reality is that they usually must locate to where they are funded – and that is where the jobs are created.

There are many challenges to Australian manufacturing, but Mr Christian remains optimistic about the future.

“I think it is a period of time that we are going back to again – but in different ways,” Mr Christian said. “We will see that large scale mass manufacturing, which we have had here for the past 200 years, will scale down while new niche manufacturing will emerge. Through robotics, 3D printing etc.

“Is it advanced manufacturing or is it ‘advancing’ manufacturing?” Mr Christian asked. “I think we are advancing it to the next level.”



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