An innovation hub to help Australian companies make the shift from traditional manufacturing to more advanced, value-added products has opened in Adelaide.

The Tonsley Manufacturing Innovation Hub (TMI Hub) at Flinders University’s Tonsley campus in Adelaide is designed to accelerate the adoption of Industry 4.0 technology among high-tech and manufacturing businesses, as well as fostering research & development. The launch of the state-of-the-art facility comes at a time when the Australian economy is transitioning from a traditional manufacturing base to more digitalised, knowledge-based industries following the end of automotive manufacturing with the closure of Holden’s Adelaide plant late last year.

The TMI Hub was officially opened on 9 February by South Australian Manufacturing and Innovation Minister Kyam Maher. The Minister said it was important to ensure the advanced manufacturing workforce and companies had the ability to compete globally in niche markets as the economy transitioned.

“Industry 4.0 is the next technological wave that will create opportunities for South Australia’s advanced manufacturers to diversify into growth sectors such as defence, food and health,” said Maher. “The TMI Hub will further cement Tonsley’s reputation as a global centre of excellence for industry and research collaboration, with modern facilities to train people for the jobs of the future.”

The TMI Hub will provide practical training and real-world research opportunities for students, researchers and businesses wanting to learn more about automation, advanced robotics and the Internet of Things. It will tap into the work of mature global companies, local enterprises and start-ups already located at Tonsley including Siemens, Zeiss Vision, ZEN Energy and SAGE Automation, as well as extending its training reach into South Australia’s fast-growing defence industry and the advanced manufacturing sector nationally.

Professor John Spoehr, Director of the Australian Industrial Transformational Institute at Flinders University, says the TMI Hub will play a catalytic role in promoting the understanding and application of the Industry 4.0 agenda, including robotics and automation in highly networked and flexible cloud-based production systems. The adoption of the latest digital technology was crucial due to the highly competitive environment of manufacturing internationally.

“Without the automotive industries we need new sectors and new industries that will be at the forefront in the uptake of new technologies,” he said. “The TMI Hub will showcase the latest generation of Future Factory technologies which are revolutionising the way we design and make things. It’s a prime example of how traditional manufacturing is making way for advanced manufacturing in the new economy.

The TMI Hub provides industry and researchers with the technologies to design, visualise and test production processes in a virtual environment to greatly mitigate risk prior to physical production. It goes hand in hand with Flinders University’s new Innovative Manufacturing Accelerator Program, which will support manufacturing-based companies to fast-forward product development and commercialisation processes.

According to Professor Spoehr, the TMI Hub will enable closer collaboration between educational organisations and businesses to better understand digital technology and its impact on the performance of companies and workers.

“It will also help organisations to build their Industry 4.0 capabilities through accredited and non-accredited education and training programs,” he explained. “Companies that engage with the TMI Hub will greatly improve their chances of successful participation in defence supply chains to tap into the $90bn worth of shipbuilding projects taking place in South Australia.”

Factory of the Future

The centrepiece of the new TMI Hub is the South Australia’s first Cyber-Physical (CP) Factory, a state-of-the-art, small-scale Industry 4.0 robotics & automation platform for research, training and capability-building. Made in Germany by technology giant Festo and funded by the South Australian Government, it showcases the latest automation, sensor, monitoring, robotic and cobotic technologies and provides the opportunity for world-class education and training in advanced manufacturing within a research environment. This includes the Bionic Handling Assistant – a cobotic gripper arm modelled on the structure and function of an elephant’s trunk.

Situated on the ground floor of the Flinders University building at Tonsley, Professor Spoehr said the new ‘Factory of the Future’ was highly modularised and could be reconfigured in a variety of ways.

“It’s a great education and training tool for students and workers who are wanting to become familiar with how these new systems operate,” he said. “But it’s (also) a great way for companies to think about how to adopt some of these technologies in their own workplace.”

Other facilities at the Flinders Tonsley campus include autonomous sea vessels and testing capacity, photonics technologies, a Faraday cage, interactive co-bots, a large hexapod robot for biomechanical testing and a variety of digital manufacturing and rapid prototyping machines.

Australia’s first innovation district

The Tonsley precinct in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, which was once a former car assembly plant, is Australia’s first innovation district. It is a prime example of the changing face of South Australian manufacturing. The last Mitsubishi sedan rolled off the production line at Tonsley in 2008, sounding an early warning for the future of traditional manufacturing in South Australia.

Almost a decade on and the site has been transformed into a leading innovation hotspot, bringing together advanced manufacturing companies, university STEM programs, renewable energy leaders and high-tech pacesetters in the one precinct. The site is now home to more people than the last days of Mitsubishi.

Sage Automation is a national control services and industrial automation company founded in South Australia and is among 20 businesses associated with Flinders University at the TMI Hub. The Tonsley-based business specialises in automation technologies and services for manufacturers across Australia.

Sage Automation CEO Adrian Fahey said the company’s strategic partnership with Flinders University and relationships with other businesses in the precinct were among the main benefits of its association with the TMI Hub.

“Being in this hub is an opportunity for us to continue to focus on what we’re doing in industry 4.0, but also to tap into some of the best thinking and new thinking from the institutes and the university,” said Fahey. “I think this is going to be a precinct that’s going to draw potential customers who have problems that need solving and will come here and see this is an environment where that can happen.”

The establishment of the TMI Hub is a result of collective work between Flinders University, the South Australian Government and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC). Based in Melbourne, the IMCRC provides collaborative, market-driven research across a range of areas for Australian manufacturers seeking to implement Industry 4.0 technology.  David Chuter, IMCRC CEO and Managing Director, says that the opportunity to catalyse investment in South Australian manufacturing is exciting.

“The IMCRC embraced the opportunity to work strategically with the South Australian Government and Flinders University, investing collaboratively to identify projects with the potential to ignite innovation and catalyse manufacturing growth,” said Chuter. “The South Australian Government should be applauded for its foresight to invest in the Future Factory as part of their financial contribution to IMCRC, making the innovation process tangible and accessible for manufacturers. This can now facilitate effective collaboration between the research community and industry through the utilisation of these technologically advanced facilities.”

Professor Spoehr said Flinders University’s partnership with the IMCRC would ensure its continuing support in working with companies over the next five years in the new facility.

“This could come in the form of awareness raising, education and training programs, or small projects that are designed to test out ideas for the adoption of new technologies,” said Professor Spoehr. “This is just the beginning. We have an ambition for this new facility to become the Australian showcase of advanced manufacturing and digital technologies … a one stop shop here at Tonsley.”