Analysis and Commentary

Rural R&D Corporations – unsung heroes of collaboration

Analysis and Commentary

By Peter Roberts

@AuManufacturing has written a lot about the federal government’s industry growth centre initiative, from its undoubted benefits to the companies the six centres touch, to their underfunding and sub-optimal program design.

With the growth centres threatened with replacement by grants issued by ministers offices – with the all too-obvious risks of their becoming yet another election pork barrel – little has been heard of another Australian industry development program that is paying back mightily to the sectors it serves.

The federal government’s Rural Research and Development Corporations (RRDCs), along with the better-known Cooperative Research Centres, have been models of how to support industry-research collaboration to solve industry-wide challenges.

Funded by a levy on producers and matched by government funds, the RRDCs are government-owned in grains, wine, cotton and fisheries, and industry-owned across the gamut of rural industry from meats to eggs, sugar and horticulture.

To say their work has been a success in underpinning agriculture and food and fibre production and value-adding would be an under-statement, yet total federal funding over the past 10 years has been only $157 million.

Just today the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC), which supports the red meat processing industry, will announce a world-first industry-owned additive manufacturing service to 3D print equipment parts on demand.

Working with Markforged and Konica Minolta, the service will focus on high-volume parts such as bolts and rollers which are subject to wear or breakage.

AMPC CEO Chris Taylor said: “Even a small component failure can be a costly exercise.

“The ability to simply print a replacement part could drastically reduce downtime and minimise the need to wait for parts, reducing the chance of supply being at risk.”

The three-year collaboration will see two mobile non-metal industrial 3D printers placed in Australian meat processing plants for periods of between four and eight weeks.

Staff will be trained and use the machines to produce non-metal parts and pre-metal prototypes for assessment, with prototypes sent to a central location where a metal 3D printer will produce and return a metal part in as little as 48 hours.

Companies can then decide whether to invest in their own additive manufacturing capability.

This sort of technology introduction and transfer across industry is invaluable in improving productivity and accelerating technology uptake – and it is the sort of thing ideally suited to the RRDC model.

The corporations also conduct more fundamental research of a sort that few single companies could afford to do on their own – one recent example is the development of robots to replace manual cutting out of flat bones from a striploin of beef (pictured).

AMPC’s Taylor said: “Although established for red meat processors…AMPC will make the 3D printing hub available for other Australian food, agriculture and manufacturing sectors to evaluate their needs and opportunities.”

Picture: Australian Meat Processor Corporation

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