Ranging from medical devices to clean tech and even humanitarian-relief shelters, South Australia is host to a burgeoning array of innovative manufacturing businesses.

Ellex is a global leader in medical devices for the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease. It has about 10 core products across five areas: glaucoma; diabetic eye diseases; secondary cataracts; age-related macular degeneration; and vitreous opacities (commonly known as eye floaters). The company officially opened new headquarters in the northern Adelaide suburb of Mawson Lakes in December.

The new 2.18-hectare facility allows Ellex’s machine shop, clean rooms and administration to be co-located for the first time. A major feature is the Controlled Environment Room (CER), a state-of-the-art, dust-free space where the lasers are built, eliminating contamination risk. Early indications have shown measurable reductions in costs and manufacturing time per unit, without any risk of compromising the quality and reliability of products.

Ellex sells its laser and ultrasound systems in more than 100 countries and has offices in the US, France, Germany and Japan. Executive Director Dr Meera Verma said Ellex almost doubled the laser and ultrasound side of the business between 2013 and 2017 and was experiencing remarkable growth – from 10,000 units to 50,000 units a year – with its illuminated, micron-scale microcatheter iTrack. She said the new manufacturing facility provided more than double the production capacity of Ellex’s former plant and offered significant operational efficiencies.

“The new facility positions us well and has given us the capacity to grow and explore a number of other opportunities on the global stage,” Dr Verma said. “It’s a larger space with purpose-built clean rooms that allow us to develop our proprietary laser technologies with a very high degree of compliance to regulations. We also have co-located our machine shop, which really improves the input of our machine shop into what we do; it allows us to actually consider swapping out imported parts for locally produced components and that has huge potential for assisting our profitability as well as our market reach.”

Ellex began in Adelaide in 1985 and is SA’s largest medical device manufacturer with more than 280 employees worldwide. Dr Verma said while products for the treatment of glaucoma were the company’s biggest seller, there was a significant opportunity for growth in the area of age-related macular degeneration. She said Ellex was developing a new product that was due to finish a three-year clinical trial in 2018.

“It’s a very gentle laser and it help rejuvenate cells in the retina that have been affected by macular degeneration to help people recover their sight and stop it from getting any worse,” Dr Verma said. “So this year will be an interesting year because the clinical trial is going to finish, which will give us data around age-related macular degeneration. We’ve got people using it for degenerate case studies to see how well it works in this particular area so doctors have it right now, but to get maximum commercialisation it will take until probably next year until we see a pick up in sales and direct revenues from it.”

Cutting costs on carbon clean-up

New technology developed in SA that reduces exhaust emissions while increasing fuel efficiency began commercial production in February. The 30-litre portable D-Carb Global machines take 30-60 minutes to clean an engine and can be used on up to three engines – such as passenger cars – simultaneously, significantly reducing labour costs.

While the device can treat any internal combustion engine, it is extremely effective on diesel motors, which can quickly build up carbon, releasing black smoke, particulates and unspent fuel into the atmosphere. Engines that are free of carbon build-up offer greater power, torque, fuel efficiency and reliability.

The exclusive global licence for the technology has been secured by SA company D-Carb Global. The mobile machine initiates electrolysis to create hydrogen and oxygen vapour, which is then piped through the engine via a hose attached to the air filter, effectively oxidising carbons and pushing them out of the vehicle’s exhaust.

According to D-Carb Global CEO John Stewart, 200 units would be manufactured in the first production run. He said the portability, cost-effectiveness and short treatment times of the units made them ideal for automotive outlets, vehicle dealerships, transport companies, mining operations, fishing fleets, public transport providers and mechanical workshops. According to Stewart, tests and modelling at a transport company with a fleet of 100 trucks that were treated with the machine as part of regular servicing led to initial fuel savings of 7.8% and net savings of $100,000 a year.

“There’s a significant environmental benefit and cost benefit,” Stewart said. “So anyone who puts it in is not just saving the world (through reduced carbon emissions), they’re saving money as well. What we’ve got here is an opportunity for continuous carbon reduction. It reduces all forms of toxic emissions – nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons.”

D-Carb Global is working with a local manufacturer in Adelaide to ensure production can be scaled up quickly. It is also looking for distributors in international markets, particularly the US and South-East Asia. With the first units attracting strong early interest from China, Canada and Australia, D-Carb Global is also working on classified projects to elevate the system both in terms of carbon reduction and data management, for commercial release mid-year. D-Carb Global is initially targeting companies with high truck usage such as heavy transport, mining and agriculture.

“Transport companies are a huge potential market,” Stewart said. “They are prolific users of fuel and are based in every country throughout the world. A similar scenario exists in the mining industry, which we have also flagged as a great opportunity. We can save between 4% and 7% guaranteed, that’s a huge saving considering that their trucks, generators and a lot of their machinery run on expensive diesel. If we can reduce the emissions of vehicles going underground, we are improving working conditions for the miners too.”

Stewart said there was a global focus on environmental improvement as well as reducing consumer costs. He said his units were also well suited to passenger vehicles because they could be easily adjusted to deliver an exact amount of hydrogen and oxygen depending on engine size and could treat multiple engines at one time.

“It’s a mobile unit, so it can be used on any application, anywhere and it’s cost effective,” he explained. “The units can also be used to generate carbon credits so a big emitter of carbon might look at this as an opportunity and say ‘let’s own them, lease them out and generate carbon credits to offset our other operations’.”

Humanihut set for deployment

Humanihut wants to use its first major sale as a springboard into the global market when it delivers its first ‘Base Camp’ portable emergency shelter village to SA’s State Emergency Service (SES) in the first half of 2018. The autonomous camp can be transported on trucks in six 20-foot shipping containers and can be assembled by five people and a forklift in four hours. The camp includes includes 32 dormitory huts that sleep up to eight people, two bathroom containers, a community room and a canopy shelter.

Humanihut started in 2013 in Adelaide with an idea to help house the thousands of refugees in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. The Base Camp model is the starting point for the fully scaleable design, which also has a Village model suitable for refugee camps of up to 2,500 people. The larger villages also have utilities huts to supply potable water, power, wireless communications and waste water treatment.

Humanihut Co-founder and Managing Director Neale Sutton said the first deployment to the SES was a “huge” milestone for the company. He said although the camp, with four double bunks in each dormitory hut, could sleep 256 people, the SES planned to use it for 128 personnel, reserving the ground level bunks in each hut for luggage and equipment storage.

“There’s quite a lot of expectation globally but the international market was looking for some confidence in the product and wanted to see an Australian buyer to be the first,” Sutton said. “It will be mainly used when they have to set up a deployment for fighting a major wildfire, but it can be used in any event where emergency services are sent to support a community hit with some level of crisis.”

The hut has steel-skinned, insulated walls, helping the shelter to maintain a comfortable temperature, and has a lifespan of at least 20 years. About 65% of the volume of each hut is manufactured in SA with help from local companies Enviroclad and Kadego. The remainder, including the fitting inside the shipping containers for transportation, is done in China.

Sutton, who spent 35 years in the Australian military where he undertook senior roles in response to humanitarian crises, said the company would use the first deployment as an opportunity to target similar agencies around the world.

“Now we’ve got our foot in the door we will be introducing ourselves to all the emergency services agencies in Australia and New Zealand and we’ve already started conversations with their compatriots in the UK and US,” he said. “We’re also dealing with the Italian Government which is looking to put refugee camps into Libya.

“The SES conducted due diligence that involved an eight-month operational evaluation against known competitors,” he added. “So not only have we won a sale, we have won a competitive evaluation and that’s important because other governments like the comfort of knowing that someone else has already conducted their due diligence on us.”

The camps have a payback period of 3.5 years when compared to the cost of replacing tents in a refugee camp setting. Sutton said this would save camp managers millions in maintenance and tent upgrade costs over its 20-year lifespan. Humanihut is looking for a significant investor to help it ramp up its production to tackle larger projects.

“We have no difficulty in delivering the smaller solutions like the SES Base Camp,” Sutton said. “But if we want to get to a point where we can really take effect quickly on the international market then we are looking for an investor to join us and help us to do that.”