A message from Jens Goennemann

I am very pleased to share that AMGC member Australian Manufacturing Technology Institute Limited (AMTIL) will receive $1.5 million under the Federal Government’s Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Export Hubs Initiative. Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, recently announced the award of funding for the first SME Export Hub.

AMTIL will use this funding to establish the Rail and Haulage Export Hub—a business network designed to help small and medium businesses harness opportunities in international markets. Located in Wantirna in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, the Rail and Haulage Export Hub is set to deliver a robust export program, including specialised education, tailored support, targeted market opportunities, direct feedback from Austrade, and introductions to agents in foreign export markets.

The Perfect Backdrop

Advanced manufacturer and AMGC member, Volgren provided the perfect backdrop for Minister Andrews to announce the first of ten new SME Export Hubs.

For Australia’s largest bus body manufacturer Volgren, the automotive business is booming. Last year was their most successful since 2011, with over 600 buses manufactured, including 30 low-floor vehicles exported straight to Japan.

Like any resilient advanced manufacturer, Volgren is focused on a future in which electrification features. According to Volgren CEO, Peter Dale, there will be more change in bus powertrain technology in the next five years than there has been in the last 30. To cater for these changes and accommodate very large batteries, buses will need to be lighter—yet stronger.

AMGC is on board for this journey, co-funding Volgren’s Bus Optimisation Project. The objective of the project is to remove an entire tonne’s worth of weight from Volgren’s Optimus bus model. This requires nothing short of a wonder material.

A Wonder Material

Luckily, over the past two years, research undertaken by Volgren, Hess, Deakin University and Clean TeQ, has uncovered this wonder material: scandium. The project team has developed high strength aluminium alloys that contain small additions of scandium—a rare metal with the ability to increase the strength of aluminium by as much as 20%, reducing the overall weight of a vehicle by up to 30%, and the component cost by 25%.

There are few suppliers of scandium. Global volumes traded are guessed to be under 20 tonnes per year with a price tag upwards of US$1,000 per kilogram—if supply can be found at all. However, this could change soon, thanks to Volgren’s collaboration with Clean TeQ, which is developing a scandium, nickel, and cobalt mine in New South Wales.

Vast Potential

The potential applications, and commercialisation and export opportunities for this high strength aluminium alloy are vast. Marcopolo (the Brazilian parent company of Volgren) manufactures around 30,000 bus bodies a year. There is a big opportunity to sell stronger, lighter bus bodies into the global supply chains of both Marcopolo and Hess, particularly as the global appetite for electric buses grows. And, once the Rail and Haulage Export Hub is established, Volgren could benefit even further from its tailored support, such as introductions to agents in foreign export markets.

When the scandium show hits the road, it will demonstrate how to develop high-value products from Australian high-value resources, rather than just digging up and shipping these resources overseas. Australian manufacturers must compete on ‘smarts’ and value—not on cost. To become advanced and remain resilient, manufacturers must contribute innovative products, components and services within global supply chains.