Medical devices give hope to traditional manufacturers

By Caleb Radford

Manufacturing companies in Australia are finding niches in the medical technologies sector as their traditional markets of mining and automotive diminish.

Lower production costs and more robust large-scale capabilities offshore are playing a major role in the exit of mining and automotive component manufacturers from Australia.

However, industry and government support have helped some firms evolve their advanced manufacturing skills and enter the medical device market.

Medical device production in Australia has grown by 1.3 per cent annually since 2012 and is now valued at AU$3 billion a year according to IBISWorld.

South Australia is emerging as a hub for the medical devices industry and is home to the Tonsley Innovation Hub and the Adelaide BioMed City precinct, a $3 billion tripartite health hub comprising a major hospital, research centres and educational institutions.

The Tonsley hub is located on the site of a former Mitsubishi car manufacturing plant and major tenants include medical device manufacturer Micro-X, Siemens and ZEN Energy. International optical and optoelectronics firm ZEISS is also about to move into a new $6 million premises at the hub.

The downturn in world commodity prices has forced South Australian company Plastico and Hackett Engineering to shift its focus from mineral analysis equipment development to components for orthopaedic implants.

The company first dabbled in medical devices in 2014 but has now decided to make it a major focus following collaboration with another Adelaide-based firm, Austofix.
Plastico and Hackett Managing Director David Schiller said 20 years’ experience making mining components had it well placed to succeed in the medical field.

“The decline of the mining industry in Australia has forced us to look at other things,” he said.

“China seems to be commanding a large chunk of the mining components manufacturing and we have seen our business move there recently, which is hard.

“There is a large push for South Australia to transform itself into a medical device hub and there is an opportunity for us to do well here.”

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