The end of car manufacturing in South Australia has turned into a huge opportunity to develop a modern manufacturing sector.

Central to this will be the SA Modern Manufacturing Action Plan, which South Australia’s chief scientist, Caroline McMillen, calls a work in progress.

“We have taken the opportunity to look at what’s happening around the world to support an advanced manufacturing sector. We wanted to explore how different markets have harnessed first rate R&D to drive collaboration between the public and private sectors and create a research and innovation value chain,” she explains.

Understanding how powerful it can be to co-locate businesses, researchers and educators, the state has invested heavily in developing the Tonsley Innovation District on the site of the former Mitsubishi car assembly line to the south of Adelaide.

An important initiative located at the innovation district is the Line Zero’ Factory of the Future’ project, involving BAE Systems Maritime Australia, Flinders University and the South Australian government. This project creates a digital and advanced manufacturing test environment to support outcomes at the Osborne Shipyard where Hunter Class Frigates are being built.

“This allows different industries and workers to gain experience using new and emerging technologies, such as virtual reality in a complex manufacturing process,” says McMillen.

REDARC, a major electronics company in South Australia, is another example of a business that’s closely involved in modern manufacturing.

CEO Anthony Kittel has transformed the business since he and his wife Michele bought it in 1997. They have transformed the firm from a cottage electronics business into an advanced manufacturing company that employs more than 300 people and generates annual revenues of $100 million. The business manufactures electronics to provide power to vehicle systems and distributes worldwide.

“We’ve been heavily investing in R&D since 2002 and 15 per cent of our revenue is reinvested back into R&D. Doing that means the business grows by 20 per cent a year,” he explains.

Kittel agrees collaboration is key, and he works closely with universities, organisations like CSIRO and other players in the manufacturing supply chain. “In South Australia, we have a really good network of businesses that are vital to our supply chain. So, we have been able to trade through COVID without any significant interruptions.”

SAGE Group is another important member of South Australia’s modern manufacturing ecosystem. The software firm has its global headquarters within the Tonsley Innovation Precinct, as well as 14 offices across Australia and India. Itself advanced manufacturer, SAGE has worked with leading Australian manufacturers for almost 30 years. It employs 530 people and has annual revenues of $135 million.

“The connection between people and technology is the foundation of modern manufacturing and you won’t succeed without a sustainable approach to both,” says executive director and founder Andrew Downs.

“This is at the heart of our Skills Lab business, a Registered Training Organisation developing workforce skills and capability. Recently, Skills Lab launched Australia’s first digital higher apprenticeship to build a pipeline of talent directly into digital careers. The interest in the apprenticeship speaks volumes for the appetite of both business and school leavers in digitalisation,” he adds.

SAGE recently developed and launched TilliT, a cloud-based digital factory platform for planning, executing and analysing manufacturing processes. It has also launched an innovation hub at Tonsley where government, industry and the academy can work together on modern manufacturing projects.

Says Downs: “Modern manufacturing is critical to Australia’s future and demonstrates higher ongoing rates of productivity growth than other parts of the economy.”

McMillen agrees South Australia’s future manufacturing success depends on a robust innovation ecosystem to support it. “You have to have excellent research, great collaboration and be excited about innovating. Then, you need to be close to intermediaries that can add value and support companies to commercialise to translate innovation into new jobs and greater productivity.

“South Australia is a magnet for talent and creativity. It is the home of world class businesses powered by renewable energy and with access to remarkable mineral and agricultural resources. We have always been the creative state and we are now emerging as The State of Science – building on research and innovation to grow a new economy, better healthcare and a sustainable environment.”

Sourced from the The Australian Financial Review South Australia Focus Report.