Brisbane companies make advances on smart manufacturing
27 April 2016
A growing number of Brisbane companies are defying Australia’s manufacturing downturn by tapping into local and international demand for advanced products that require specialist knowledge and expertise.
Brisbane is one of the few Australian cities where the manufacturing sector is forecast to grow in the next 20 years, fuelled by a mushrooming cluster of companies focused on specialised manufacturing.
Many, such as Noja Power, have become globally recognised for their specialist skills. Noja Power produces high-voltage electrical switching gear to protect overhead power lines. It services close to 100 per cent of the Australian market plus customers in 84 countries, including China, Brazil and the US.
Managing Director Neil O'Sullivan said the company's success was built on its ability to identify and nurture a niche.
"That's the manufacturing of the future," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"Our products are the leaders in this technology in the world. We are continuously investing in R&D and new circuit-breaker technology to keep our products at the absolute forefront."
Noja employs 220 people at its factory on Brisbane's southside, which supplies the global market, with support from a second factory in Brazil.
"Brisbane has arguably some of the best technical universities in the country," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"We have really good, high-quality engineers who've cut their teeth in the mining industry."
"And our trading partners love to visit Brisbane – it's so close to the Gold Coast. After visiting here, they absolutely rave about it."
Brisbane Economic Development Agency and the Queensland Government are both actively courting the advanced manufacturing sector with visions of Brisbane emerging over the next decade as an internationally recognised hub for niche manufacturing technologies.
Over the past decade, Queensland has increased its share of manufacturing growth, outperforming the two largest manufacturing states of New South Wales and Victoria.
Heat Treatment Australia has been hailed as an example of Brisbane's smart growth potential, which is mapped out in the 2022 New World City Action Plan.
The family company has developed specialised vacuum brazing technology to bond metal parts, replacing the need for nuts and bolts and producing a stronger and lighter product.
The innovative technology is incorporated in components for the International Lockheed F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter program as well as titanium hips and knees.
HTA Director of Strategy and Corporate Karen Stanton said more than eight years of intense research and development were finally paying off for the company.
"The capital investment was high and the lead period was long. But we saw that there were opportunities in aerospace," Ms Stanton said.
"We made sure the equipment we bought had other uses, such as in the medical world. Australian firms are really going ahead in the field of prosthetics.
"By pursuing innovation and excellence in our field, we now have international contracts and plants in Sydney, Melbourne and, soon, LA (Los Angeles)."
Brisbane printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturer Masters & Young has also found multiple applications for its advanced know-how.
The team has designed and assembled circuit boards for Boeing aircraft, Rio Tinto mining equipment and world-leading medical technology for Brisbane company Ellume. It even helped launch four Hyshot scramjets into space for The University of Queensland.
Director Rodney Young describes his business as "problem solving"
"People are astounded there are companies like ours in Brisbane," Mr Young said.
"If people have great ideas, there are companies locally you can turn to. We're building the electronics, but the people who make things happen are here in Brisbane.
"We have some fantastic, world-class industrial designers in Brisbane. When you put them together with people like us – there's no reason why you can't get anything done."
Mr Young said his production team worked longer shifts over four days a week, allowing them "a long weekend, every weekend" to take advantage of Brisbane's lifestyle."
"It's a great city – easy to get around, great entrepreneurial spirit. There's a lot of talent here," he said.