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Outlook for metal manufacturing patchy: AMTIL president

By: Graham Smith
14 February, 2011

Pat Boland was appointed president of the Australian Manufacturing Technology Institute Limited (AMTIL) in January this year. Boland is a founding partner of the ANCA machine tool company.

AMTIL is the national body that represents the advanced manufacturing, machine tool, ancillary equipment and general manufacturing technology industries.

Pat Boland spoke to IndustrySearch.com.au about the sector’s prospects over the next few years: 

How is the advanced manufacturing sector performing at the moment?

It’s still quite patchy, some areas are performing quite well. But if you look at actual machine tool consumption figures, which we’re compiling at the moment, the numbers are relatively depressed compared to a couple of years ago. They haven’t really recovered when you look at sales of machining centres and lathes.

Is the resources sector providing any stimulus to machine tool and technology suppliers?

Yes, that is a pocket doing well. There are a number of very expensive and complex machines that are being sold to service that industry. Although that’s certainly a sector that is going quite well, it’s not really booming as some people are saying.

In which areas do you see opportunities over the next few years; are there bright spots for the sector?

In the mining and resources area there are opportunities, a lot of which is on the maintenance side.

Reconditioning gearboxes and so on, those are really quite major tasks and so that is a significant business. As is the whole area of consumables in the mining industry.

Aerospace is an area where there are a number of companies that have gained significant contracts with the joint strike fighter (JSF) project. These are very long term, and important, contracts.

How does the strong dollar impact on your sector?

It’s a two edged sword because our customer base is under severe pressure because of the high dollar so although it helps in terms of the machinery being sold (which is largely imported), the manufacturing sector is under pressure with the high dollar affecting its exports.

What is the workforce situation in precision manufacturing and engineering?

It’s still very difficult to get good machinists, they’re just not available – that’s the story around the world to some extent.

How can government help the advanced manufacturing sector?

An area where government can play a role is to have a strategy that ties in manufacturing with other procurement projects. So, for example, with the very significant sums being allocated to solar energy projects in Australia, there’s no apparent strategy whatsoever to create a solar energy industry base in Australia.

The money spent in this area went more or less completely into funding imported solar energy plant and putting it up in Australia. An integrated strategy, involving local industry, requires a longer timeframe.

Secondly, there seems to be a policy of putting all our eggs in the mining services basket.

There seems to be bi-partisan support to completely roll back support for the auto industry – it looks as if there has been a very fundamental change for support of that industry by parliament.

The auto industry is a fundamental driver of the manufacturing paradigm. It’s not just that the automotive industry is a major consumer of local technology, but it’s also a funnel through which the world’s latest technologies and management techniques come into Australia. That’s going to be very hard to replace once the automotive industry has gone.

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James Tanner | Tuesday, February 15, 2011, 10:07 AM
I believe our government is not nearly busy enough setting up our economy for the future. Not enough investment and introspection into our high-end smart manufacturing and technology assets.