19 March 2024

Canberra manufacturers face a 'struggle to compete' if they don't embrace digital tech

| James Coleman
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Peter standing next to one of the company's brewing vats.

Many computer systems are keeping an eye on BentSpoke beer production, as an example. Photo: BentSpoke Brewing Co.

If you want to find out how much power an appliance is drawing, chances are you will either consult the energy rating sticker on the front or maybe – just maybe – you’ll stick a multimeter on it.

Matthew Doolan is here to tell you there are better ways.

The professor from the School of Engineering and Technology from UNSW Canberra is helping to deliver a workshop on 21 March about how low-cost digital solutions can be used to help Canberra’s manufacturers cut costs, reduce energy bills, cut waste and improve productivity.

“A lot of people don’t realise, but there are quite a few manufacturers in Canberra,” he says.

“Three Mills Bakery, which makes bread, Capital Brewing and Bentspoke obviously for beer, and then we’ve got composite manufacturing, steel manufacturing, and around the region, those who make everything from heavy industry equipment through to fishing supplies.”

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A lot of them use processes that, increasingly, require digital technology for everything from monitoring quality to tracking production to powering machines up and down at the right time. But it’s a rapidly evolving industry.

“Certainly, businesses are facing great costs, but companies are moving to digital for many reasons … and those who don’t start to make that transition are going to really struggle to compete.”

The workshop, developed in partnership with Professor Duncan McFarlane from the University of Cambridge, is designed to outline just some of the examples.

“It really depends what sorts of challenges the local businesses are facing, and we’ll be guided by them,” Matthew explains.

“But with experience of other workshops in this space, small to medium manufacturers often want to know about job tracking – so where different jobs are up to in the process – and quality control monitoring of the products through each phase of the process.”

A digital dashboard, all the result of simple technology.

A digital dashboard, all the result of simple technology. Photo: University of Cambridge.

Another key one, especially at the moment when businesses are eager to cut costs, is controlling electricity usage.

“So what you could do is use cameras or monitors on each piece of equipment to watch energy consumption, and then send that information to a ‘dashboard’ through a really simple computer program to give you some indication of consumption at different phases throughout the plant, so you can actually track when and where energy is being consumed,” Matthew says.

There are big software packages for most of these situations, but Matthew reiterates the key here is “digital manufacturing on a shoestring”.

“It’s about showing them how they can do some of these things those big suites can do, but at a much lower cost using readily available technology, like micro-computers you can buy from Jaycar and little webcams.”

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The end result isn’t just useful for the business’s recordkeeping either.

“For instance, if you order a car, the manufacturer can track it and tell you where it’s up to in the process,” Matthew says.

“So it gives visibility, which is valuable to the manufacturer but also the consumer.”

The workshop has capacity for 75 businesses, and so far, numbers are up to around 30.

“We only really opened registrations last week, so we’re pretty happy with the way things are going at the moment.”

The free ‘Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring – Awareness Workshop’ is hosted by UNSW Canberra, Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) and the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), and will be held at 1 Moore Street on Thursday 21 March from 10 am to 1 pm.

Visit eventbrite for more information, or to book.

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