One of the icons of manufacturing in South Australia, Frank Seeley, often relates his view on the future direction for manufacturing as ‘innovate and automate’, and more recently adds ‘accelerate the pace of these’.
Technology is a powerful enabler of business innovation and when combined with the right business model(s) has the potential to create and capture new value for existing manufacturers.
A 2013 report from the McKinsey Global Institute, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy, identified 12 technologies that could truly disrupt the status quo in coming years. These include mobile internet, automation of knowledge and work, the internet of things, cloud technology, advanced robotics, autonomous vehicles, next-generation genomics, energy storage, 3D printing, advanced materials, advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery, and renewable energy.
The pace of change for these technologies is increasing rapidly and with it the cost is decreasing; therefore the accessibility to medium-sized manufacturing is increasing.
Technologies once the domain of large (often multinational) companies due to the prohibitive cost, are now within the ambit of medium-sized companies. Technology is changing the dynamics of industry competitiveness and is bringing manufacturing back to developed economies such as the United States.
Of course technology that is new to a firm requires investment (in equipment and people) and hence risk, but in the longer term this risk needs to be balanced against the significant benefits of adopting new technology that may grow market share at the same time.
The Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy (DMITRE) has a legitimate role to play here to help manufacturers reduce their risk, by looking over the horizon, raising awareness and connecting manufacturers to existing and emerging technologies.
For small and medium-sized companies, DMITRE’s Innovation Voucher Program provides an incentive to collaborate with universities on problem solving related to the application of new technologies. Other programs including the Photonics Catalyst Program, Medical Technologies Program and NanoConnect help manufacturers by raising awareness and understanding of new technologies, providing opportunities to experiment, and encouraging the scale-up, application and commercialisation of new products and services.
The message for companies, particularly small and medium, is to build your awareness, collect information and see how these technologies are being applied elsewhere. Engage in networks and common interest groups, and build scenarios about how and where technology can be applied in your business using a business model that captures the value created by the new technology.
DMITRE is exploring several new initiatives to accelerate the uptake of new manufacturing technologies, including factory visits, overseas study tours, and information and awareness raising forums. Further information on the Manufacturing website.
Len Piro is Group Executive Director, Manufacturing and Innovation, with DMITRE.