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How Grey Innovation is helping all of us to breathe easier during COVID-19

When the coronavirus pandemic hit our shores, federal and state governments in Australia were being bombarded with offers of help from industry, all well-meaning. Everyone from significant corporate entities to the enthusiastic amateur who could turn their business to assist the health crisis response, which has seen everything from distilleries producing hand sanitiser to community groups sewing face masks.

Dr Peter Meikle, a mechanical engineer and CEO of Grey Innovation, coordinates a group of Australian businesses that has quickly formed under his organisation’s leadership to produce ventilators in record time. “We approached the ventilator problem informed by our panel of clinicians and knew collaboration would be the key to success,” Dr Meikle says. “Our business model is based on the strategic commercialisation of technologies in areas including environmental, homeland security and medical devices. This is familiar territory for us, but not in such a compressed time frame.”

The consortium, seeded with $500,000 from the Victorian Government, matching funds from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, and subsequently founded to the tune of $31.1 million from the Australian Federal Government, includes businesses such as Bosch, ANCA, Braemac, Hosico, Marand, Knee 360 and many more. Branded as NOTUS Vivere (Notus, after the Greek God of Southern Wind and vivere, meaning ‘to live’), its goal is to produce up to 4000 emergency invasive ventilators, but the real challenge for the consortium is to produce this life-saving device in a compressed timeframe.

Meikle is keen to highlight that engineering has been central to the project’s success. “The importance of adhering to process is something engineers naturally recognise. When you can prove you are doing things that are meaningful and measurable, it means you cut through when you’re making an approach to government, or anybody else,” he says.

Grey Innovation engaged Bill Haggerty from Slade Group to recruit key personnel to resource the federally and Victorian State Government supported NOTUS project. Naomi Buckland, Human Resources, Grey Innovation, recognised the demanding nature of this project meant hiring key staff who would be required to commence work immediately. She says, “Bill was able to quickly translate our resourcing requirements into candidates who had the skills and fit into our culture. He was able to source three exceptional candidates who presented for an interview and were immediately engaged by Grey Innovation.” 

As the COVID-19 lockdown started, Louisa de Vries found herself looking for new career opportunities. When she contacted Bill Haggerty from Slade, he mentioned a role at Grey Innovation on the Emergency Invasive Ventilator Program, which matched her previous experience. Now the Engineering Supply Manager at Grey Innovation, de Vries says she is very much enjoying working for a forward thinking and agile company – one that has used this project to reinvigorate our very capable local manufacturing industry. “I feel very fortunate to be involved in this project, which is a great opportunity to be part of a team delivering a product that is particularly essential at this time.”

Grey Innovation, with the support of its consortium partners, has been able to scale up manufacturing and build a new product within weeks of project launch. That the challenges of tight timing and technical complexity have been met is a credit to the highly talented team, observes Matthew Malatt, Manager Supply Chain Engineering. “It has demonstrated the strong industrial skills that remain in Australia,” he says.  “Beyond meeting the immediate need for ventilators, it is widely anticipated that this project will create impetus for the rejuvenation of a local manufacturing industry. It is a privilege to be part of the team working on the NOTUS Vivere emergency ventilator project, to deliver this life saving technology in support of Australia’s fight against COVID-19.”

What examples of innovation in Australian industry have you seen in the current times?

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Australian manufacturing – alive, and thriving!

Last week on a beautiful sunny Melbourne winter morning our Technical & Operations team hosted the latest in our series of boardroom briefings. Over breakfast, David Chuter, CEO of Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC), led the discussion around challenges for leaders in the sector, Industry 4.0 and its transformation imperative.

Attendees included a diverse range of senior manufacturing executives; Ruby Heard, recently awarded the Victorian Young Professional Engineer for 2019 by Engineers Australia, was an active contributor, especially from a younger person’s perspective.

With the demise of the Australian automotive manufacturing sector, we are constantly reminded that the manufacturing sector is in decline. It was refreshing to hear David refuting the state of manufacturing in Australia, providing examples of many of the exciting innovations that are being developed locally that are at the cutting-edge internationally. David is passionate about innovative manufacturing and the role that it will play over the next decade. He firmly believes transformation will be achieved through “collaboration by inspired leadership”.

Speaking about transforming Australia’s manufacturing industry, automation and AI (Augmented Intelligence, rather than Artificial intelligence, in David’s view) the concept of Industry 4.0 is not particularly new. Such technology, including robotics, has already been in use for many years, especially in automotive production. The group observed that what has changed, is that the barrier for entry has dropped significantly, meaning manufacturing technology is no longer limited to well resourced multi-national operations.

While Industry 4.0 is not limited to a specific sector, one of the challenges in Australia is our proliferation of small businesses: 90% of manufacturers employ less than 20 people and only 15% of manufacturers turn over more than $2M per annum. With so many SMEs invested in manufacturing, collaboration between companies can be difficult too. IMCRC estimates less than 40% of manufacturers have an appropriate business strategy to meet current and future requirements.

One of the positive initiatives David has taken with IMCRC is to bring industry, educators (universities) the CSIRO and other resources together to support SMEs in manufacturing and help foster collaboration. CSIRO’s recently released Australian National Outlook showed a massive and unprecedented opportunity for the future growth and prosperity of manufacturing. It predicts manufacturing’s contribution to GDP growth will be more than two and half times that of any other sector.

When looking for transformative projects that will create commercial outcomes for local manufacturers to take Australian products and service to the world, we also need to seek out opportunities to develop the project management, technical and leadership skills that cannot be simply solved through education. Governments have a role to play in supporting manufacturing with investment – for example, here in Victoria our trains are built with 60% local content and some trade-based TAFE courses are government funded. Industry also needs to lead by providing opportunities for technical specialists and professionals to further and diversify their experience, which will upskill its workforce.

Overall, we need to be braver and bolder, if we wish to become a world leader in advanced manufacturing. We need to change the perception that we are limited by market size or geographical distance, and focus on establishing smart tech hubs with a global focus, where the emphasis is less on production, and more on invention, design and value.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next generation of manufacturing in Australia looks like.

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