In episode 22 of @AuManufacturing Conversations with Brent Balinski, we hear from Daen Simmat, founder and CEO at Black Lab Design.
The episode was recorded during a visit to Black Lab’s factory in Frenchs Forest last week.
In this broad-ranging chat, Simmat tells us about starting a company in 2013, its natural evolution from sheet metal fabrication to designing and making a broad range of products, his view on what “advanced manufacturing” means, what automation can and can’t replace, the critical but often-overlooked role of marketing in keeping a manufacturer relevant, and lots more.
“One of the things I [consider], if I link it back to innovation, is what businesses are being innovative out there, and what are they doing, and how can we take stuff from those industries… Because it works in fashion, why can’t it work in manufacturing? Because it works in hospitality, why can’t it work in manufacturing?
The conversation is available to stream below or for download through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many other platforms.
0:32 – Professional background as CAD operator and salesman, then in a packaging machinery company.
4:50 – “The next bit is kind of where the history started.” Borrowing $2 million to buy a laser cutter, a brake press and begin a new business.
7:40 – How the company moved beyond sheet metal componentry and slowly acquiring new skill sets.
10:46 – Who their customers are. Point of sale, hand sanitiser dispensers, street furniture, displays, building facades and other jobs.
13:20 – “Smart ways to make dumb things” and why you can still make a big impact as a manufacturer while making everyday, non-high-tech items.
16:20 – Additive manufacturing is just one tool and you can’t do everything with it. Plus some thoughts on how automation creates opportunities rather than removes jobs.
18:26 – Where additive manufacturing is useful for producing dumb products.
20:30 – One of the best things about automation and one of the worst, and the places where it can’t replace human workers.
22:10 – Thinking differently about materials for more sustainable results.
25:36 – Three reasons why it’s worth devoting time to marketing yourself.
27:40 – Why they run a weekly newsletter, Billy’s Business Insights, dedicated to industry observations.
28:10 – With marketing, there’s no magic formula. You do need to be active, measure your results and find out what works.
30:40 – Most traditional small-sized manufacturers are stuck on the donkey wheel.
32:50 – “The reality is you’ve got to be growing your business by five, 10, 20 per cent every year just to stay relevant.”
33:40 – What’s the next big wave of change? It could be around AI, but we don’t know. Whatever happens, we should be focussing on the importance of people – and definitely skilled tradespeople – in advanced manufacturing.
37:30 – Why the company is based on the Northern Beaches of Sydney rather than Western Sydney, and why it’s staying put.
40:30 – We’re great at mining and agriculture, but we also need to do better at adding value.
42:40 – Have a go, and don’t neglect the very important “one third”.
Main picture: credit Black Lab Design/AMTIL