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Australian Made, a success

Last Thursday’s inaugural Making Australia’s Future conference lived up to its expectations as a highly practical day of learning and networking for Australian manufacturers.

Around 150 delegates came to Melbourne University’s ICT building to hear ten short, focused seminars from an array of high calibre speakers.

Innovation and export were strong themes across the presentations, with Australian Made Campaign CEO, Ian Harrison stating early in the day: “Innovation and export are the way for the future.”

Harrison, who has an economics background, noted that while manufacturing has fallen as a proportion of Australia’s GDP in the last decade, manufacturing as a proportion of national exports has risen. He warned manufacturers not to compare the performance of the services sector with the manufacturing sector because manufacturers have heavily outsourced their services divisions.

Harrison referenced a recent US report which called Australia “the number one nation brand in the world”, as a reason for manufacturers to promote themselves as Australian.

Cochlear Senior Vice President, Manufacturing and Logistics, Dig Howitt spoke on how Australian companies can set up the right environment for innovation in their factories.

Cochlear has 100,000 customers worldwide for its implants, and pours 12% of revenue into R&D. Lean principles affect the way every person at Cochlear works.

“Every leader at Cochlear has two roles; delivering the day to day business and building capability for the future,” Howitt said.

Howitt recognised “vision from the top” as essential to Cochlear’s market success. Management sets aggressive goals that challenge the company to innovate. These include a recent target for a 30% reduction in cycle times throughout the entire supply chain.

Howitt urged companies to set up measurement systems and data analysis to judge company progress, and to celebrate when goals are achieved.

Barry Budge, Corporate Manager for the Purchasing Division of Toyota also spoke about the importance of “vision from the top”. Toyota is striving for a 40% cost reduction from its suppliers, and is helping them work toward it by training them in ‘The Toyota Way’. The fundamentals of this philosophy are work standardisation and Kaizen. These are being implemented through Toyota’s on-site supplier consultation program.

Budge also acknowledged the need for governments to support the Australian car industry. He noted that no other automotive industry in the world has tariffs below 10% (Australia’s present level), and said Toyota was lobbying against plans to cut tariffs to 5% by 2010. Budge said Toyota is in favour of the establishment of an Australian government policy implementation organisation to support SMEs. This, he said, would be modelled on Japan’s Organisation for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, which has 3000 registered experts to support SMEs.

David Farrell, Director of Thompson Couplings spoke about his young company’s experience in bringing an invention to the commercial stage. While Thompson Couplings is just in the process of commercialisation, the company has had achievements this year in generating market awareness and a number of early orders. Farrell revealed how his company is protecting its patented core technology IP from invading parties and making the most of the limited patent period. The company has established a commercialisation plan targeting defined market segments to establish the best penetration.

Another major issue throughout the day was the skills shortage. For any Australian manufacturing company experiencing growth, this is one of the most significant challenges. Lee Edgecombe, Operations Manager of Bishop Manufacturing Technology encouraged the audience with his recent initiative to get high school students interested in engineering through a solar car manufacturing program. On the other side of the coin, Linsey Siede, former Executive General Manager of ANCA, now director of Likatibro Consulting, encouraged companies to consider moving strategic parts of their business overseas. This, he said, is not opposite to manufacturing in Australia, but in ANCA’s case, enabled the overall manufacturing capability of the company to expand. ANCA manufactures 85% of its product in Australia and the remainder in Thailand; both operations are growing.

These are just some of the challenges which were set forward by presenters at the conference. Delegates also learned about the Industry Capability Network’s new Global Opportunities Program; considered the best ways to drive process improvement with Sage Automation; and peered inside Australia’s aerospace manufacturing industry with Hawker de Havilland’s General Manager Business Development, Jo Staines. BlueScope Steel sponsored the conference, and gave a concluding presentation on ‘Manufacturing Excellence’.

While the presentations were engaging, it was a debate that roused the deepest passions of the day, on the topic: ‘Going Green is Australia’s greatest manufacturing opportunity today’. Jon Ward from Sustainability Victoria and Ian Young from the Manufacturing Best Practice Program put forward a convincing affirmative case, arguing that ‘greener’ products and processes are in line with business goals to reduce costs and meet market demands.

They met a formidable (and funny) opposition, in brother and sister combo, Tom Bowes, President of the University of New South Wales Debating Society, and Julia Bowes, President of the University of Sydney Debating Society. In a straight faced parody of parochial biases, they fiercely argued that the energy sector, not manufacturing, should bear the burdens of a society that wants to be more environmentally friendly. While their approach was humour, they tapped into real fears of manufacturers entering a more environmentally conscious era. When the audience voted by SMS, the seasoned debaters won the debate, though perhaps, not the argument.

The day was highly regarded by delegates, many voicing their intention to register for Making Australia’s Future 2008.

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