Australian manufacturers going global

It can be challenging to reach overseas markets, and it’s important that successes are celebrated. As Australia’s falling rankings in the recently-updated Economic Complexity Index rankings show, the nation needs to boost both the complexity and the diversity of the finished goods it exports.

The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre has co-invested in many collaborative projects that have led to manufacturers breaking into international markets.

Such is the wealth of examples that we could go through the alphabet and cover off almost every letter based on the project lead’s name. For brevity’s sake we will just look at three export success stories, each beginning with the letter A.

Additive Assurance (AA) began in 2019 to commercialise techniques developed by then-PhD student Martin Jurg. These held promise for quality assurance for laser powder bed fusion parts printed out of metal powders.

AA creates sensor packages that fit to the outside of additive manufacturing machines. These look into a chamber and use spectral imaging and machine learning algorithms to identify potential tolerance or part failures, allowing an expensive print job to be aborted if it’s likely to produce a failed part.

The Australian company hopes to displace CT scanning, which is the current go-to inspection method for printed parts, and unlike theirs, cannot be performed in situ. AMGC awarded an AA-led project $546,000 in co-funding, taking the company’s world-first solution from the beta level to production readiness.

Additive Assurance announced in November that it had added Volkwswagen AG as a customer, setting up a manufacturing system at the automotive maker’s Wolfsburg plant. Since then it has exported other units “to other manufacturers of similar scope.”

Also in November last year, Alpha HPA announced that it purchased a site in Gladstone’s State Development Area. It is currently preparing for full-scale production of 10,000 tonnes per annum of high-purity alumina at its HPA First site, which will employ 120 and be one of the world’s largest HPA refineries.

High-purity alumina is a critical ingredient in products including lithium-ion batteries, LED lights, and the synthetic glass used for mobile phones and other screens.

AMGC provided $400,000 in co-funding for a project establishing Alpha HPA’s pilot plant, a crucial step in scaling up the company’s Smart SX process.

The proprietary solvent extraction process is far more efficient and environmentally-friendly compared to current methods. It is expected to give Alpha the edge against international competitors and provide global customers with the supply of a critical mineral from a stable, democratic nation, shipped out of the Port of Gladstone.

Finally, Austeng is a Geelong-based engineering firm with a penchant for partnering with manufacturers bringing a technically challenging but potentially-transformative technology to commercial readiness.

Austeng led a consortium backed by $50,000 in AMGC co-funding and hoping to bring a world-first fibre-reinforced geopolymer bridge to market.

The solution is an alternative to concrete reinforced with steel reinforcement bars. Over time, the steel takes in moisture, expands and rusts, damaging the structure through “concrete cancer”.

The project began in 2018, was the subject of a feature article in The Economist the year following, and led to two pedestrian bridges installed at Seagull Paddock at Cowies Creek and then opened in April 2021

The bridges earned Austeng three category wins at this year’s Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia Victorian Division awards, as well as attention from international customers.

As with the other two companies, commercialisation of a world-leading product or process was achieved through collaboration with outside entities.

Each proves that there are significant opportunities for manufacturers ambitious enough to try something that’s never been done before, and which, if successful, will solve a significant global problem.