Making It

META

But META is not ‘just another’ business association. One year old last July, META is about “the art of manufacturing”. Australian manufacturers and research associations can apply to become META members and the group also extends a hand of friendship to other industry associations and service providers to join as META Associates. Because the sole aim of META is collaboration.

Indeed, Zoran Angelkovski, Managing Director of META, uses this word a lot. He voices his frustration that the public debate about manufacturing in Australia – should we or shouldn’t we? – is carried on at such a low level of awareness or positivity. A tremendous number of really good things are made really well here, he says, but no one ever gets to hear of it, while the media is full of stories about the demise of Aussie manufacturing.

In the global marketplace, he argues, Australia has the opportunity to make its manufacturing mark as it chooses, working in the niches or sectors most appropriate to its skills and abilities. As a low-density, large and diverse micro-market of its own a long way from any other, Australia does have its logistical challenges, but they can be overcome – and, as he stresses time and again, many Australian manufacturers are doing just that, with streamlined, lean production and committed workforces turning out all manner of high-quality products that can be market leaders right round the planet.

That was a starting point for the META concept. Many of these successful manufacturers, especially SMEs, find themselves a little isolated and the conventional trade bodies do not fill the gap. META exists to put these companies in touch with each other so as to stimulate projects. META members “collaborate together to accelerate growth and increase the efficiency and competitiveness of Australia’s manufacturing industry globally.” The intention is to put together wise heads from industry and research organisations (primarily universities) to investigate specific instances of potential success and create a whole that is bigger than the sum of the parts.

META members do not pay a fee. The structure is instead funded by the Commonwealth (which will doubtless trumpet its successes, although it has been rather quiet hitherto) and members commit themselves to a set minimum time contribution towards META activities based in principle on the size of the member company (gauged by number of full-time employees). It’s not especially arduous – a company of, say, 15 employees would need to spend just three days per year helping out. In return, the company gains access to a database of projects and “collaboration hubs”, as Zoran describes them. This access could take the form of inclusion in a kind of industrial ‘think-tank’ looking at ways to competitively produce an item or a sector of products, so it could mean business.

So META may be particularly appealing to fledgling start-up manufacturing operations of which, says Zoran, there are a refreshingly large number across Australia. The early days and months are the toughest, when experience and finance are both in short supply, and advice or direction from peers, perhaps even some potential leads, at not financial cost, may well be an attractive proposition to the hard-pressed new entrepreneur.

Larger companies and multinationals can also benefit from this collaborative networking approach, says Zoran. While they may be less forthcoming with advice and tutorials, they can plug into what a lot of their suppliers – or potential, strong and lean suppliers – are doing and point them in directions that will be of mutual benefit.

Even companies that have given up what they see as the unequal struggle to make things in Australia and are currently sourcing overseas (‘the elephant in the room’ having been replaced by the Chinese dragon that no-one dares to address) are welcome in META. They can share their experiences, find out from others whether they made the correct choice and – as is happening in many instances now – adjust their operations to bring back their manufacturing to these shores if deemed attractive. Just as sourcing in Asia has in recent years seemed very enticing as a prospect – cheap labour and unlimited numbers of manufacturing companies – in reality it has proved to be a less simple proposition and the minuses (for example, long lead times, often large minimum order quantities, problems of maintaining quality control) can sometimes outweigh the benefits, especially as costs of raw materials and labour rise in the new economies just as they did in ours.

Zoran is a passionate defender of the concept of making things in Australia even though it is an expensive place to do business. So are lots of other countries, he argues – Germany is a fine example where management made a success of updating facilities and methods to ensure its engineering production could continue to be competitive and compete against Asian newcomers (the auto industry is a fine example, though not to be used as a parallel to that of Australia because the latter has no market for four million units per year). The UK is another high-cost economy where manufacturing, which emigrated altogether in the seventies and eighties, is now coming back healthier and fitter than before.

As for collaboration and the investigation of new avenues to successful domestic manufacturing in a global context, META has the perfect current example. In the wake of the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, it has established the META Sports Advanced Manufacturing Hub. Its purpose, says the association’s chairman Albert Goller, is simple: “connect the right companies and people and drive the development, marketing and export opportunities of Australian sports technologies and ideas to the world. It’s a perfect example that speaks to the very heart of what META is all about: collaboration.”

The Australian Sports Technology Network (ASTN) “has the potential for propelling Australia to a global leader in sports manufacturing. ASTN comes together with META, as a collaborative network of 16 universities, 39 national sporting organisations and more than 60 small to medium businesses.” The sports hub will allow manufacturers to identify markets as a whole network to expedite the capability of members to be competitive in a global market. The hub will involve customers (including elite athletes and coaches), suppliers, sports associations and industry representatives to strengthen outcomes even more.

“The hub represents an important step in building the brand of our sports technology industry,” says Albert, domestically and internationally. Can Australia take a larger share of this lucrative market? “Yes, let’s showcase our capabilities to the world.”

There are other elements of META membership that can benefit members companies. Zoran points out a lack of information about various businesses’ capability that are being addressed by the body; in fact, capability mapping is a key part of the association’s development. But the whole concept does rather depend on the willingness of a company’s boss to engage with others – potentially including direct competitors – to exchange ideas and brainstorm. Zoran reluctantly accepts this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but encourages entrepreneurs to reach out and share ideas more for the greater manufacturing good.

One thing which META does not do is teach its members how to manage. While Zoran espouses modern management or production techniques – lean manufacturing, Six Sigma and the like are not mere buzzwords, as successful Australian companies have found out – he rather expects them to be in place, or at least ongoing, outside the META collaborative environment.

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. That is what META is about and if you like the idea, Zoran is ready and willing to sign you up, to add to nearly 500 companies (among Australia’s 90,000-odd manufacturers) already on board.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:32 PM AEDT