How the IIoT can fast-track Australia’s sovereign manufacturing capability

The COVID-19 pandemic was a major disruptor across all industries — with manufacturing as no exception. Worldwide shutdowns and key transport hub bottlenecks made it clear that Australia needed to place increased emphasis on local rather than global supply chains in order to reinforce our sovereign manufacturing capabilities.

Sovereign capability refers to Australia’s ability to independently exercise control over key areas of interest and strategic importance. This includes the capacity to develop, produce and maintain essential goods, services, technologies or infrastructure without relying heavily on foreign suppliers.

As a cohort of some of Australia’s most prominent automation brands, Open IIoT is strongly invested in exploring how automation and other IIoT technologies can fast-track Australia’s sovereign manufacturing capabilities.

Sovereign capability yields a number of benefits, such as reducing dependence on foreign suppliers. It also makes local manufacturers less vulnerable to potential disruptions in the global supply chain. And, pertinently, it promotes the country’s autonomy and pursuit of national interests.

According to research from Flinders University, manufacturing provides the requisite productive capabilities to all other sovereign goals:

  • Value-adding to Australian raw materials.
  • Sustainable energy technologies.
  • Processing advanced materials for the future economy.
  • Critical inputs for other sectors (mining and energy, defence).
  • Making pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

However, while manufacturing is integral to the quest for sovereign capability in Australia, our local manufacturing capabilities are limited due to a historical overreliance on global suppliers.

Unfortunately, Australia faces significant challenges in developing the sovereign capability of manufacturing due to the high cost of labour, real estate and the raw materials necessary for production within the country. This is where IoT technologies such as factory automation come in, and although this requires a significant initial investment it reduces the costs of labour and even raw materials in the long run.

The primary benefit of using automation to enhance sovereign capability is increased productivity and efficiency. By automating repetitive tasks and streamlining processes, companies can produce goods more quickly, consistently and at a lower cost. Increased productivity enables domestic manufacturers to compete globally, reducing their dependence on foreign suppliers.

Secondly, automation lowers the cost of production and reduces the wastage of raw materials due to increased precision and quality control. By reducing defects and variations, manufacturers can meet higher quality standards and gain an edge over foreign competitors, as well as reduce costs.

It’s important to note that if Australia wants to truly capitalise on the opportunities presented by automation and other IoT technologies to enhance sovereign capability, there needs to be a dedicated effort between both the private and public sectors to enhance our resources and skills. The government will need to allocate resources to support R&D efforts in the manufacturing sector, including funding research institutions to drive innovation and develop new technologies. Infrastructure support is also crucial through the provision of physical buildings where this development can take place.

Ultimately, developing sovereign capability in Australia’s manufacturing sector requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort involving government support, private sector involvement and a long-term strategic vision to foster innovation, skills development, infrastructure and favourable policies.

Jim Wallace is the Sales Director of Balluff Australia & New Zealand and a member of the Open IIoT cohort. He regularly features on Open IIoT’s Industry 4.0 And Beyond Podcast, available on Spotify and on the Open IIoT website.