SA an ideal model for Industry 4.0 transformation

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By David Sly

South Australia is ripe for the challenge to progress as industry and employment enters a state of transformation. The closure of production line automotive manufacturing has signalled a new era, with a raft of local businesses swiftly embracing digital industrialisation as the Industry 4.0 technological revolution quickly gathers global momentum – and several progressive companies emerge as shining lights to lead the way.

This paints an optimistic picture for future jobs and industry opportunities in SA according to Professor John Spoehr, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research Impact) at Flinders University, and director of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute.

He has seen rapid change to the state’s business and employment landscape during the past three years, propelled by an understanding across local industry that it is now crucial to act swiftly. This is attracting new industry, fresh international investment, new types of employment and new opportunities to the state.

Realising that an employment vacuum could impose widespread economic damage to a city – with former automotive towns such as Detroit providing an ominous example – Prof Spoehr says Adelaide is proving itself a nimble adaptor of technological innovations to drive new industry.

Professor John Spoehr says Adelaide is adapting to technological innovations to drive new industry.

Running apace with international development levels is ensuring that more opportunities for high-skill, high-pay employment is already occurring.

“Any fears that a digitised workforce must imply a jobless future is not the reality facing SA’s workforce,” says Prof Spoehr.

“It’s a time of great possibility and progress, and SA can provide a model for successful industrial transformation in Australia.”

Prof Spoehr examines this as editor and co-writer of South Australia – State of Transformation, a new book that issues an independent assessment of SA’s current economic, social and political landscape, while also exploring options and policy needs to lay the strongest possible path ahead.

He points to the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies in manufacturing by such companies as Micro-X, based at the Tonsley Innovation District, which is manufacturing lightweight portable X-ray machines (primarily used in disaster zones and emergency situations).

It has quickly won international orders for its products, and to meet demand the company has employed and re-trained many former Holden workers, building on their skill set to quickly provide Micro-X with an experienced and capable hi-tech manufacturing workforce.

“Micro-X has been very clever to make best use of an already skilled workforce of former Holden employees, showing how to be nimble at harnessing local skills, people and resources,” says Prof Spoehr. “For a young company, it has a very bright future.”

Inside Micro-X’s manufacturing facility at Tonsley Innovation District, a former automotive factory. Photo: Micro-X.

Redarc at Lonsdale, which manufactures advanced electronics that specialise in increased towing safety for off-road and heavy vehicles, has been one of the state’s most enthusiastic adopters of Industry 4.0 manufacturing technology.

The company’s transformation during the past 18 months under chief executive Anthony Kittel has been remarkable, resulting in collaborative robots being part of a holistic manufacturing plant expansion.

“These companies are addressing technically complex problems, and as a consequence they are generating high-skill, knowledge intensive and high wage jobs,” says Prof Spoehr. “This is the form of employment that we need more of to help underpin high living standards in SA.”

SAGE Automation, a leader in systems integration, automation solutions and data services to industry, is working across a raft of different industries, including defence, mining, transportation, logistics, utilities and manufacturing. Prof Spoehr says SAGE is helping local companies to take advantage of the digital revolution.

He notes that SAGE’s location within the Tonsley Innovation District has been transformative for the company, providing great benefits through its proximity to other innovative tech companies along with Flinders University researchers and leading students, with whom it has entered numerous collaborations.

A bird’s eye view (Dec, 2017) of the former Elizabeth Holden site, which has now been transformed into Lionsgate Business Park.

“This shows that the collaborations between universities and companies should be stronger in SA, because this will help accelerate the uptake of innovations in industry – and this is the crucial step forward.”

These leading businesses are also guiding the transition from old manufacturing to dynamic new tech industries and specialist manufacturers at the Tonsley Innovation District and Lionsgate Business Park in Elizabeth, both former automotive manufacturing plants.

The success of these districts also points to a promising pathway for current development of a new hi-tech industry hub at Lot Fourteen, within the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site in Adelaide.

“It shows that strong commitment and vision can transform sites into advanced manufacturing precincts,” says Prof Spoehr.

“Manufacturing employment did grow in SA during 2018, but now there has to be double the support for emerging SMEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) to remain at the cutting edge of what is happening globally.

“Australia must be a champion of innovation in both our services and manufacturing sectors – and SA can play a leading role.”

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