To compensate for the high cost of manufacturing in Australia, companies know they have to invest in automation to remain competitive, and be innovative. But according to John Croft, Business Development Manager with Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions, innovation is not new and is often misunderstood.
"Innovation is the big new word being talked and bandied about, with long spiels and presentations, however we at Bosch have been working with innovation since the beginning. I often ask people what they believe is innovation, but all I get in response is a long talk about latest technologies.
"For me, innovation in its simplest term is 'change that adds value' and this can come from the change to the simplest process, not so much the latest technology," John told PACE.
He points out that Australia is mainly low volume with some companies into high-volume manufacturing, so the automation equipment has to be designed to suit low-volume and high volume production, and not come at a cost that is prohibitive.
"This is why when designing and building equipment, we look at the flexibility and the scalability of the particular equipment; that companies don't have to run one product on it, they can run several different products on the equipment.
"If you know this upfront, then the equipment can be designed to suit that scenario," he said. John explained that Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions is a new venture for Robert Bosch, which has been operating at its manufacturing base in Clayton, Victoria for over a century.
With development and production of assembly hardware continuing at the plant, Bosch has now widened the scope of these activities beyond its own internal operations, with this new division set up to design, develop and supply the equipment, and the expertise underpinning it, to manufacturers throughout Australia and NZ.
"As we have been working in the areas of automation, robotics and lean line design for a number of years now, we believe we have much to offer Australia's manufacturing industry," John said.
He says the team at Clayton boasts an impressive array of capabilities.
"We can offer the manufacturing industry a wide range of services including project management, mechanical design, electrical design, process engineering, turnkey special purpose machines, automation and robotics, control system engineering, automated test systems, integration to MES, assembly and testing facilities, right through to full system integrators.
"Plus we can also call upon a global pool of knowledge and expertise spread across Bosch's many other divisions, with the development of new and advanced technologies continually in progress," he said.
John explained that the new division works to the requirements of the Bosch Production System (BPS), a set of guidelines developed by the Bosch Group to ensure quality, efficiency and customer satisfaction.
"BPS is based on the Toyota Production System and various Lean Manufacturing principles, then further refined by a lot of German thinking on manufacturing and the collective experience of Bosch globally.
"We really only started in May 2013 offering our unique services and already there are quite a few projects that we're now looking into, for various industries.
"We are passionate about keeping manufacturing in Australia, and when I look at many other industries and the way they manufacture, the beauty is there's so much synergy in what we've been doing for automotive components that actually translates into other areas, such as medical, pharmaceutical, or fast-moving consumer goods."
"However, there is also interest arising from some surprising sources, such as the timber and print industries who have brought our team in to look into streamlining their processes. I know there are other automation companies out there, but I think with Bosch being as diverse as it is, it sets us apart and makes us unique.
"We're not just a small automation company that's got 15-20 employees, and goes out there and does various projects. We can do it from start to finish, right through to the integration of the equipment into the manufacturing."
John acknowledges that manufacturing in Australia is currently going through a period of decline, but he doesn't expect the trend to continue in the long term.
He maintains that Australian manufacturers have too much to offer technically to continue to dwindle indefinitely, adding that it will be the smaller companies that will keep the sector going.
"I believe manufacturing here in Australia will actually increase.
"Companies are looking more and more into making their equipment more flexible, more scalable, and reducing the cost of ownership, and this is making it more viable to be more competitive in the global marketplace.
"This is where I think we want to step in, this is where we believe we can help, and the interest in what we are proposing is growing at a daily rate," John said.