Innovation and education: two halves of a whole.
There is a myth circulating that Australia’s manufacturing industry is dead – the demise of Holden and Ford’s manufacturing capability in Australia has given strength to that myth. The manufacturing sector is changing, but it’s far from dead. Educational institutes are adapting to change, introducing new courses and investing in technology, addressing the evolution of the industry.
The manufacturing and engineering industry is the second largest employer in Australia, with a workforce of more than one million. The industry has been revolutionised in the past decade, with advances in computer-aided manufacturing technology and 3D printing capabilities. However, even the best 3D printer will need an operator with computer-aided design experience and a mechanical aptitude to function effectively.
For apprentices and students looking at a career in the metal trades, engineering or manufacturing fields, they are the future of Australian manufacturing. These trades cover a diverse field including the design, development, manufacture, assembly, installation, operation and maintenance of all types of mechanical and robotic components, motor vehicles, aircraft, ships, propulsion and power plants.
With trade options such as boilermakers, fabricators, sheet metal workers, fitter machinists and toolmakers all part of the Department of Employment’s skills shortage list, there are still plenty of opportunities as the industry moves forward embracing these new technologies and products. Institutes such as TAFE have now incorporated 3D printing into their curriculum, recognising that 3D printing is not a threat, but an aid in the manufacturing process.
The 3D printing industry is growing rapidly as companies and individuals begin to understand the benefits that additive manufacturing brings to the production process. 3D printing of plastic is straight-forward and increasingly affordable with FFF and SLA 3D printers now costing under $1000.
However, 3D printing of steel is a whole other beast; powder bed fusion, metal binder jetting and directed energy deposition are currently in development. The technology is in its early stages, with the aerospace, medical and automotive industries leading the charge.
According to the Australian Industry Group, the manufacturing and engineering sector is a major employer. There are 88,000 manufacturing businesses in Australia employing over a million people. Not far short of levels seen five decades ago. The sector is, however, going through a prolonged transition, from the big auto and white goods makers of the past into smaller niche and high-skilled manufacturers focused on supplying global markets.
In a report released by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE), titled ‘Smarter Manufacturing for a Smarter Australia’, non-government bodies such as Billroy Manufacturing, were among a group of companies consulted by the government as they re-evaluated the state of the industry.
Australian owned and operated, Billroy Manufacturing produce the components for the mining, construction, automotive, medical, materials handling, rail and marine industries. Director Lance Stewart understands that the “success in the past has depended on constant investment in people, machinery and software; the same holds true moving forward.”
The company continues to look for new opportunities. “As a company we needed to diversify and tap into new markets… we needed to market the quality of our workmanship and improve the companies capabilities to stay ahead of the pack,” Mr Stewart told The Newsroom.
Billroy recently invested in M1 enterprise resource planning software. Its purpose is to streamline the business. The system has improved job planning and productivity, while reducing labour and material costs on the factory floor. The company has not yet invested in a 3D metal printer, but it is definitely part of their future business model. As a company they are willing to incorporate traditional manufacturing methods with computer aided and developing technologies, doing everything in their power to remain productive.
Mr Stewart praised the Sydney Institute, “Our apprentices, through their training are are at the forefront of developing technologies. [The] Sydney Institute, has and continues to be an integral part of the business.”
Billroy Manufacturing has been in operation for over 40 years, the majority of the companies staff have undertaken training through Sydney Institute, part of the TAFE NSW system. The company also works closely with engineering students at the University of Wollongong to develop their ideas into functioning prototypes.
The Sydney Institute (formerly Technical College) was established in 1891 and has always operated under the motto “manu et mente”, meaning “hand and mind” or “doing and thinking”. It provides hands-on, practical training that is relevant to the industry. Ian Frost, head of the Fitting & Machining department at the Sydney Institute, acknowledged the diversity in the manufacturing industry. He emphasised that the department employed teachers who were former tradesmen that had sound industry knowledge and experience to pass those skills onto the next generation. “Without ongoing training and diversifying the skill set, the industry will suffer.”
Mr Frost believes in the importance of moving forward and adapting to change. “The college continues to invest in new equipment and technology,” he told The Newsroom.
The Sydney Institute teaches the traditional core skills needed to work in the trade. They also work with manufacturing and engineering companies, such as Billroy Manufacturing, to cater future training to benefit companies’ needs and provide relevant training for apprentices and tradespeople working in the industry.
Mr Frost went on to say, “The Australian knack of practical problem solving is creating niche opportunities in many areas.” – Dominic Andrew
Top image supplied by the Sydney Institute
Centre image supplied by the Billroy Manufacturing