Engineering-tech rearing to go
It is fair to say that information technology has dominated the news clips when it comes to technical innovation, with development of Apps in particular. Also has it attracted the bulk of Government and private funding. However, engineering tech, or the technology around machines and their connectivity, is a tower of strength in the Hunter and growing. It will carry us into the next stage of industrial development known as the Internet of Things or Industrie 4.0.
An Entrepreneurs Program Business Adviser, Rob Oliver, working in Ai Group, has made a great contribution to our understanding of who is doing what in the Hunter Region (see Innovation Ecosystem of the Hunter). The revelation was both fascinating and concerning - because there were so many dedicated players. It was obvious that there needed to be more communication and collaboration to avoid duplication of effort.
Newcastle City Council’s Smart City Project in 2016 was one project which brought many of those players together to help construct the business plan and the grant application. Similarly the NCC and University of Newcastle bid for the Hunter Innovation Hub to be built at Auckland Street. Ai Group is pleased to have supported both projects.
Other great projects are happening such as the creation of the innovation co-working space Eighteen04, the impending creation of a maker and co-working space at the Callaghan Campus of UoN, the first smart parking meter developed by Heath Raftery of Newie Start-Ups and the establishment of the Newcastle Pioneers of the Internet of Things as a networking group for established engineering tech companies and start-ups.
Ai Group is also active in the innovation space. Five years ago, after a Study Tour to German Manufacturing, we created the Hunter Manufacturing Innovation Cluster. It meets roughly 6 weekly and has a mailing list of 150. The Cluster brings together innovative manufacturers, researchers, start-ups, university, TAFE, high school students (from St Phillips Christian College) to discuss some new aspect of technology each month. It brings together our “learning community in technology” which respects the
achievements of people of all ages and occupations. It creates great vibes for our future industry. Our first Greater Hunter Makers Festival in November 2016 at Newcastle Jockey Club was a public manifestation of that Cluster.
Collaboration has also been happening at the Government level in 2017. Ai Group has been able to gain support from Newcastle Council, working on behalf of Hunter Councils – itself a remarkable example of collaboration – to incorporate one of our aims into a bid for Federal Government Funding. Our aim is to have Governments recognise the Hunter as an “International Centre of Engineering Excellence” - which we are. Similarly the Department of Planning and Environment will take that objective into its deliberations on the future Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan which will identify the infrastructure the region needs in order to be a Globally Engaged City.
Lastly, on 6 March, Ai Group organised a visit to Newcastle by Paul Duggan the Global CEO of TechShop. TechShop is a machine time-sharing and co-working space for “makers” of all ages. It is a not for profit organisation with a strong community focus. It allows members to buy time on 3D printers, CNC machines etc which are very expensive to buy. They say anyone can be trained on a machine in a very short time, then inducted and accredited.
It will allow anyone to develop prototypes of their inventions. I am hopeful that we will have a TechShop in Newcastle by the end of the year to further stimulate interest in “making things” from all materials. It will be the cradle of our future makers, technologists and engineers as well as drawing from the experience of our tradespeople, technologists, creators and designers.
The Hunter has 150 years of knowledge in making, repairing and servicing equipment, devices, vehicles and infrastructure. It is ready to enter its next 50 years of “industry” growth – whatever that may become. Come along to the next Greater Hunter Makers and Technology Festival to get a glimpse.