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Car industry discipline rubs off on medical device manufacturing

Manufacturing

AN EMERGING medical device company is turning to the car industry to streamline its manufacturing.

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Micro-X has established its headquarters in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, in preparation for the production of its lightweight x-ray machines.

Managing Director Peter Rowland said Micro-X had successfully produced an 80kg mobile x-ray machine – just a fraction of the size and weight of the 500-600kg machines traditionally used in hospitals.

He said Micro-X had the rights to apply technology from a company in the United States that was commercialising the carbon nanotubes as the electron emitter within an x-ray tube.

The company has recruited four workers from the Holden car manufacturing plant in Elizabeth, which is slated for closure in 2017, including Adam Williams.

“The idea of sourcing talent from the car industry has proven to be an absolute breakthrough because it’s a mindset that nobody – at least in my knowledge – has ever thought of applying to medical devices,” Rowland said.

“What I love about the car industry is the rigor and discipline because you cannot achieve the quality and cost and reliability that the car industry achieves without a lot of discipline and a lot of hard work.

“Just bringing that thinking from Holden into our plant has been brilliant.

“(Adam) said ‘at Holden,– there’s no variable speed on the production line – when you press go on a new model every operation has to take 100 seconds. It can’t be 105 because that stops the line so we put months and months of planning and checking and testing and training to make sure it happens in the number of seconds they budgeted every single time’.

“The management out at Elizabeth is very enlightened. Their people (at Holden) are trained with a breadth of skills, a culture and a way of working that is spectacular.”

Rowland said it gave hope to many other Holden workers who see job opportunities in industries they never imagined they would work in.

“It sends a message that the skills they have been taught at Holden are actually transferrable in industries they would not imagine, in fact they are more than just transferrable, they are world leading because no one’s put that quality and sophistication of manufacturing management into medical devices before.”

“Our manufacturing strategy is a final assembly strategy and that makes sense for a start-up, it’s the car assembly concept.

“We’ll get fairly quickly to a dozen people or so.”

The company is located in the Tonsley precinct, the site of a former Mitsubishi car manufacturing plant, which has been converted into a modern hub for high-value industries.

Other tenants on the site include Siemens, Flinders University and the South Australia Drill Core Library.

Micro-X was given a one-year $3 million loan by the South Australian Government to help it relocate in Adelaide and expects to be building saleable units of the medical industry x-ray machines by the end of the year.

“We’re sizing our initial factory to be able to build at a maximum rate of four units a day so that’s about 1000 units a year,” Rowland said.

 “We’ve designed this unit to be built in Australia.

“It’s cleverly designed so that the assembly operation is not labour intensive – if you can put them together in a very short time then the price of Australian labour doesn’t end up being a major determinant in the end cost of the product.”

Across town at Regency Park, a South Australian start-up business and a leading local automotive components manufacturer are joining forces to create up to 300 jobs within two years.

ScreenAway, the developer of a unique type of retractable flyscreen and block-out blind system, has partnered with automotive supply chain company Adelaide Tooling to manufacture the product. About 100 Adelaide Tooling workers, who faced an uncertain future because of the looming Holden closure, are expected to relocate to ScreenAway.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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