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Taking manufacturing to the next level


From the Stump Jump Plough and the Hills Hoist clothesline to Elon Musk building the world’s biggest ion battery, South Australia has a proud history of innovation in manufacturing.

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Adelaide's economic advantages

Now, as the state’s economy evolves from traditional manufacturing to more innovative practices, a new breed of advanced manufacturers are helping to drive economic growth. Many of the companies are home grown, but a growing number have recognised the benefits of South Australia by working with the government agency Investment Attraction South Australia.

Lower production costs and more robust large-scale capabilities offshore are playing a major role in the exit of mining and automotive component manufacturers from Australia.

However, industry and government support have helped some firms evolve their advanced manufacturing skills and enter new industries such as medical devices.

The medical device industry is valued at about AU$3 billion a year.

South Australia is emerging as a major player in the industry and is home to the Tonsley Innovation Hub and the Adelaide BioMed City precinct, a $3.6 billion tripartite health hub comprising a major hospital, research centres and educational institutions.

The Tonsley hub is located on the site of a former Mitsubishi car manufacturing plant and major tenants include medical device manufacturer Micro-X, Siemens and ZEN Energy. International optical and optoelectronics firm ZEISS is also about to move into a new $6 million premises at the hub.

Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced he planned to build the world’s biggest ion battery in South Australia. The 100MW lithium ion system will be located at the Hornsdale Wind Farm in the state’s mid-north.

At Tonsley, Micro-X is manufacturing portable X-ray machines that are set to revolutionise mobile radiography. The company is preparing to ramp up production of its flagship product. However the advanced manufacturing capabilities on show at Australia’s first innovation hub stretch far beyond medical devices.

Chief Technology Officer and inventor Richard Connors moved his company Hydroflex from California to the hub last year to take advantage of global opportunities for his hydrogen-based fuel reduction system.

He said the mix of talent and proximity to large Asian markets were major factors that lured him to Adelaide.

“Tonsley is a wonderland for someone like myself because it has all the ingredients in the petrie dish that I need to be successful and I’ve not found that anywhere else,” Connors said after the move.

“Adelaide is the Detroit of Australia. You’ve got the talent pool of mechanics, the heavy manufacturing, the plastics, the computers, all these talents are within a rock’s throw of our building.”

The downturn in world commodity prices has forced South Australian company Plastico and Hackett Engineering to shift its focus from mineral analysis equipment development to components for orthopaedic implants.

he company first dabbled in medical devices in 2014 but has now decided to make it a major focus following collaboration with another Adelaide-based firm, Austofix.

Plastico and Hackett received a $47,500 grant from the South Australian Government last month to help it transition.

Managing Director David Schiller said 20 years’ experience making mining components had it well placed to succeed in the medical field.

“There is a large push for South Australia to transform itself into a medical device hub and there is an opportunity for us to do well here,” he said.

Austofix has developed innovative orthopaedic trauma devices for more than 25 years including a device that allows surgeons to accurately insert an implant inside a bone without the use of x-rays.

The Ezy-Aim Electronic Digital Targeting System and associated nails are used to repair fractures of the femur, tibia and humerus bones.

South Australia’s advanced manufacturing growth is also being driven by the state’s position as Australia’s defence hub, which was recently cemented when Adelaide secured the Federal Government’s $50 billion Future Submarine program – the largest defence procurement in the nation’s history.

This strong defence industry in South Australia hosts multinational companies SAAB, Raytheon, BAE and Lockheed Martin. This is also providing a strong springboard for South Australia’s small but significant space industry, which will be in the global spotlight in September when Adelaide hosts the 68th International Astronautical Congress.

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