Just on one year ago UOW initiated bringing together innovative manufacturers in the region with university researchers to form the Southern Manufacturing Innovation Group (SMIG).

The Group was officially launched by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Professor Judy Raper, at UOW’s Innovation Campus on in May, 2015.

Since then, a series of themed networking events have been organised to provide a forum for manufacturers in the region to create an exchange of ideas and specific collaborative opportunities facilitating a strong connection with researchers from UOW.

“The idea was to open up dialogue and encourage companies to discuss their own experiences, challenges or opportunities,” Manufacturing and Innovation Leader of Global Challenges at UOW, Professor Geoff Spinks, said.

“UOW has a long history of industry engagement. We are part of a region that was founded on manufacturing and is now facing transformation. UOW is deeply committed to the future and vitality of this sector. Establishing a forum for collaboration is just one way we aim to support ongoing development,” he said.

Discussion topics have been established by an initial survey of SMIG companies and in response workshops have been organised around new materials, 3D printing and sensors and data analytics.

Researchers from a range of disciplines at UOW have been invited to present their research in those areas and SMIG members have also contributed their experiences and expertise.

Recent government reports (like the Australian Innovation Systems Report) have highlighted how poorly Australian businesses collaborate with one another and with universities in comparison with other businesses in other OECD countries.

“The SMIG events shows that there is definitely a willingness of manufacturing businesses in our region to explore collaborative opportunities and learn more about what’s going on and how to propel things further,” Professor Spinks said.

Equally important is the involvement of key researchers representing many of the multiple, widely disparate disciplines that are relevant to manufacturing: technical, business, social.

The concept for SMIG was originally discussed in 2013. Throughout 2013 and 2014 Professor Spinks and Bruce Thomson, Business Development Manager at UOW's Innovation and Commercial Research, visited businesses in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven which were known to be innovative but did not have any formal research interaction with the University to gauge their level of interest in working with UOW.

Many of the businesses were doing very innovative work and connections with other like-minded business and with UOW seemed an empowering way to drive further innovation.

The selection of companies for SMIG was enabled by the combined intelligence of quite a few different organisations and people. Particularly important were AusIndustry (especially Innovation Facilitator, Leanne Taylor and Regional Manager, Peter Masterson), AiGroup (Regional Manager, Leanne Grogan) and NSW Dept of Industry (Tony Green and Megan Cleary).

“We are fortunate in our region to have a strong support ‘eco-system’ with an attitude to help out and work together. It would be very difficult to get a group like SMIG started without such a well-connected network of contacts,” Mr Thomson said.

At the time of launch, 14 companies had agreed to participate in SMIG. Two more companies have joined since and it is expected that more will join by the end of 2016.

In March, an event was held at a factory - Fibre Optic Design and Construct in Bulli - for the first time.

“The great thing about SMIG is that it provides an opportunity for three-way information exchange: business-to-business, business-to-university and university-to-business,” Mr Thomson said. “Not only are researchers and businesses talking about how to work together, but we are already seeing the roots of new business to business collaborations.”

For further information, contact brucet@uow.edu.au.