Swinburne University of Technology’s groundbreaking collaborations with industry and world-class practical test environments for industry 4.0 have been so successful the team is now busy exporting the model offshore, starting in China’s Shandong Economic Development zone.
“We are going to really push this type of approach, this type of strategy of research engagement in the region, rather than just thinking locally,” says Professor Aleksandar Subic, Swinburne’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Development.)
Swinburne’s $100 million Advanced Manufacturing and Design Centre, launched at the Hawthorn campus in 2015, is a state-of-the-art facility that gives researchers the opportunity to use the latest manufacturing and design techniques and technologies. The centre shares its equipment, knowledge and commercial outcomes with its partners.
The University’s “Factory of the Future” strategic facility aims to support the growth of advanced manufacturing by fostering research-driven innovation and the development of high value-add products and processes.
“It is a translational research program, so we are involved in taking our research to the commercialisation of new technology as well,” says Professor Subic, who was formerly the Dean of Engineering at RMIT University, and is on the Prime Minister’s Industry 4.0 Taskforce.
“That is where the impact will happen — when these products get out there in the real world and hit the market, rather than just remaining in the labs.”
In achieving its success, Swinburne drew on existing partnerships with Universities in Shandong, Coventry and Stuttgart, as well as CSIRO, Siemens, Daimler, Boeing, Ford and Marand amongst others, and has been building new strategic international links.
“We are making a real impact out there by driving the development of new industries and helping transform existing companies that have the potential to integrate in the global value chain,” says Professor Subic.
“New opportunities are emerging from new technologies and new materials. Advanced manufacturing is evolving through integration of new generation automaton technologies coupled with the Internet of Things which is really pushing the frontiers.”
Each project is firmly focused on the commercial partner involved in each collaboration taking the innovation to the global marketplace once it is mature.
“They know how to bring the new technologies and products to the world market, and we are supporting technologically and scientifically that capability so that they actually can have something that is impactful and meaningful to develop their business models,” says Professor Subic, adding that the bottom line is always front and centre.
“It is about working together so that we help them in their product development or where they need additional expertise they don’t have in house. Industry will always respond positively if you are able to communicate a value proposition. How can you help create value? How can you help their business? Then the dialogue becomes easier. “
Professor Subic says decades of relationship-building in particular industry sectors and demonstrated success in choice research areas is behind Swinburne’s success in gaining the confidence of the likes of Boeing and Siemens and majors in marine, defence and food.
“We have a very strategic approach where we don’t see it as only transactional but developing a deep relationship. We have really and deliberately focused on industry growth centres, and particular industry sectors where we felt we had capacity and credibility and a platform to build on further,” he says.
The researchers at Swinburne are able to think “out of the box,” offering a fresh perspective and identifying new opportunities and blue-sky horizons which those too close to the problem so often can’t see.
The faculties offer research in a whole spectrum of advanced technologies, including automation, composites, nano fabrication and graphene. This significant technological platform can diversify and proliferate in a number of product areas and industry sector areas, fuelling the development and growth of new companies.
One new patent-pending technology developed by Swinburne overcomes the energy density limitations with supercapacitors, achieving ten times better energy density than competing devices and a more environmentally friendly product that is ultra thin and ultra light.
“That’s amazing stuff,” says Professor Subic, adding that the collaboration model in general offers “a meeting of minds, a meeting of needs, a meeting of interests. Like-minded people who can work together and like working together and helping each other.”
Professor Subic is also optimistic about Australia’s broader manufacturing future.
“We have exceptional research and innovation across Australia in the university sector, as well as in research organisations such as CSIRO. That’s really a very strong foundation. The main ingredient is collaboration and sharing the risk of taking our innovation together into the commercial domain.”
He also says the business and venture capital environment is evolving rapidly.
“We need to work on achieving scale which requires both private and public investment. If we are prepared to support, fund, coinvest and make it easier for new technologies stemming out of our research to evolve and to be translated into market technologies, we will get there for sure.
“The appetite and desire is there. We will see a transformation of the industry, and it will be much more rapid than we think.”