02/07/2021

South Australia plans to be a manufacturing powerhouse once again with Tonsley Innovation District fostering cutting-edge industries.

Tonsley Innovation District

South Australia's value added manufacturing industry is continuing to ramp up, attracting big ideas and global companies to its centre of innovation at the former home of Mitsubishi Motors.

Growth at Tonsley Innovation District—established in 2012—is accelerating after support for locally-based, high-value manufacturing continues to generate significant momentum, says precinct director Philipp Dautel.

The district is the showpiece of a strategic drive to grow high-value manufacturing and innovation in South Australia, with tenants ranging from global behemoths Zeiss and BAE Systems, to locally-bred Sage Automation and Form Cut.

South Australia was previously a powerhouse in traditional manufacturing and following the decline of car manufacturing nationwide, it has successfully pivoted to advanced manufacturing.

“The highly-skilled workers who supported car manufacturing are still around, many of whom have transitioned to the new world of advanced manufacturing at Tonsley and are now applying their sought-after skills to frontier industries and the creation of high-value, low volume products," Dautel says.

He says the precinct grew from the sense of urgency created by the closure of those car manufacturers in the 2000s, which left a 60-hectare patch of land vacant and companies which supported the sector, making such things as glass for windscreens or plastic for door handles, looking for new customers.

"The question was, could we move from making cars to making other things?”, he says.

"Tonsley is the centrepiece of that effort to remake South Australia's manufacturing sector with an initial $250m investment from the State Government. We have attracted approximately $300m from the private sector to date and expect to attract $1 billion in total by the time the district has fulfilled its vision and realised its 20-year masterplan."

Government support has underpinned the effort to bring in tenants and launch cutting-edge projects.

For example, the South Australian Government contributed a $4.9 million grant from its Renewable Technology Fund to build and operate the $14.5 million Hydrogen Park South Australia facility (HyP SA) at Tonsley.

The Tonsley HyP SA project is owned by Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG) and is providing the template for blending zero carbon “green” hydrogen (created from water and renewable energy) into natural gas that is delivered to customers.

"Tonsley is an ideal spot to establish Australia’s largest renewable hydrogen project based on the physical proximity to our existing gas networks and thriving innovation community," AGIG CEO Ben Wilson says.

The 1.25 megawatt electrolyser used by HyP SA to produce the green hydrogen that is currently being blended into the natural gas network has been provided by Siemens Energy, another Tonsley-based company and the district’s first industrial anchor tenant.

Tenants have been attracted by the ability to co-locate with like-minded entrepreneurs in a collaborative environment; share infrastructure, ideas and networks; have access to scalable facilities; and tap into the world-class research and training taking place at Flinders University and TAFE SA.

These are the essential ingredients that are enabling Tonsley-based businesses to deliver genuine innovation with global potential across four key sectors, namely clean-tech, software and automation, medical tech, and mining and energy, which are considered to reflect South Australia’s economic strengths.

Tesla, the provider of the world’s first big battery at Hornsdale in South Australia, has also chosen Tonsley as its Asia-Pacific base for servicing the battery and maintaining its network of residential Powerwall home batteries and their Supercharger stations.

Another leading business that has joined the Tonsley community and is ideally suited to the district’s vision is Micro-X, which now employs a number of former Holden engineers in its development of ultra-lightweight, mobile x-ray imaging equipment. The firm was sold on the site by the State Government's strategy around medical devices and investment in the new manufacturing sector, says the company's managing director Peter Rowland.  "We saw another similar company like us already based there, and that was encouraging. Innovative start-ups feel like an endangered species — you're not quite sure you'll survive — so it was comforting to know that someone similar was in the area," he says.

"We also do a lot of work with Sage Automation who help us with some of our production manufacturing equipment, and the biggest and most critical partnership is with Flinders University, whose biomedical engineering faculty is 100 paces from our front door. They've offered everything from expertise to equipment, and we employ a huge number of their graduates."

Dautel says collaborations such as that between Micro-X and Sage Automation are the kind of "magic" that a precinct like Tonsley can provide.

"At Tonsley, we've created this cluster environment where companies feed off each other. By creating a space which enables those unplanned encounters, those chance meetings, this is the basis for innovation," he says.

He sees real signs of opportunity in South Australian manufacturing, following the launch of the federal government's $1.5 billion Manufacturing Modernisation Fund last year and current projects in defence and shipbuilding.

"Pair that with the entrepreneurial attitude we're seeing in Adelaide at the moment, and that is enough fuel to ignite a manufacturing fire," Dautel says.

Tonsley is the cradle of the sector’s renewal.

Sourced from The Australian’s website: SA sparks manufacturing renewal