By Melissa Keogh
Under the roof of the former Mitsubishi Motors assembly plant at Tonsley in Adelaide’s south, about a dozen ex-Holden workers are busy manufacturing x-ray systems that are the first of their kind in the world.
Manufacturing a Holden Commodore and a lightweight x-ray imaging system are, for obvious reasons, worlds apart, but according to Micro-X managing director Peter Rowland, company culture is the same.
When Peter was preparing to shift the relatively new Micro-X from Victoria to South Australia in 2015, he phoned the general manager of Holden’s Elizabeth factory which was headed for closure in two years’ time.
“I said ‘look, I’m setting up this company and my strategy is that I want to import the culture and practices of good manufacturing within the auto industry and I want to recruit some of your best and finest workers’,” he says.
“It’s all about the culture, it’s not just the skills that drives attention to detail, the quality, and the search for better, cheaper, simpler and faster ways to produce high quality products.
“There is no other industry on earth that makes such a complicated thing as a motorcar as cost effectively and with such high quality as the auto industry.”
Micro-X received a loan from the former Labor State Government to set up operations in SA, choosing Tonsley’s Main Assembly Building (MAB) as the site where it would manufacture lightweight x-ray systems for the medical, defence and airport security sectors.
Former Holden worker Adam Williams was recruited as Micro-X’s first official employee and has since helped grow the business which now has a workforce of 36 and is on the cusp of expansion.
Micro-X’s lightweight x-ray imaging systems are expected to create better outcomes for imaging systems in the medical and military fields, with the company working with the Australian and UK defence forces.
Its DRX-Revolution Nano Mobile X-ray System is designed for Carestream Health Inc of Rochester, New York, an international x-ray systems giant.
The Nano uses world-first technology developed by the University of North Carolina and sourced by Micro-X’s partner XinRay Systems in which Micro-X has a 30% share.
The mobile x-ray system is easily transported around hospitals and intensive care units, as it weighs under 100kg which is considerably lighter than the industry standard of about 600kg.
“It’s smaller, simpler and cheaper … and it’s the first of this technology anywhere in the world. We are the first ones who have made it into a device, got regulatory approvals, and brought it to the market, it’s a global first for SA,” Peter says.
Micro-X is also developing a lightweight, digital mobile x-ray system, the Rover, through a contract with the Australian Defence Force.
The medical imager is designed for use in military deployed medical field hospitals, humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
From this contract came another, to produce a bench-top prototype of the Mobile Backscatter Imager (MBI), a standoff imaging system for detection of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Peter says the MBI has “superman vision” allowing it to take a high resolution image of IEDs from a distance, reducing risks to explosive experts.
“We’ve proven that it works and now we’re talking to bomb disposal people not only in Australia but in the US too, we’re developing that product as we speak.”
Aside from the Nano, Rover and MBI, Micro-X is also working on the development of a lightweight x-ray system to detect explosives hidden in electronics at airports.
The majority of Micro-X products are sold outside of Australia by the company’s 6.5% shareholder, Carestream Health Inc.
However, Peter says a couple of SA hospitals already have their eye on the mobile x-ray units, and that in 10 years’ time it will be hard to find a hospital in Adelaide that hasn’t adopted a Micro-X product.
To cater for the demand for its products and growth of its operations, the business is undergoing a $7m expansion of its facilities at Tonsley.
With the help of a $2.4 million Advanced Manufacturing Grant from the Federal Government, Micro-X will double the size of its current footprint, and also take up a separate 600sqm space still under Tonsley’s MAB roof.
The company also plans to recruit additional staff over the next 12 months and grow to about 50 employees.
“Two years from now we’re going to be manufacturing backscatter imagers and airport imagers, as well as a huge volume of mobile x-rays,” Peter says.
“And it’s all happening from Adelaide.”
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