Shay Chalmers, Director, Strategic Engineering Australia

This time around our Meet a Member guest is Shay Chalmers, who tells us about her passion for manufacturing and the shifts in her career, which includes managing an Ohio steel mill during the GFC, returning to Australia to work in medical device manufacturing, and founding her consultancy.

What is your job and who is your company?

Director at Strategic Engineering Australia Pty Ltd.

What’s your role and how does it fit into the business/organisation?

General Management, Project Management, Process Engineering and Manufacturing Strategy Development and Execution.

What does your organisation do well? What are your capabilities? Who are your ambitions?

We help organisations to optimise their manufacturing processes to reduce cost, lead time and enhance product quality. We facilitate manufacturing process design to meet quality management system needs. Whatever industry you are in, from medical devices to heavy manufacturing, we have the expertise to help you meet your manufacturing goals, in all stages of your business operations.

We also help companies get their next idea off the ground through comprehensive project and program management services to help with all aspects of a business.  

From setting up a manufacturing facility, to developing and deploying new IT systems, I work on a huge cross-section of projects.

What does your personal career path look like? Are there any highlights and/or awards along the way that you’re proud of?

As a manufacturing professional with over 10 years’ experience around the globe, my work spans a wide range of manufacturing sectors from steel to medical devices, and a wide range of roles, from the shop floor to executive management.

At 23, I had published three Australian Standards for the manufacture of rotationally molded tanks. This work helped drive the plastic molding industry forward in Australia by establishing a benchmark for manufacturing quality requirements. By the age of 25, during the global financial crisis, I was living in Pittsburgh, working in a consolidated steel mill in Ohio, managing 150 staff whilst responsible for running both the maintenance and engineering departments.

After returning to Australia, I transformed my career again to begin working in the medical manufacturing area. During that time, I was responsible for running the Process Engineering department for the Asia Pacific Headquarters for a medical manufacturing company. During this time, I was also responsible for running multi-million-dollar projects, including the establishment of a medical manufacturing facility in China, and managing the Global Personalized medicine program.

At 33, I founded Strategic Engineering Australia Pty Ltd and am currently working as Company Director. In my role, I work with organisations to help design, develop and implement their strategic policies and optimise their business and operational processes. I work with clients in both the United States and Australia.

I’m also a dedicated coach to other women in engineering, and have a passion for helping other women achieve successful leadership careers in the technology space.

What’s a typical day at work look like?

Typically, I spend my time with manufacturers around the country working with them on the shop floor to optimise business and operational processes.

What are some tools/techniques/tactics you use to do your job as a business leader?

My breadth of experience from the shop floor through to engineering management and strategic planning enables me to intimately understand the entire manufacturing ecosystem. Alongside my strong project management skills, this provides me with a unique perspective for innovation and continuous improvement in the sector.

My holistic view of manufacturing has enabled me to prioritise projects according to their impact and easily demonstrate their benefit on the greater supply chain.

This unique experience coupled with a foundation in Mechanical Engineering, creates the ultimate combination of both hands-on knowledge and a comprehensive understanding of the manufacturing challenges currently extant in Australia.

My Engineering Management Master’s degree was focused on analysing the manufacturing industry in Australia and its entire supply chain, and providing cost effective innovative solutions to enable our industries to have a sustainable future.

I maintain a strong network both across Australia and the world, of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, research institutions, and tax and legal professionals who are specialised in managing innovative ideas.  Coupling strong interpersonal skills with the desire to further extend this network will allow me to drive innovation in manufacturing by bridging the gap between these sectors and optimising commercialisation of our innovative concepts.

Is there an issue in Australian manufacturing that’s not getting enough attention at the moment? Why is it important?

Cue Shay’s manufacturing rant . . . . haha!

My passion for ensuring the viable future of manufacturing is evident to all who know me. I have travelled around Australia and the world seeking out innovative manufacturing solutions to improve productivity and global competitiveness for the organisations in which I have been involved. Possessing and communicating a vision for the future of manufacturing is the key to a successful future for this sector and, I believe, will be a critical driver of productivity in our economy. I have presented on this topic in various forums around the country.   

This passion for continuous advancement in the manufacturing sector stems from my experiences working in the steel industry in the USA during the global financial crisis. I witnessed the impact of the demise of manufacturing in the Midwest. I saw families lose homes, livelihood and their futures. It was there I learnt to overcome adversity and was responsible for not only managing all the engineering activities in the mill but also leading a maintenance manufacturing team of 150 people. Through the utilisation of flexible adaptive leadership techniques combined with LEAN and 5s, I was able to transform an incredibly challenging unionised workforce into a proactive, engaged team focused on process optimisation with the shared goal of increasing production output and reducing operational cost. These activities enabled the plant to continue to operate for years after all the other plants had closed down.   

We, as Australians, need to learn from the lessons of others and proactively engage in the next generation of smart manufacturing. I truly believe that in Australia, we have the opportunity to transform our manufacturing sector into an agile, world class, cost competitive, cutting edge landscape in which future commercialisation of ideas is seamless. Advanced manufacturing is the key to our future. In one of my recent roles, working in the Personalised Medicine space, we were at the forefront of product innovation. One of the key lessons learnt was that in order for a product to continue to be commercially viable, we must incorporate design for manufacture into the R&D process. Collaboration between manufacturing staff, process designers and R&D Engineers demonstrated reduced cost and increased efficiency once the product was transferred to manufacture. This is crucial to maintaining a successful commercial product throughout the life cycle.

I am passionately committed to making a contribution to the future of manufacturing and aspire to be a driving force in transforming our manufacturing sector into a force that can compete on a global scale.

What do you get out of your involvement with the Australian Manufacturing Forum?

The Australian Manufacturing Forum is bringing real Australian Manufacturing success stories to the forefront! We are so lucky to have such a great forum to empower and connect our manufacturers to spread the world about growth in our sector. Additionally, it enables industry collaboration which allows manufacturers to utilise partners’ expertise to realise technological innovation. Establishing and maintaining industry partnerships can be a key element to manufacturing innovation.  

As manufacturers, we are often so busy troubleshooting and just getting through each day, we don’t have time to promote either our company’s successes and those of our industry as a whole. Having @AuManufacturing getting the message out is crucial to changing the perception of “manufacturing being dead” in Australia, which couldn’t be further from the truth!

Are you a member of the Australian Manufacturing Forum? Would you like to tell the community about what you do through our Meet a Member series? Write [email protected] for more information.

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