The Australian Government’s Manufacturing Objectives Rely On IT Capabilities


The Australian Government’s Manufacturing Objectives Rely On IT Capabilities

In recent weeks, the Australian government has announced several objectives and initiatives that are intended to drive towards a single outcome: a far more robust local manufacturing industry. For Australia to be able to achieve this, it’s going to need a highly capable and equally well-resourced IT sector working in the manufacturing sector.

The Australian government earmarks nation-building levels of investment

The Future Made in Australia Act has yet to be fully detailed, but as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced via a broadcast, when it is introduced in the coming months, it will be “legislation to combine a package of new and existing initiatives to boost investment, create jobs and seize opportunities.”

We do have a sense of what might be involved since the government has already announced a $1 billion investment into building up the domestic solar panel manufacturing industry.

The intent of the Future Made in Australia Act is to build Australian manufacturing capabilities across all sectors, so it is very likely that announcements in the solar panel industry are just the tip of the iceberg.

What are the Australian government’s goals around advanced manufacturing?

Broadly speaking, there are five key objectives behind the government’s intended legislation across the manufacturing sector. As the Australian Government treasurer Jim Chalmers noted in The Australian, “Our work will be responsible and methodical and guided by where we can be more competitive, where it contributes to an orderly path to net zero, where it builds the capabilities of our people and regions, where it makes us more secure, and where it boosts the private sector and delivers value for money.”

What this translates to is:

  • Revitalising manufacturing: The Act aims to turbocharge clean manufacturing, industry and energy sectors, such as solar and wind.
  • Boosting investment: It includes government support for specific local industries to boost investment and create jobs.
  • Aligning national and economic security: The Act will establish strict policy frameworks and institutional arrangements to ensure Australia’s economic advantages and national security imperatives are prioritised.
  • Encouraging private sector involvement: While the government will make significant public investments, the aim is to incentivise the private sector to contribute most of the investment needed for this initiative.
  • Sovereignty: The Australian government and population are increasingly concerned the global socio-economic climate means that self-sufficiency is critical, and so Australia needs to boost manufacturing to cover areas where the country currently has low or zero domestic capabilities.

To achieve all of these objectives, the manufacturing industry will need to transform and modernise quickly, and this is where IT comes in.

IT as an enabler for the Future Made in Australia

What happened to Australia’s solar industry in the early days is a good example of why IT needs to be involved with the Future Made in Australia approach. Back then, when the solar industry was fledgling globally, Australia was a leader. Then, as noted in an ABC report:

“Twenty-three years ago, a Chinese-Australian solar scientist moved from Sydney to Wuxi to build China’s solar panel manufacturing industry from scratch, using technology developed in Australian universities.

“Australian science graduates filled the top technology roles at the biggest Chinese solar companies. And a solar cell design developed in Australia became the global standard. Meanwhile, Australia mostly stopped building its own solar panels.”

Essentially, Australia lost ground in the emerging sector because it failed to support manufacturing capabilities with technical support, pushing the technicians into overseas markets.

Australia struggles with low-value manufacturing due to high wages and cost of doing business; however, to develop the kind of advanced manufacturing capabilities Australia needs, there also needs to be ways to keep technical capabilities onshore.

For IT professionals, this will likely mean that as investment in manufacturing increases, there will also be white-hot demand for their services and skills. This will translate to better incomes from manufacturing jobs and the ability to drive more thought leadership within their work.

IT’s new priorities in manufacturing

Australia needs to rapidly scale its Industry 4.0 capabilities in order to create the kind of environment that will support the investment in manufacturing that lies ahead. Here are some ways that manufacturers will be looking to IT professionals to assist them in grappling with these next-generation opportunities.

  • Advanced automation: IT facilitates the use of robotics and automation technologies that increase productivity and accuracy while reducing the need for human labour in factories.
  • Improved communication: IT enhances communication within the manufacturing process, allowing for better coordination and data exchange between different parts of the production line.
  • Enhanced design capabilities: IT supports advanced design tools like CAD and CAM, which enable manufacturers to create detailed and precise product designs.
  • Increased customisation: IT allows for greater customisation of products by enabling manufacturers to quickly adjust production processes to meet specific customer requirements.
  • Greater sustainability: IT helps manufacturers optimise their processes to be more energy-efficient and reduce waste, contributing to more sustainable manufacturing practices.
  • Lower costs: Critically, through automating processes and improving efficiency, IT can help reduce operational costs in manufacturing and help Australian manufacturing be globally competitive.

A good example of how these things can come together is digital twinning. Digital twins allow manufacturers to create virtual replicas of products or systems, enabling them to test and optimise designs before physical production. Additionally, by mirroring the real-time status of physical assets, digital twins can predict when maintenance is required, reducing downtime and maintenance costs.

However, Australia has been slow to develop capabilities around digital twins, so there’s a looming skill shortage ahead in another area of IT, to go with existing challenges in data analytics and visualisation, AI and application development. Digital twins involve the application and understanding of all of these areas, and in many ways, when looking for digital twins resources, manufacturers will be looking for the proverbial “complete package.”

Speaking of skill shortages, there are also ongoing concerns with cyber security. For manufacturing, cyber security is critical for the protection of intellectual property, especially when it comes to advanced manufacturing and ensuring operational continuity.

Additionally, the Australian government’s interest in manufacturing as a matter of sovereign self-sufficiency means that many examples of manufacturing will be treated with the same concern as critical infrastructure. So manufacturers will be looking to IT to provide support in enabling them to embrace innovation without adding risk to their business processes.

What IT professionals should do

Understanding the business objectives in manufacturing, as well as the unique relationship the sector has to technology, will be key for IT professionals who want to take advantage of the historic investment that will be flowing into manufacturing and create jobs and opportunities for IT pros. These professionals will also need to understand the relationship between IT and operational technology, as well as how to apply digital twins, develop AI for manufacturing applications and more.

In recent weeks, the Australian government has announced several objectives and initiatives that are intended to drive towards a single outcome: a far more robust local manufacturing industry. For Australia to be able to achieve this, it’s going to need a highly capable and equally well-resourced IT sector working in the manufacturing sector. The Australian…