Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Australian Machining Fair - But Australian Manufacturing?

***Australian Machining Fair - But Australian Manufacturing? – by Josh

Two weeks ago I attended the Austech fair in Melbourne, an Australian Manufacturing Initiative to bring OEM's, subcontractors, hobbyists and the general public together to show off manufacturing in Australia. Although this description of the event is not an accurate way of describing the goal of Austech, it is quite easy to see that it is perceived this way. Machine tool suppliers, tooling manufacturers, auxiliary equipment suppliers (lubricant, cooling, dust collection, chip extraction etc) were all there en masse. 

It was interesting for me to go to a show with no specific goal, other than to see if there was anything that would be applicable to the watch industry. Looking back you could say that this was a little optimistic. Often the very difficult part of "setting yourself up" is buying the right things. Therefore, knowing what to buy can be just as hard, if not harder, than physically buying it. We did end up acquiring a few new items that will be living in the Brookvale facility, although I'd have to say the few industry connections that were formed at the fair are far more valuable than the purchased items themselves.

Meeting with a few Australian subcontract companies and talking to people who have been where we are and have experienced the difficulties of starting up a manufacturing process in Australia was a very exciting experience. Seeing them talk about their successes despite an incredibly challenging Australian engineering landscape was highly encouraging. For example, Mastercut, located on the Gold Coast who, against all odds, is doing export work as well as OEM work in Australia. Mastercut specialises in photochemical etching and laser-cutting thin metal sheets. Their minimum order? One piece or a thousand. Not directly in our industry, but they may be a perfect partner for our clock dials! (Stay tuned.)

It wasn't all rosy. The fact that in a hall of 300 exhibitors and only a handful represented true Australian manufacturing was disappointing. Seeing stall after stall of overseas subcontractors bidding for your part was a reality check. How much is actually made in Australia? At the risk of sounding Australia-centric and almost nationalistic, I feel very strongly that the little we endeavour to make should stay within our borders.
Sometimes we get what we pay for. Parts may be cheaper from all over the world, but will we really settle for a 90 day lead time, low quality control and in some cases blatant misinterpretation of engineering drawings and requirements?

Austech left me in a bittersweet place; excited by the small pockets of Australian technology but concerned about the larger issues surrounding a possibly struggling sector. How can we encourage the growth of high skill labour and trades? What can we do to make higher quality goods? Is there a possibility of "Australian Made" being a common and expected title?
The driving force is the consumer, your choice on where to spend your dollar. It might require a few more dollars to buy the Akubra hat, Maton guitar or rebelde watch but in the long term, those dollars will come back to you in one way or another. Another job created, another Australian supported.
Happy collecting,

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