• Investment in R&D will remain a strong focus: Kate Whitehead (right), with colleagues on site at beverage manufacturer MPC Group, trialling new products in the R&D lab.
    Investment in R&D will remain a strong focus: Kate Whitehead (right), with colleagues on site at beverage manufacturer MPC Group, trialling new products in the R&D lab.
Close×

Ahead of her appearance as a keynote speaker at the AUSPACK Leaders Forum in May, Kate Whitehead, founder and MD Avant Group, sat down with Lindy Hughson to talk about Australia's manufacturing recovery as industry seeks to build sovereign capability.

Over the last three years the Australian Government has provided $1.3 billion in additional stimulus to support manufacturing innovation and growth. Much of the funding comes in the form of grants channelled through the Manufacturing Integration Stream of the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, in which the government has identified six priority sectors, namely recycling & clean energy, food & beverage manufacturing; space technologies; defence; medical technologies & pharmaceuticals; and mining & minerals technologies.

Helping companies access government grant funding: Kate Whitehead, founder and MD of Avant Group, will be speaking at the AUSPACK Leaders Forum on 19 May
Helping companies access government grant funding: Kate Whitehead, founder and MD of Avant Group, will be speaking at the AUSPACK Leaders Forum on 19 May

“If you’re a company that operates in any of these sectors, then there is, and will continue to be, funding for major capital investment,” says Kate Whitehead, whose company specialises in helping organisations to identify, apply for, and maintain compliance with government grants and funding.

For the manufacturing and packaging sector, the audience of AUSPACK, Whitehead says understanding the grants landscape is critical.

She predicts there’s going to be a bigger shift towards investment in technologies around recycled product packaging.

She says, “We’re seeing that being driven not necessarily from the packaging converters and manufacturers side [although of course industry is playing a big role in developing infrastructure] but from the consumer side, which is then going through to the large retailers, in turn driving decision-making in their supply chains.”

Whitehead advises companies in the packaging space to be looking out for new and emerging technologies, and potential partnerships with research institutions, because this will be a strong source of funding.

“Keep a watchful eye over the grants landscape, because effectively in research collaborations with industry, manufacturing capex is a subsidised cost,” she says.

Investment in R&D will remain a keen focus for the government, which is looking to ramp up our global innovation ranking, she says, noting that as a percentage of GDP, Australia has slipped below Greece and Korea on the innovation scale.

“The other thing we’re seeing is that government is really pushing that Industry 4.0, Industry 5.0 narrative. It wants to see, for instance, digital twinning, predictive automation technologies, automated visual inspection technologies, so investment will be directed towards companies that can provide these technologies as an add-on to standard equipment, or design these into new equipment.”

For OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) with this capability, there is an increased likelihood of getting funding for these technologies.

Key to ramping up our sovereign manufacturing capability, in Whitehead’s view, will be the continued drive to grow export markets, while at the same time developing a hybrid strategy where we’re not so heavily reliant on one market.

“We’ve seen that with, for example, China, overnight the trade rules changed, and we were suddenly heavily impacted,” she says. “So having a mitigation strategy if you’re an exporting company is important.”

Crucial to export success, of course, is being cost competitive.

“Remaining cost competitive through automation, robotics handling, packing, even to the point of palletisation is going to be increasingly important. In markets where Australia enjoys a reputation for clean food, we can heavily leverage that reputation, but we still need to maintain cost competitive supply.”

Automation is one way to achieve this, and there is funding to support this quest.

Investment in R&D will remain a strong focus: Kate Whitehead (right), with colleagues on site at beverage manufacturer MPC Group, trialling new products in the R&D lab.
Investment in R&D will remain a strong focus: Kate Whitehead (right), with colleagues on site at beverage manufacturer MPC Group, trialling new products in the R&D lab.

Whitehead spoke of the quandary for the government when it comes to finding automation, as it does not want to be seen to be “taking jobs away”.

She says, “When reviewing a competitive grant application, we look at an organisation-wide uplift – are there initiatives that will take the Australian skill set up the skills curve, how will the organisation (applicant) be moving staff away from manual tasks and upskilling those job roles? What’s the evolution of the organisation? Planning for these activities within your project scope during the application process will be key to unlocking government funding, especially for an application focused on automation to increase competitiveness,” she says.

Again, she advises, if organisations want to access funding, they’re going to need to look seriously at collaborations with research institutes.

 

Kate Whitehead will be the keynote speaker on 19 May at the AUSPACK Leaders Forum.

Her presentation will cover, among other things, trends and insights driving the manufacturing industry for 2022 and beyond; where your business fit with state and federal policy priorities, and how your business access and unlock funding to advance your manufacturing capabilities?

Book your ticket here

Packaging News

A $55 million investment in an upgraded manufacturing site outside Ipswich secures Asahi Beverages a major manufacturing presence in South-East Queensland and brings new beverage filling and packaging technology to the plant.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has appointed Kmart exec and current APCO Board member, Chris Foley, as its new CEO.

Amcor has undertaken a product rebrand aimed at giving customers a clearer, more holistic view of its growing portfolio of 'more sustainable' packaging solutions.