National Manufacturing Week 2017 in Review
Articles • Central Innovation • 30 May 2017
Central Innovation was one of more than 230 exhibitors at the 2017 National Manufacturing Week trade show held from 9 to 12 May at Melbourne Exhibition Centre.
With more than 10,000 visitors through the doors, the organisers deemed it one of the biggest years on record for the event, which also encompassed the Safety First Conference & Expo, Austech advanced manufacturing and machine tool show and ISAA Cleaning & Hygiene Expo.
These combined forces, taking up three quarters of the exhibition centre, created an comprehensive display of advanced technologies, automation tools, fabrication and construction materials, support services and more. Alongside the big names like Bosch, 3M, BOC, Lincoln Electric and Universal Robots could be found many smaller manufacturers, developers and entrepreneurs seeking a foothold in Australia’s highly competitive marketplace.
Central Innovation’s Specialised Product Team in Manufacturing Solutions for Australia/NZ, was at Central Innovation’s stand showcasing the Intercad software suite and noted some evolution in the turn-out over previous years.
“The focus seems to have shifted away from representation of mainly large scale manufacturers to include lots of niche operators who are exhibiting now,” a specialist confirmed. “There were also more international visitors to the show than previously – we had always had people coming from interstate, but now they are travelling from further afield. We’re seeing visitors from New Zealand fly across the pond to check out what’s happening in Australian manufacturing.”
In addition to the anticipated focus on automation, robotics and 3D printing, there was a high presence of fabrication materials suppliers, and many exhibitors showcasing products of particular application to the architectural sector.
In contrast, CNC controlled software and applications — once a major element of the show — took up a smaller footprint this year. “Australian businesses are not manufacturing domestically as much, we’re sending this work overseas, so the CNC technology is not as relevant as it once was,” a specialist suggested. “On the other hand we saw a lot of plasma cut and laser cut machines and sheet metal folding systems so there’s clearly still a lot of business out there for that market.”
Medical applications for advanced technology were also a key feature of this year’s show, such as 3D printing of cranial and facial implants for reconstructive surgery, which can be produced at hospitals equipped with the appropriate technology as required.
“3D printing seems to be almost becoming a commodity now, whereas two years ago it was very specialised,” a specialist noted. “The print materials are so good nowadays that people are more likely to invest in it, as we’ve moved well past the prototype stage and they can see its application to real life scenarios.”
One of the buzzwords around the event and particularly the conference program was “Industry 4.0” – as highlighted by its use in the name of the main lecture theatre space. As the keynote address by John Pollaers of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council explained, Industry 4.0 is shorthand for the 4th Industrial Revolution. The term was coined at the 2011 Hannover Fair to distinguish the current era’s trends and technological developments from the 1st (mechanisation), 2nd (electrification) and 3rd (automation and IT integration) industrial transformations of society.
Industry 4.0, Pollaers emphasised, is about the merging of the cyber and physical worlds, and his speech asked what opportunity this offers to Australian manufacturers and how this can be exploited to maximum benefit.
He argued that the predictions of the ‘death of Australian manufacturing’ have been dispelled by our growing contribution to global production over the past several years, and that the challenge to understand how we can compete in high value products using innovative processes is being met by those advanced manufacturers who are finding new export markets, citing the success story of Cochlear’s bionic ear technology.
This positive sentiment seemed to strike a chord with many of those present, but others were less optimistic. With the 2017 Federal Budget announcement coinciding with the show, some disgruntled attendees were bemoaning the Government’s level of support for the manufacturing sector, characterising the Budget’s $100m manufacturing fund as a “drop in the ocean”.
While many of the exhibitors exemplified Pollaers’ characterisation of those businesses which are “surviving and thriving precisely because they constantly innovate”, some attendees we spoke to noted the lack of broader industry adoption of these innovations – attributed to a perceived complacency within the Australian market.
For the most part, however, the outlook seemed positive, as John Belsham observed: “I think business owners, particularly those smaller, niche companies, are focusing on reinvesting profits back into the operation, and that’s certainly helping to drive innovation.”