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Advancing Australian Manufacturing

There is a lot of talk about “advanced manufacturing” at the moment. It is associated with words and phrases like “innovation”, “collaboration”, “high tech” “global supply chains”, “moving up value chains”, “adding value”, “going global”, “value adding services” and “clean” and “lean”. Sounds a bit like motherhood?

Last week Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, gave an address at the Advanced Manufacturing Summit in Sydney in which he re-orientated the discussion away from the virtues of advanced manufacturing towards a strategy of Advancing Australian Manufacturing.

This is an important shift for Australian manufacturing and for the national economy.

We need to be wary of relegating great swathes of manufacturing to the dustbin by singling out a new and favoured category of “advanced manufacturers” (as if to distinguish from the rest – who would be ordinary or backward).

But put-downs aside, the substantial issue is that here we have the old “picking winners” trap in a new guise. We risk denying recognition; turning away the interest of financers; and having the negotiators of international trade agreements turn a blind eye to all manufacturing not seen to be “advanced”.

If we instead focus on advancing manufacturing rather than assessing whether this or that industry or business passes an “advanced manufacturer” test, we begin to look at all available opportunities for transforming industries; building on strengths; and establishing new manufacturing businesses and industries.

Of course it’s very substantially about innovation, collaboration, adding value, global supply chains and the like but it includes the old fashioned gems as well as the shiny new bling. It would include a textile company like Textor Technologies, a foundry like Keech Australia as well as a “traditional manufacturer” like Amcor and an “advanced manufacturer” like Cochlear.

We need diversity in our manufacturing sector just as we need it in the broader economy and advancing manufacturing is important to both.

by Peter Burn

Peter BurnDirector – Public Policy at Ai Group, Peter is responsible for policy development on a wide range of issues relevant to members. He also represents Ai Group on various Advisory Councils and as a Director at Standards Australia and AustralianSuper. Previously Director – Policy at the Business Council of Australia, Peter also held academic positions in Economics Departments at the University of Queensland and the University of Newcastle after starting his career at the Commonwealth Treasury.

Published - 18/11/14

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