What makes Brisbane such a strong, advanced manufacturing hub

By Craig Nicol, Founder & MD, Graphene Manufacturing Australia & Founder of the Startup Incubator Innovation Delivery

Industrial Land

Brisbane should be proud of its manufacturing industry history. It's long been a way of growing value in the city, and there’s quite a number of small and large companies who are keen to create new, innovative, world-leading products here. If the current momentum continues, the city will find that advanced manufacturing as an industry will continue to make Brisbane prosper even more in the future.

It’s a sector that maybe only 10 years ago people thought was on the decline. But there’s no doubt a rebirth is happening which is generating growth and jobs, and very interesting high-quality intellectual property. Excitingly, it’s creating roles and industries that didn’t exist in Brisbane five years ago.

Our company, Graphene Manufacturing Australia (GMA), is Brisbane-based and has designed and tested a revolutionary process to dramatically reduce the time and cost to produce high-quality graphene nanomaterials. This process will shortly establish GMA as the largest, lowest-cost producer of high-quality graphene in the world. One of the reasons we’re here is because Brisbane is one of the centres of bulk material movement knowledge around the world (because of the engineering knowhow from gas, mining and mineral processing).

That Brisbane is globally one of the biggest sources of bulk material movement IP is truly valuable for GMA because graphene enhances existing materials really well (“it is a so-called super substance that has the DNA of disruption” - Goldman Sachs), so we’re right where we need to be. And Brisbane has the infrastructure in place that suits GMA’s needs.

This has delivered an opportunity of building a large, new high-tech manufacturing industry which will create new jobs and new opportunities for our customers. And I think that’s why Brisbane has an incredible future ahead of it in advanced manufacturing, from startup through to commercialisation and beyond.

Brisbane’s manufacturing story needs to be told

Very recently I was talking to a large manufacturing business here in Brisbane. It's looking to do world-leading advanced manufacturing on various different products that currently nobody else is even thinking about. It's looking to apply graphene in its products as well as many other types of world-leading advanced manufacturing elements. It is an everyday business, and people probably wouldn't even think that that's happening in Brisbane.

From universities through to startups, mid-level businesses and enterprises, Brisbane’s advanced manufacturing sector has a solid track record for innovation and commercialisation.

A Brisbane-based advanced manufacturing global success story is the EGR Group, which is one of the world’s top suppliers of precision-engineered automotive parts, as well as numerous other advanced building materials. Biotech company Vaxxas has had a lot of time in the spotlight, but the group’s incredible nanopatch innovation was born here in Brisbane and nurtured to huge investment rounds. Development-wise, its technology offering was built through facilities such as the Australian National Fabrication Facility Queensland node at the University of Queensland. The success stories go on.

But it doesn’t stop at the commercial entities delivering jobs and economic impacts for the city. To truly understand the advanced manufacturing ecosystem here you have to look at the enablers and the conduits for progressing ideas and iterations into commercially viable, highly lucrative businesses.

A lot of the time, it’s up to the companies themselves to inspire these partnerships. I know at GMA a lot of our time is spent being a connector and relationship generator for manufacturers. In some materials, just a 1 per cent addition of graphene to their products can deliver 100 per cent increase in strength of that product. Graphene is also often cited to be the next performance step change for batteries with its ability to conduct and store energy up to 1000 times more than copper. Over 40 different applications of graphene are seen on the GMA applications news blog – updated frequently.

GMA also works with several universities here in Brisbane and around the country but the huge value is in the network of materials innovators, labs, facilities and businesses that can leverage each other's products, knowledge and connections. Brisbane’s manufacturing ecosystem is particularly good at that, and the support from local government for those looking to open here is outstanding.

How the city can future-proof its manufacturing sector

Graphene

Three things come to mind. And the first is it’s time for manufacturers to get worried about disruption, if they aren’t already. Because if they worry about disruption, then they will actually do something about it. And if they're not worried, then they probably should be. It’s why advanced manufacturing exists - to supercede inefficient ways to create and build things – 3D printing with super-strong nanomaterials for example.

The second thing is manufacturers need to become innovators themselves, and not just benefit from the innovations of others. Generally, to innovate they need to do things outside of procedure. Almost every time a new thing is found within their businesses, or in any business in the world, or any university or lab, it’s because they've done something outside of procedure. A great way to be ahead of disruption is to disrupt your own business first. Create a Chief Innovation Officer role or make people aware that their existing role now also includes an innovation angle. Manufacturers need to enable that.

The third thing is to fail fast. At GMA, we have a saying that we need to move fast, fail fast, learn fast. And we embrace that startup mentality. If we don't move fast, fail fast, learn fast, our business and products will take too long to ideate, and we are not going to be able to build it and scale the business fast enough to be a success. So Brisbane’s manufacturers can’t be afraid of making mistakes. But you do need to make them quickly and learn from them.

Once manufacturers actually start to develop their skills in these three areas, there will be things done that have never been done before. However, one thing that needs to be front of mind in all of this is that you can't set a procedure for the actual innovation, you can only enable the environment that nurtures it. And that’s where knowledge economies and IP will become a huge part of Brisbane’s manufacturing sector.

Where to now for the city?

It gives me great heart to see the amount of manufacturing both in Brisbane and also throughout Australia. In the future, manufacturing will definitely start to become a whole lot more IP-focused, a whole lot more high-tech and a whole lot more advanced just so people and businesses can compete.

It will also be a whole lot more customised; people and businesses won't just want something off the shelf. But I think you'll see a resurgence in manufacturing through advanced fabrication, knowledge and IP. McKinsey & Co has said that’s exactly what's happening, and will continue to happen.

Brisbane is in a unique position to leverage its incredibly strong knowledge economy, strong ties within industry sectors and some fantastic talents on both business and scientific fronts.

I’m excited about what the city can deliver for GMA and, in turn, what we can do for the city.

More of the Brisbane Report