A proven foundation for manufacturing innovation | So Good News
When it comes to production, I am a real optimist. So before we start talking about why manufacturing innovation is important in Australia, it’s important to think about the challenges we face.
Much news has been made of Australia’s further decline in the Economic Complexity Index (ECI) ranking. We are currently ranked 91st out of 133 countries measured, in the bottom third.
Why is this? Frankly, we do not design, manufacture and export products of sufficient variety, complexity and value to merit a top position. Australia also has a low score for the proportion of businesses collaborating with universities, the lowest compared to other OECD countries.
In addition, foreign investment into Australia has fallen since 2019. In light of the pandemic and recent geopolitical tensions, we have realized how dependent we are on global imports.
Now let’s look at the positive aspects of Australian manufacturing. Importantly, we refocused on designing and developing capital goods and services to increase our confidence.
If targeted correctly, it can help increase our ‘sovereignty’ capacity and capacity, drive sustainable economic growth and secure sustainable, well-paying jobs – a topic I explored in a commentary last month.
Since 2016, the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC) has been selectively investing Commonwealth and other funds in transformative manufacturing research and development projects.
These projects are driven by ambitious businesses collaborating with Australia’s leading universities and CSIRO. Although diverse in nature, collaborations are designed to drive industrial transformation, leverage Industry 4.0 technologies, adopt new business models, and deliver real-world commercial results.
Over the past six years, our team has met with hundreds of Australian manufacturers to find out how we can help them accelerate and maximize their investment in manufacturing innovation.
With more than 70 collaborative and transformative projects to complete this year, the IMCRC has implemented a proven business model to establish effective and focused projects and partnerships between manufacturers and research organizations. So what does this business model look like and how can it be used to drive success for the wider manufacturing community?
Manufacturing Readiness Levels and Stage Gate Design In order to achieve commercial results in complex innovation and R&D, it is essential to start with clear goals and create a focused path that maps the manufacturing innovation journey from proof of concept to commercialization. is a product, process, service or platform.
The IMCRC’s vision was to align Manufacturing Readiness Levels (MRLs) with Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) so that “manufacturability” is developed in tandem with the new or applied technology and business model. We have invested primarily in the MRL/TRL 4-7 journey – from proof of concept projects to investment readiness for manufacturing and commercialization.
We have helped our project partners define and establish R&D milestones and create meaningful and transparent structures to support their technological innovation journeys to manufacturing maturity. We also conduct frequent reviews of projects, including annual milestone gates (or “Traffic Light Reviews”), to ensure that projects are achieving or exceeding planned outcomes, a key indicator of return on investment. It’s also designed to avoid hearing the “well, it didn’t quite work, but we kept going anyway” line that’s often tempting in mid- to long-term R&D.
This structured approach to measuring research success has been instrumental in helping manufacturers and universities work together to leverage research results into business growth, along with government gateways.
A common approach to the commercialization of know-how, IP and innovation
What else works well? Good cultural fit, mutual respect and trust between project partners, and a shared understanding of the technology being developed have all proven to be important factors in effective collaboration.
There is also an open approach to ownership of project-generated know-how and intellectual property (IP). It is also important that there are no obstacles in the way of commercialization.
At IMCRC, we have taken a strategic approach from the beginning that we do not own the IP we develop. Instead, we would consistently rely on whoever is best placed to commercialize and deliver production results, helping to “broke” ownership and exploitation agreements. This approach removed one of the barriers that still exists when manufacturers seek to conduct joint R&D.
Australia has a lot of research talent. By leveling the IP “playing field” between industry and universities, we can take advantage of this opportunity more effectively and maximize the number and scope of successful collaborations.
Collaboration throughout the home
With the rise of Industry 4.0, manufacturing innovation has evolved beyond simply creating a new product.
During R&D, a new product or manufacturing process often becomes a new service offering, business model, or even a new platform.
The IMCRC has encouraged our industry partners to embrace this by engaging with the wider research community. By partnering with additional university schools and faculties, such as business, data analytics and social sciences, partners can add much-needed expertise, ideas and solutions to the project.
Collaboration can take place on multiple levels – and we see real potential for this ‘whole house’ approach, but it has yet to become standard practice. Manufacturers who have adopted this approach have benefited from an accelerated innovation journey – one
it’s faster to deliver real-world commercial opportunities and results.
Take IMCRC’s partnership with Boral, Australia’s largest supplier of building materials and construction products, as an example. Working with experts at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Boral accelerated the research, development and commercialization of low-carbon concrete.
The research collaboration was to develop a low-carbon concrete that replaces 70 percent of the most commonly used concrete binder, conventional Portland cement, with additional cementitious materials when meeting with industry.
However, the team quickly learned that part of the challenge was transitioning Boral’s customer base from traditional admixtures to low-carbon concrete, so Boral also engaged the UTS Business School to help develop a commercialization strategy based on the benefits of use. low carbon concrete throughout the value chain.
This is just one example of the “good” look at IMCRC’s R&D production.
To produce more complex and higher value-added products, processes and services in Australia, we need an ecosystem that grows more of these benefits. We can achieve this by supporting innovation and R&D that prioritizes collaboration, sets clear milestones and encourages mutually beneficial routes to commercialisation.
What has been proven to work at the IMCRC can and should be expanded to foster broader collaboration between us manufacturers and the research community.
The realist in me knows that challenges lie ahead. But the optimist recognizes that within these challenges lie opportunities for those who are bold, ambitious and willing to embrace innovation and collaboration in the manufacturing space.