It was my pleasure again this year to visit the National Manufacturing Week show at Sydney Olympic Park. Here are a few video impressions:
The mood amongst manufacturers I chatted with was pretty negative. The combination of our high dollar, competition from Asia, and the uncertainty of the looming carbon tax is not enough to counteract growing opportunities to supply the booming mining sector.
Defence was once seen as a marvellous new market for manufacturers but cuts in recent years, (and no doubt in tonight's federal budget), have hurt this sector. One speaker commented that it's not wise to bet your business on government work as government is "not rational".
The car industry continues to shrink and car parts suppliers will be rationalised. The move towards global car platforms will either provide opportunities for us to supply globally or conversely cut us out of even local supply.
Wages in China are starting to rise, and it's not just at Foxconn, so there is hope that we can compete provided that we invest in new technology and automation.
Computer controlled milling and cutting is everywhere and general purpose robots are so cheap that they can pay for themselves in a year even doing things like packing biscuits.
Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) is getting cheap, with one machine on sale for $1,600 that seemed useful for prototyping at least.
One positive of the carbon tax is that in a carbon constrained and priced world, transport will be more expensive and this will favour local manufacturing.
While there are some local success stories including Resmed, Cochlear, and AussieBum, the majority of product design is done outside Australia and until that changes we will find it hard to compete.
The Epson robot guy I spoke to (there's a bit in the video above) said that they've just had their best year on record selling robots in the US. If we could come up with ways to apply robots to health care we'd be on a winner.