Staff and students working in the Smart Manufacturing Lab.

Companies find formula for success at Monash Innovation Labs

Businesses looking to turn ‘blue sky’ ideas into reality are tapping into on-site expertise, facilities and student talent at Monash Innovation Labs, located at the heart of Monash University’s Clayton campus in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs.

Opened in 2023, the Monash Innovation Labs, formerly the Monash Smart Manufacturing Hub, is designed to support and enable companies across all sectors and at all life stages to advance their ideas, their products and their processes.

A partnership with Monash Innovation Labs allows a company to licence state-of-the-art offices, workshops and/or ‘wet lab’ spaces to design, test and develop new innovations, with full technical support and purpose-built infrastructure.

Recognising that innovation doesn’t only depend on physical resources, Monash Innovation Labs also offers access to the talent and thinking of students and researchers in disciplines from engineering and science to business and IT.

In January 2024, companies including Jupiter Ionics, Proton Intelligence and Enzide Technologies joined Monash Innovation Labs’ first licensee ElectraLith, which is pioneering clean and efficient technology for direct lithium extraction and refining.

ElectraLith traces its origins to groundbreaking research on lithium-selective membranes by chemical engineers at Monash’s Research Hub for Energy-Efficient Separation.

But staying at Monash rather than relocating as it grows has helped the company unlock the full potential of the university’s top-tier engineering and business expertise and resources, including its commercialisation incubator, The Generator.

“Being here at Monash Innovation Labs has been a fantastic fit for ElectraLith,” says CEO Charlie McGill. “It provides us with the use of best-in-class laboratories and access to world-leading facilities and academics. Monash Innovation Labs is integral to our development from a spinout to a world leader in lithium technology.”

Monash Innovation Labs founder and director Adrian Neild (left), with Electralith CEO Charlie McGill.

Enzide Technologies is developing advanced plastics that incorporate bioengineered enzymes to improve their biodegradability in water and in home compost, with the potential to open up a wide range of new applications for biodegradable plastics.

“We’ve taken up an office and wet lab here at Monash Innovation Labs so we can access Monash’s state-of-the-art facilities and academic experts to help advance our technology,” said Pete Cass, Enzide’s Chief Scientist. “We’re also able to access spectrometers, advanced imaging techniques, materials testing and material processing facilities right here. In our lab at Monash we’re creating new protein formulations and testing degradation of the plastic composites in water,” he explained.

International medical technology startup Proton Intelligence is developing the world’s first wearable continuous potassium monitoring platform to guide the management of high potassium levels (hyperkalaemia) in people with chronic kidney disease and heart failure. “Our motivations for setting up at Monash Innovation Labs include access to academic experts, the unique research and business ecosystem, and proximity to state-of-the-art infrastructure like Monash Health Nephrology, the Victorian Heart Hospital on the Monash campus, and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication,” said Proton’s Head of Sensor Engineering, Dr Citsabehsan Devendran.

“Our company is growing rapidly and we need larger facilities with better equipment like the clean room processors and instrumentation, which we use extensively. We looked at other collaboration spaces, but the mix of offices with labs at Monash is really convenient and the cost is more competitive,” said Dr Devendran. “Monash also provides a range of services that are critical to our business including chemical characterisation facilities.”

Jupiter Ionics, named for the ammonia-rich atmosphere of the solar system’s largest planet, is developing green technology to produce ammonia using air, water, and renewable energy in a patented process. Established in 2021, the company is developing an electrochemical cell device that will produce ammonia without releasing carbon dioxide into the environment.

“The technology we are developing aims to replace grey ammonia and revolutionise the production of fertiliser for global agriculture as well as creating a sustainable fuel source for marine vessels,” said Jupiter Ionics CEO Dr Charlie Day.

“With a staff of 18 expanding to 30 by the end of this year, we needed a large wet lab with office space close by, and the idea of working within the ecosystem of the Monash Innovation Labs along with other startups facing similar challenges appealed to us; it feels like we are part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Dr Day.

“Being able to set up lab facilities here will allow us to scale up and get to the next stage, which is critical. We aim to be here for a couple of years to keep developing our technology until we can demonstrate performance of a larger commercial-scale device.”

“Monash Innovation Labs also gives us access to great talent and we have taken on two engineering interns, one science intern and an economics intern.”

A key feature of Monash Innovation Labs is the Smart Manufacturing Lab, which offers additive manufacturing expertise and ‘digital twin’ technology to help businesses design and develop more intelligent manufacturing processes and advanced automation.

Using digital twin technology and mixed reality tools like augmented reality and virtual reality can allow a business to test the effects and impacts of process changes, trial new production lines or develop training and maintenance routines in a risk-free environment.

And the Smart Manufacturing Lab also offers expertise and leading-edge resources in areas like connectivity, collaborative robotics and the integration of AI.

Importantly, Monash Innovation Labs provides a low-risk way for businesses to access and engage with the next generation of engineers, scientists and technologists through student-based initiatives including the Industry Innovation Program (IIP), Industry Doctoral Program (IDP) and Engineering Co-operative Education Program.

Environmental engineering design consultancy Wave Consulting was established for several years but found themselves with ideas they hadn’t had the time or resources to pursue. Through partnership with Monash Innovation Labs, Wave Consulting accessed student talent via the Industry Innovation Program (IIP) and was able to turn ‘sketchpad’ ideas into real innovations.

“We’re a small firm, but engaging with Monash and the Industry Innovation Program has allowed us to feel like we’re playing on a bigger stage,” said Wave director, Rob Catchlove. “With dedicated resources focused on this part of our business, plus access to research expertise, smart Monash students and the resources of the Monash Makerspace, we’ve been able to accelerate development of new products.”

Engineering/Science students William Wang and Christopher Scott worked with Wave Consulting on a grey water filtering product with input and supervision from Monash environmental engineering expert Dr Brandon Winfrey. “The IIP students were very engaged, dedicated, responsive and open to feedback as we worked together,” Catchlove explained.

“And the program itself is very flexible – we were able to set up the objectives, timelines and tasks to suit our company and product. We’d love to take on more IIP students as our company grows and we look at further product development opportunities.

Monash Innovation Labs is addressing wide-ranging industry challenges through hybrid programs involving both research expertise and students,” explained founder and director Professor Adrian Neild. “We’re committed to ensuring direct industry benefit through innovation and by providing a career-ready talent pipeline for the future workforce.”