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AMT

JULY 2015

FRoM THe

Editor

William Poole

Editor

William Poole

wpoole@amtil.com.au

Contributor

Nina Hendy

Sales Manager

Anne Samuelsson

asamuelsson@amtil.com.au

Publications Co-ordinator

Gabriele Richter

grichter@amtil.com.au

Publisher

Shane Infanti

sinfanti@amtil.com.au

Designer

Franco Schena

fschena@amtil.com.au

Prepress & Print

Printgraphics Australia

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Australia using FSC mix of paper

from responsible sources

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1281AMTJUL2015

Manufacturing icons,

past and future

Last month saw the end of an era, with one of Australia’s oldest

companies pulling out of manufacturing after nearly 160 years.

Founded in 1856, Stokes Limited was perhaps best known for the badges it made, including

the ‘Rising Sun’ for the Australian Army. It also made electrical heating elements at its factory

in Ringwood, Victoria. However, in the decades since its 1980s heyday, when it had more

than 800 employees, the company had scaled down operations significantly, with much of its

manufacturing outsourced to China.

Finally, in mid-June the company announced the sale of its appliance spare parts division for

$5m. The Stokes brand will continue as a commercial supplier of lighting and audio-visual

equipment. But its manufacturing operations – reportedly operating at a loss for more than 12

months – are scheduled to cease by the end of the year. The closure of the Ringwood plant will

see ten employees laid off, some of whom had been with Stokes since the 1960s.

The announcement is of course unwelcome news for the staff who will lose their jobs, and it’s

always sad when such a longstanding player announces its exit. But the coverage in some

parts of the media conformed to a narrative that has taken hold lately in much of the reporting

on Australian manufacturing today. The Stokes announcement was presented as

yet another

closure of

yet another

venerable Australian manufacturer, resulting in

yet more

job losses,

providing

yet more

evidence of manufacturing’s inexorable decline. That narrative of decline

has started to feel repetitive. More importantly, it’s a narrative that’s become misleading.

It’s misleading because alongside the Stokes announcement came a slew of good news about

manufacturing in Australia, much of it covered in the pages of this magazine. For example,

the ACCI-Westpac Survey of Industrial Trends has revealed improving conditions across the

sector for the third quarter running. SEEK, meanwhile, reports an increase in the number of job

advertisements for the sector (along with transport and logistics) in non-mining states.

Even the Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index from the Ai Group saw Australian

manufacturing expand for the first time in six months in May (June’s PMI will have come out

after this edition of AMT goes to print, but let’s hope for good news). Around the industry

there’s a feeling that things seem to be looking up.

That feeling was in evidence at Austech in May, where the vast majority of exhibitors I spoke

to reported a perceptible uplift in sentiment among visitors, and an increased willingness

to invest. DMG MORI alone sold ten machines during the exhibition, including one that

went to Lovitt Technologies. Stokes made its name supplying badges to the Australian Army.

Today, Lovitt manufactures components for aircraft that will be flown by defence forces all

over the world.

The Stokes announcement is unquestionably sad news. But framing the news in that overall

narrative of decline is just too easy, and it overlooks the extraordinary work being done

throughout our industry. Stokes was a great, iconic Australian manufacturer. But so is Lovitt.

So too are Quickstep (see page 52). So are Australian Precision Technologies, GP Graders

and Hickory Group (page 24). And the list goes on. The Stokes story forms part of a broader

narrative of Australian manufacturing that continues today with companies like these.