Realising future growth and capturing diversification opportunities will rely on WA’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem. Encouragingly, the State has already emerged as a nexus for innovation, developing and producing high-tech products for a range of industries.
This enviable capability and growth potential are partly thanks to close collaboration between manufacturers, suppliers, industry stakeholders, research institutions, and public sector organisations.
CommBank’s National Manager of Manufacturing, Maria Christina, says that evidence of novel solutions and the commercialisation of innovative products can be found across the WA economy.
"Our research earlier this year showed that technology investment was the top strategic priority for manufacturers across the nation3, and the sector in WA is a prime example."
"Working alongside industry, and with the support of research institutions, we’re seeing WA manufacturers harnessing this investment to drive progress in areas from helping the energy transition to ensuring customers better manage their operations."
Homegrown manufacturing innovation
Among the many WA-based manufacturers taking innovative products to the world, are Magellan Power and Roborigger. Both are examples of the power of collaboration across the manufacturing ecosystem and new approaches to problem-solving.
For 32 years, Magellan Power has produced high-reliability industrial power systems and associated equipment. This includes pioneering energy storage, lithium battery modules, and specialised electric vehicle charging solutions.
Masoud Abshar, Director at Magellan Power, says the manufacturer puts innovation at the heart of its strategy, constantly listening to customers and empowering its teams to develop new ideas. He says this has led to new products, from camera-based cloud detection equipment for solar energy to home and utility-scale energy storage systems.
"What makes us different is that we produce everything, conduct all research, and do all engineering locally. That means we hold on to the intellectual property across the manufacturing process that few others can claim," Masoud explains.
"Innovation is at the core of what we do and crucial to our survival. We listen to our customers and observe their problems, and innovate accordingly. We have a culture of encouraging everyone to come up with new and relevant ideas. We look across the market for inspiration and quickly try new things, understanding the risk-reward trade-off."
Another example of homegrown innovation is Roborigger, a manufacturer reimagining lifting and logistics operations. The company’s flagship Roborigger unit is a remote-controlled robotic device that connects to a crane’s wire rope and holds the load in position.
In 2021, Roborigger established its manufacturing facility in Wangara as it scaled up to meet local and global demand. The facility was opened by the WA Innovation and ICT Minister.
Roborigger founder Derick Markwell, says, "The spark for innovation doesn’t come when you’re hunting for it. It’s more about understanding a problem, demonstrating a workable technical solution with a captive market."
"It was an executive of a large wind turbine installer who outlined problems holding the blades in place that led to the idea for Roborigger. Further discussions with potential end-users led to bringing Multiplex on board and the development of multiple prototypes and a pathway to commercialisation."
"Working with all our partners is mission critical, but collaborating with customers is the single most important aspect. You need to deeply understand their operations, and we immerse ourselves in their business to develop a product built for their needs."
Collaboration drives innovation
Both Magellan Power and Roborigger have developed strong internal research and development capabilities and have benefitted greatly from partnerships with local research institutions.
One such research institution as part of this includes Innovation Central Perth (ICP) – an industry and research collaboration centre led by partners, Cisco and Curtin University. Its vision is to bring together companies, researchers, and industry experts to advance digital transformation through an open ecosystem.
As a commercial enterprise, ICP is contracted by public and private sector organisations to identify, test, analyse, and deploy innovative technology. It is focused on original solutions through concept testing, prototype development, and integration analysis.
ICP, established in 2016, has refined their engagement model, leveraging student talent from disciplines like engineering, data science, and computer science. It works closely with customers, including manufacturers, to solve complex challenges through two- to four-month projects.
"This refined model has been successfully rolled out over two and a half years, with over a hundred projects completed across all sectors in the last 12 months alone. Our clients range from entrepreneurial start-ups to large corporations, multinationals, and all levels of government," ICP’s Nick Schols says.
ICP has established long-term relationships with companies, like Roborigger, who has engaged with the centre’s Summer Internship Program.
The internship was part of an effort to improve the internet-connected tracking software with Roborigger. The built-in software collects data from every lift, including time, weight, and the location of the lifted loads.
Roborigger also benefited from the programme, through further development of its Internet of Things (IoT) applications on Roborigger devices to advance logistics planning, tracking functionality, and safety and operational efficiency analysis.
Magellan Power is also a beneficiary of research partnerships and student talent. Masoud says the company has a track record of working with universities to develop new products with real commercial outcomes.
"I work with four universities in WA and have collaborated with them on various projects," Masoud says. "We gather ideas from collaborators, suppliers, teams, and customers and take them to universities to start a project. But instead of just asking them to create something, we work together to ensure successful results."
A bright future
Recognising that this sector is a vital driver of economic growth, the WA Government aims to foster further innovation, create new avenues for product development and export markets, and unlock fresh opportunities through grants and funding schemes.
This funding will complement an already thriving manufacturing ecosystem that’s led to the success of organisations like Magellan Power and Roborigger and escalating demand for specialised skills like those within Innovation Central Perth.
"The next phase for the sector will be to achieve further scale in these technology-led products and further cement the State’s manufacturing sector as a centre of innovation," Maria says. "It's an exciting time for the manufacturing industry in WA, with endless opportunities on the horizon," Maria added.