UniSA and Industry collaborating together for the best outcome for the State
Professor Emily Hilder
Director of the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute
Led by Professor Emily Hilder, UniSA’s Future Industries Institute’s (FII) mission is to work in collaboration with industries to help transform them today, and assist them with adopting new technologies to create the industries of tomorrow. Given the current economic situation in South Australia, with the impending closure of several large manufacturing companies operating in the state, the FII is needed now more than ever.
Prof Hilder brings a wealth of knowledge to the position as Director of the Fii. With a background as an analytical chemist, Prof Hilder is regarded as someone who understands how to inspire researchers and connect them with industry partners to achieve the best possible outcome. As one of Australia’s leading research chemists, she was included in The Analytical Scientist’s ‘Top 40 under 40’ Power List last year, is a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, has published 124 publications and since 2004 has secured over $21 million in competitive grant funding. We recently caught up with Prof Hilder and discussed where she sees the FII heading in the future and how she believes the FII can benefit the state.
There are challenges facing industries in South Australia at the moment. Please discuss:
There are challenges facing the State, but as a relative newcomer to SA I can feel an amazing confidence that we can find a solution to them. People are applying a great amount of energy trying to solve the problems rather than just saying ‘we’ve got a problem, what do we do.’ This makes it a really exciting place to be, and an exciting place to think about innovative solutions and looking at how we can partner together.
It’s great when you are talking to Industry, because Industry can come to you and say ‘we’ve got this problem and we know we need to change it, but we’re not sure which direction to change in, can you help us out and can we work together.’ That’s really quite moving. The problems are big, but they’re big on both sides. It’s a really good fit with UniSA.
Please briefly describe the Future Industries Institute:
The FII is a multi-disciplinary Institute and we are focused primarily on research in Engineering and the Physical Sciences. The FII cover four broad strand areas: energy and advanced manufacturing, biomaterials engineering and nanomedicine, minerals and resource engineering, and environmental science and engineering. Even though these are four broad areas, there’s a common theme to what we do and links between each of the strands. In all strand areas we are focused on working in close partnership with industry and end users.
When I saw what was happening and where things were going at the FII it was a natural fit for me to join.
How do you envisage FII helping the State?
I’d like to see Industry working more closely with us including co-location, at Mawson Lakes. In the short term, I’d hope that we could provide some solutions for the Industry. In the long term I’d like to see our graduates creating new industries and looking at re-inventing old industries – this will lead to job growth. There’s incredible opportunities here, manufacturing is a good example. South Australia has a bright future in manufacturing, but we all understand that the type of manufacturing that we do has to change. High value manufacturing is a space where I think Australia can be the absolute world leader in and it’s just a matter of understanding what is it is, and being able to say ‘well, this is what we are good at in the manufacturing space, what can we use it for and what can we develop.’ The automotive mirrors and ongoing work to produce new, high value coatings is a nice example of that. I think that there are some incredibly skilled people in the state and creating new opportunities for them is all part of the picture as well.
Who are some of the industry partnerships that FII are working with at the moment?
There are some really long term partnerships at the moment. A good example is the 12 year partnership with SMR Automotive, who manufacture high value automotive parts including plastic rear view mirrors developed in partnership with researchers in FII. It’s a really nice example of the way that we want things to work - where Industry and FII work together as integrated project teams. For example, engineers from SMR will spend long periods of time working at UniSA, and people from UniSA will go and work on the production floor at SMR. Mobility is one of the things that we think is key to making these partnerships work properly and an important model for us going forward.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing FII at the moment?
Probably one of the biggest challenges is that a lot of industries know that they need to change, and they have this desire to change, but the pace that things are moving at is a real challenge for them. Especially in the technology space, things are moving at a far greater pace than they have in history. Companies need to be on this constant change path, and creating some stability in that is a really big challenge for industries. This is particularly challenging for SMEs. That’s something where we can help. It’s setting up something that is resilient enough to be able to change at the pace that the world is changing around it.
What’s your advice for recent graduates?
You don’t learn to ride a bike instantly, you have to fall off and work out what it is that made you fall in the first place. That’s where you’ll get your balance. You learn it through the falls at the beginning.
Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t just do the things you know you can do, you’ll never stretch yourself and find out what you are capable of. The world’s going to miss out on what you can do.