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Manufacturing magnates to converge at forum

by Charlotte Knottenbelt

UniSA’s Bob Speedie is developing an advanced electronic rear-view mirror

Leaders from some of the world's top manufacturers, including Boeing, IBM and Holden, will congregate in Adelaide from February 28 - March 2 as part of an international forum to be hosted by UniSA.

Jointly presented by UniSA's Centre for Advanced Manufacturing Research (CAMR) and IBM, the International Manufacturing Leaders Forum (IMLF) will bring together some of the brightest sparks in manufacturing to discuss the challenges faced in an increasingly competitive environment.

The three day forum will be held at the Stamford Grand, Glenelg, with some of the speakers to include Chuck Agne (Boeing's head of supplier management and procurement), Dr Laurie Sparke (chief engineer at Holden Innovation), Bob Buderi (editor at large of MIT's Technology Review), Tim Harcourt (chief economist for Austrade) and Peter Robinson (director of IBM's Automotive Product Life-cycle Management Solutions in the UK).

Forum organiser Robert Debelle says one of the most significant trends in manufacturing the world over has been a shift towards 'lean production', which has seen large manufacturers more likely to outsource the production of components to outside suppliers.

"It started with Toyota and it's becoming an imperative for any large manufacturer that wants to remain competitive," he says. "Boeing is a classic example – here is a company now looking to its suppliers to come up with innovative components to win their business, whereas in the past most of Boeing's R&D went on behind closed doors and barbed wire fences within the company."

While this trend towards lean production may have seen some jobs shift from the west to developing countries, Debelle says it's impossible to buck in a context of shrinking tariffs, and Australia's manufacturing future lies in closer collaboration between university research centres and industry.

"Countries like India and China are no longer just seen as places to get cheap labour, they are now very skilled advanced manufacturers. We've never been in such a highly competitive market and if we're to safeguard the Australian manufacturing industry then the research institutions and the manufactures have to work hand in glove and share the intellectual costs of product development. A lot of manufacturers are unaware of the opportunities that exist in research centres like CAMR, where they can get access to top quality, inexpensive intellectual resources."

One example of local success in this environment is a UniSA project lead by senior research and development engineer Bob Speedie to develop an advanced electronic rear-view mirror for German company Schefenacker.

UniSA Professor of Strategic Manufacturing Leadership Ross Bensley says the forum will be a chance for Australian manufacturers to network with their international counterparts.

"Part of what will come out of this is a roadmap for a new future to manufacturing. Australia needs to reposition itself so that it's globally much more competitive than it currently is," says Prof Bensley. "It's no longer simply about low cost production, it's as much about up-skilling the workforce as it is about harnessing new technology. That's why education and training is one of the themes of the conference – it's as much about people as it is about systems and processes."

For more information, visit www.imlf.org