Manufacturing 4.0 – Collaborative Manufacturing
For Alan Lipman and Neil Wilson at Romar Engineering, Collaborative Manufacturing is Manufacturing 4.0 – the future of the industry. It enables companies to take on projects they couldn’t have delivered on their own and it’s proving to be a smart strategy for competing on the global stage.
Alan and Neil talk about the benefits of collaborative manufacturing both for the consumer and the industry, and how embracing it can make all the difference to a niche engineering firm in Australia…
What does Collaborative Manufacturing mean?
Alan: Well, what we call collaborative manufacturing and what Neil and I refer to as collaborative manufacturing, is that we are good at certain things and other companies are good at certain things…so we combine our strengths in order to achieve a goal for a particular customer.
This is necessary to survive in a competitive global manufacturing market.
Neil: The benefit of collaboration is that you put a number of specialised resources together to produce something that you…
…otherwise could not do on your own. It saves times, pools equipment and it shares the benefits of skilled workers who can contribute as a whole to a project.
What are some examples of collaborative manufacturing?
Alan: A very good example is our partnership with Mini Fab. Mini Fab have a particular silicone part that we manufacture for them here in Sydney.
We send that part to Melbourne where Mini Fab completes the manufacturing process and then packs and ships to their customer in the USA. Mini Fab use us because we have expertise in silicone manufacturing while they are experts in other aspects of the manufacturing process.
Therefore we’ve combined our expertise and their expertise to solve a problem for their customer. That is what we mean by collaborative manufacturing. Everybody benefits.
We also work with Planet Innovation – an innovative Australian company in the medical device industry. Planet has designed and built a device for leading IVF provider, Genea. Romar manufactures a number of different consumables that are used in the device. So Planet manufactures the device, Romar manufactures the consumables and together we provide Genea with an award-winning product. Another great example of collaborative manufacturing.
So collaboration gives your customers the experts, the results that they want and the best product...
Alan: We also work collaboratively with the CSIRO. By way of example the CSIRO will develop a plastic or silicone with particular characteristics to solve a manufacturing issue. They will talk to us about using it and then refer a customer to us that needs something moulded out of that particular material. It’s a partnership, a collaborative manufacturing arrangement, that works very very well.
Neil: Our technology and 3D metal printing collaboration with the CSIRO allows us to work closely with them but more importantly it gives us unique access to the manufacturing community, the aerospace community and others.
Without the assistance and collaboration of the CSIRO, it would’ve meant that Romar would have had to cover the cost all the equipment in an environment where it takes a lot of time to build and get a product to market. Getting new work into the organisation on top of the cost of the equipment would mean a very low return on investment.
If Romar can partner with like-minded organisations such as the CSIRO, then we are getting a better return on our investment and we are collaborating to give our customers technology and material solutions they couldn’t otherwise access in Australia.
What has changed at Romar and how do you differentiate yourself?
Alan: We are better at understanding what we are good at and what we should be doing, as opposed to what we can do or what we could do.
And that is a big distinction in our business now as opposed to the way the business was run when I joined in 2016.
Back then, we would do anything we could do whereas now we do what we should do.
We are very discerning in the work that we take on. I think that is better for the business as well – it helps you define who you are, it keeps you focused.
We have certain specialties – micro mouldings, silicone work… and we do elastomeric work which is adhering rubbers to metals. So we have a lot of specialised skills within the business. What we try and do is focus those skill sets in everything we do.
Neil: My father was an engineer, and he ran an engineering company. He was a hardworking man making all sorts of different things. In those days, post World War II, companies normally didn’t have to collaborate – they were in an environment where manufacturing could flourish.
Over the last 25 years, we have moved from a protected environment to an open environment. So collaboration to me means companies with specialist resources need to join other companies where each of their specialised capabilities can be put together to produce parts that they could not produce on their own.
What has changed in manufacturing to foster more collaboration?
Alan: I think this is what manufacturing has been evolving to over a number of years as the manufacturing environment in Australia has changed. We have to be more innovative in what we are doing to survive.
Innovation needs specialisation. If you are going to specialise you need to be able to sell that specialisation elsewhere. We can’t all be experts at everything and I think that is what it comes down to.
Essentially we are a contract manufacturer of medical and industrial products. As a consequence, we are really good at some things in that respect and we know there are people who are good at other aspects – customers bring us projects that require both of those specialties and off we go.
The point is you know you can do certain parts of it incredibly well and you might only do part of it passably well…
…working collaboratively is the solution – it’s very simple – let’s do these projects together. It makes good business sense.
Neil: Utilising specialist equipment and employees by putting them together in a virtual company or in a virtual environment to produce collaborated outcomes reduces the capital expenditure; it enhances the specialist nature of employees, and it allows Australian companies to compete in a global market.
Is it part of your strategy for the future to work collaboratively?
Alan: It is definitely part of our strategy to talk to lots of businesses and try and get them onboard with a collaborative approach.
We will foster relationships with them and hopefully, different projects come up from us that we can give to them and they find work that they can give to us – it is about enhancing the customer relationship and giving the customer what they want.
Neil: What the government is doing to try to re-establish manufacturing in this country is not significant enough at this point; there are some political issues there that will have to be resolved before things move forward.
Research grants, commercialisation grants and subsidies should have been in place 25 years ago.
There is not enough understanding of how industry works or what industry needs in the bodies that administer grants and the challenges many companies face in order to change and survive in a the new manufacturing environment. Government is having to change the criteria for selecting some of these projects for funding because the bar has been set too high.
At Romar we see collaboration as a way forward as it enables us to share the risks and to manufacture products that would not otherwise have been made in this country.
Will changes in the global market affect collaboration?
Alan: What makes us competitive globally is that a lot of the skill that we have is inside our heads here and that is not something that can be replicated. We recognise that other countries have skills in their specialty area and it can’t be replicated here.
The Romar point of difference is the level of skill that we bring to solving a customer’s manufacturing problem. Therefore what you are trying to do is give them the biggest bang for their buck.
They may potentially pay a bit more by using us but they will get a hell of a lot more as a result. It is a way of building value in the relationship from the customer perspective.
How can manufacturers make collaboration work?
Neil: It comes back very simply to trust and communication. Our partnerships are still developing. There are probably several models that you could look at but I don’t have any grassroots knowledge that would suggest that there’s one that’s more successful than another.
We have had success with the CSIRO and others because we complement one another, and any collaboration needs to do that; that makes it work. Both partners need to be onboard, engaged and have a lot of trust.
To find out more about collaborative manufacturing, contact Romar today.