Patrick Durrant | Sydney
Thales Australia has joined the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre [AMGC] as the first industry member after an agreement was signed late last week.
In partnering with the AMGC, one of six centres established as part of the Government’s $248 million Growth Centres Initiative, Thales will work with the organisation and future members to develop a more innovative, globally competitive manufacturing sector in Australia.
To showcase the company’s pedigree in this regard, and particularly its world-leading research and manufacturing in the sonar and acoustics domain, CEO Chris Jenkins hosted the managing director of AMGC Dr Jens Goennemann on a tour of the Thales facility in Rydalmere, Sydney.
"To build and sustain complex systems like the future submarine in country requires a wide landscape of advanced manufacturers."
A passionate mechanical engineer who specialised in acoustics, Jenkins proudly explained the sophisticated work being undertaken by the 450 employees at the facility. Dr Goennemann and ADM were shown the process by which ceramics are developed and incorporated into highly sensitive hydrophones, transducers, sonars and towed arrays.
“We’re turning out the world’s leading sonar sensors here,” Jenkins said. “The product we are developing is globally exported – we do the transducers for the UK and French submarines, we’re also doing the sonars for the FREMM ASW frigates in Europe, the big low frequency units.”
The advanced work Thales has been doing for many years in the sonar space represents exactly the kind of methodology and mind-set the AMGC is seeking to foster throughout Australian industry.
“What we have here is a highly specialised advanced manufacturer that isn’t focused on interstate rivalry but rather its ability to compete on the world stage with something niche and so sophisticated,” Dr Goennemann said. “That is exactly why we’ve chosen Thales as our first member company.”
In joining the AMGC as a Tier 1 member, Thales will support the AMGC in achieving key functions such as assisting Australian advanced manufacturers of all sizes to connect with the global supply chain.
“A successful multinational company, like Thales, that reaches across industry, utilising its strength to connect with SMEs before making them part of the global supply chain, is precisely what we are looking for in a Tier 1 member,” Dr Goennemann said.
Both Jenkins and Goennemann agreed the global market was huge, and it was better for Australian manufacturers to seek out “small slices of a very large cake” than to continually fight among themselves for the scraps of a smaller local cake, often ending up with nothing.
Thales will also work with the centre to identify and develop growth projects. For Dr Goennemann, it simply won’t be enough to focus all of the nation’s efforts into building the future submarines, as complex a project as that will be.
“In order to benefit from what is evolving for the Australian economy, this will require a vibrant and broad base of advanced manufacturers,” he said. “To substantially participate in building and sustaining complex systems like the future submarine in country requires a wide landscape of advanced manufacturers – I am concerned we have a gap there, but we have some time to work on that gap.”
To that end, the AMGC hopes to support Government in mapping Australian defence industry capabilities as far as advanced manufacturing is concerned, as Dr Goennemann explained. “We need to see what we have and what we should have for capability and sovereignty reasons in order to support the building and sustaining of future complex systems that benefits defence and the nation overall."
Jenkins said that the AMGC membership opportunity has happened at the perfect time and for Thales it represents one of the mechanisms that can change the way industry works in Australia.
“Right now, in the defence sector, the Government and its policy is saying the methodology must change – this helps us figure out what we can do to change the environment and improve the supply chain enterprise.”
He stressed it wasn’t just about Government simply spending more money on industry, but also about industry lifting to match that spend with confidence – and in so doing perpetuate a mutually reinforcing cycle.
“By defence industry proving it’s willing to invest in this whole process of being globally competitive, the taxpayer will get a better outcome – a virtuous cycle is created whereby a globally competitive Australian defence industry sector can win and perform value for money work on projects.”