Manufacturing News

A few thoughts on Australia’s 50 Most Innovative Manufacturers for 2024

Manufacturing News

Below is the introduction speech from @AuManufacturing’s Australia’s 50 Most Innovative Manufacturers awards event, held on April 18. You can view the 2024 list here.  

Good morning and welcome. 

We acknowledge the traditional owners of this land – the Gadigal people of the Eora nation – as we begin this event.

When we launched this campaign to identify and celebrate Australia’s 50 Most Innovative Manufacturers in November, the topic of risk featured heavily.

A guest at our launch event, ANCA Group CEO Martin Ripple, said it nicely, I thought.

“The most ambitious leadership that I’ve seen is usually in the small and medium-size enterprises, where you’ve got true, hardcore entrepreneurs wanting to succeed, [and] accepting risks. Giving it their all, basically, to be successful, ultimately for the company, and delivering something to the customer of value.”

I’m sure it would resonate with a lot of the companies on the list we’re releasing today – ambitious SMEs going about the difficult and important business of making things here, putting their money and more besides that on the line, and delivering something of value.

The topic of risk is unavoidable when it comes to innovation, and to this industry.

Often enough the lack of very important investor money available for promising Australian manufacturers is blamed on a lack of risk appetite. After all, why would investors risk their funds when it might be a surer thing to put them into property or mining or software companies?

There’s a strong element of bravery to innovation we should consider.

“I think innovation is really about looking at a problem, coming up with an approach to help solve that problem, and knowing that there is a great degree of risk there,” a CEO from one of the 50 Most Innovative companies told us recently. 

“But the rewards of actually achieving that outcome outweigh the risks. So it’s really about being brave in the way you go about doing your work.”   

Bravery comes in many forms, as do manufacturing businesses.

I’m happy to say that there is a huge range of company types that agreed to be part of the 50 Most Innovative.

Businesses making flying cars and frying pans. Soil and surgery robots. Heat engines and hydrogen electrolysis cells. Even one that makes a variety of sugar water that I enjoy a long-time addiction to.

But what makes a manufacturer innovative? 

Last night I took a look at the Top 10 from our list, the ones our expert panel of judges thought were the best of the best.

It’s maybe an abuse of statistics to try and look for patterns in that impressive though small set, but let’s do it anyway.

One company among the top 10 was established in the 1960s, three in the 1980s, one in the 2000s, four in the 2010s and one in the current decade.

The median spend on R&D was about 15 per cent of revenues.

Perhaps most interestingly, 7 of the 10 said they had developed world-first technology.

Novelty tends to feature when people talk about innovation, and it can be a source of advantage for obvious reasons.

And while discoveries are wonderful and important, they’re not the same thing as innovation. Ideas can materialise during bath time or a stroll around the block, but implementation takes time, money, and smartly managing risks.

Let’s bang on about risk for just a little while longer.

A warm thank you to all of our sponsors, MYOB, the NSW Government’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Facility, CSIRO and the Commonwealth Bank.

Thanks for your confidence in @AuManufacturing to put on a worthwhile campaign about a worthwhile topic. We’ve only done this once before, and though the first time around was pretty good, there’s always the possibility that this would flop. We’re glad it hasn’t.

A special thank you to MYOB, which has returned as lead sponsor.

Thanks to all of you for coming here and risking the possibility that this event might not be everything you’d hope it would be.

I and my co-founder at @AuManufacturing, Peter Roberts, took the slight risk that nobody would show up today, but thankfully there’s a good-sized crowd of good-looking people in attendance.

One comment on the subject of risk that I loved was from Ian Lowrey of Wireman, who is here today and who was kind enough to be a guest on our campaign launch webinar with Martin Ripple   

“On one level, why do anything risky?” Ian told me.

“But on the other side, not taking any risks can be very risky. [That’s also] a risky strategy.”

So there really is no avoiding risk. 

It’s a privilege to now introduce Xavier Orr from Advanced Navigation.

Xavier’s company manufactures fibre optic gyroscopes, underwater drones and other high-tech gear that makes use of a brilliant idea he had as a mechatronics student. He dropped out of a PhD to commercialise his algorithm and – after he and his co-founder Chris Shaw used personal savings, credit card debt and loans to get started – Advanced Navigation has grown remarkably over a dozen or so years.

A lot of thinkers have a lot of thoughts nowadays about how and where manufacturing can succeed. Xavier will share his, backed up by the fact that he’s actually gotten it done rather than just talk a bunch.

Australia’s 50 Most Innovative Manufacturers is an annual campaign by @AuManufacturing. It has been made possible through the generous support of MYOBCSIRO, the NSW government’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Facility, and the Commonwealth Bank. Be sure to check back at this website for regular updates, including profiles of nominees and other information.

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