Clever Policies to Rebirth Manufacturing by John Blakemore

Engineer John Blakemore believes now is the time for politicians to accept that manufacturing policy has failed, plus his priorities for change.

The covid-19 pandemic has exposed Australian supply chains and our lack of independent manufacturing capability to a significant extent and clearly demonstrated that the policies of the past need to change.

We have a health system that is the envy of the world but suddenly in a pandemic we cannot quickly produce many of the basics needed for personal protection of our people and our health workers as well.

Our poor manufacturing and industry policies of the past have now created a country that does not value many of the elements of science, engineering and mathematics that are treasured in countries like Japan, Germany, Singapore, and South Korea. This is greatly to our detriment as the resultant society is narrower in focus and less sophisticated and less innovative.

When tariff protection was removed after WW2, we lost most of our heavy industry and manufacturing capability. We chose the easy option. Now we simply mine and sell raw materials to the world and import almost all of the manufactured products we need.

There was a time when we could make aircraft and motor vehicles refrigerators and washing machines. When tariff protection was removed, we found our product quality was so poor that everyone preferred the better quality and performance of the imported product so our industries could not compete. They closed. We can learn from this.

Tariffs were removed too quickly so our industries had little time to adapt.

As ambitious plan by Premier Don Dunstan in South Australia to accelerate our capability to compete globally was quashed by the Trade Union Movement.

In addition, the Greens and others could not see the immense benefit that would accrue from exploiting out uranium advantage. The excuses were always the same, this industry is too dangerous.

Nuclear power stations are safe and do not add significantly to CO2 emissions and hence do not add to global warming.

Our new submarines, the last of which will be available in approximately 30 years, will be diesel electric and these will be fitted to a French submarine designed originally for nuclear power. Overseas countries find this poor decision making almost unbelievable. Australia can’t even manufacture the components for these strategic vessels.

Future wealth and prosperity will be based on using, intelligently, all those elements of the latest production and process manufacturing techniques that are appropriate for the large number of small Australian enterprises.

We therefore need immediate policies to encourage Australian owned industries as follows:

• Firstly, offer incentives for companies to develop integrated networks to supply manufactured product to global producers in areas where we have a comparative advantage. e.g. Aluminium diecast products for the auto and aerospace industry, value added products for food for the world.

• Support for business at all levels of turnover to carry out R&D with a strong commercial objective aimed at using a CSIRO and University based networks combined with a network of companies all working together to achieve global success.

• Offer incentives and training so that companies can understand how to extract the state of the art from patents and then build on that knowledge like John Lysaght did with Zincalume which became Colorbond. This means we must not favour product development over process innovation. Copy the Japanese model after World War 2.

• Offer incentives for companies to modify overseas purchased equipment so that the real needs of the company can be met. Since Australian plants require equipment to be much more flexible and agile than those for say USA or Europe as our production runs are so much shorter.

• Establish a national database of expertise and make it available to all Australian companies and encourage them to use the expertise that is available from all sources.

• Rationalise the activities of the CSIRO so that it matches Australia’s needs not the isolated views of some researchers with projects that do not fit the public interest.

• Encourage universities to work hand in hand with industry in areas of national interest, and so avoid many of the missed opportunities of say the University of Newcastle when the administration in 1965 favoured a classical style university in a coal and steelmaking city. Time has now enabled this University to now become a leader in Engineering and science without the supercharged support it could have had in the beginning if Auchmutty and Brin Newton John, in 1965 understood the opportunities in front of them.

• Exploit developments where there is proven global demand and we have the intellectual capability and expertise. e.g. solar power, photovoltaics.

• Exploit the nuclear industry by controlling the whole of the fuel cycle from mine to waste storage. (Synroc, UO2,). Nuclear fission does not produce CO2.

• Accept the fact that if the USA and EU subsidise their farmers then we are not operating on a level playing field and help our farmers in all ways and in particular to produce Biofuels.

• Adopt new business models that are agile and flexible. In the short term this will mean sourcing components overseas and assembling at the market with Australian IP control. There are numerous successful models for each industry type. All these take advantage of flexibility, agility, lean production, IP control, and smooth logistical control.

Our fragmented and small manufacturing industry needs significant help in a large number of areas and as such our initial help has to be targeted to those companies that have the capability and desire and will to develop and use the new innovations available.

Dr John Blakemore is Professor of Engineering at University of Newcastle and CEO of Blakemore Consulting which focuses on innovation in product and process. He is a former adviser to the federal government on industrial R&D and former president of the Manufacturing Society of Australia.

Picture: John Blakemore

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