Written: July 14, 2014
Caravanning has been about the older members of our community but not any more. The range of product available today means all ages are enjoying the great Australian Outdoors. The continued success of caravanning has provided opportunities for manufacturing that were not available a decade ago.
Australia in past centuries has been innovative and resourceful which I guess was driven due to necessity in the beginning. This innovative and independent culture has resulted in large numbers of small business operators doing their own thing which is contributing to our economy.
Our Government has finally recognised the significant role small business plays in our economy. 27% of all people employed are in small business. If all small business grew just 10% in the coming year it is likely that the group as a whole would employ approximately 250,000 people minimally – my guess. That is a lot of taxpayer dollars flowing back into the country’s treasury but more importantly it is a lot of innovation and hard work that result in new products making their way into the community for use. Profit and encouragement for the creator, jobs for the community and everyone wins.
We at explorer have been trying to produce our range of product for some 15 years. We have been both successful and unsuccessful but we are still here trying. We have discovered something very interesting regarding the doom and gloom stories we hear around manufacturing in Australia. We know because we have attempted to manufacture and have manufactured not always at a decent profit margin. It is now possible to manufacture in Australia and make enough profit to create a future for the company and its staff.
What we have discovered is we now have a real ability and affordability to produce prototypes thanks to the 3D printing revolution. Designers, innovators and entrepreneurs alike can get a prototype produced for a fraction of the cost of a decade ago. In our example we would have paid $5000 to $6000 but now can produce something even more elaborate and totally useable for under $1.4K. There are suppliers of this product in Australia who have made the necessary investment to bring the technology to our shores. The results we are getting work internationally as we have always had a reputation for taking up new technology fast. We heard recently about the “jaw bone” and the medical first, – this is another indication that we are doing well with the use of this technology for many different purposes. 3D printing use in manufacturing for proof of product is a fundamental and brilliant use of the technology.
Having got your prototype in your hand and proving the design and concept, you can find local manufacturers who can produce a dye (tool) for the manufacturing of the part. This is particularly true for short run niche market products. High volume may not have the same outcome. Ours is a niche market product and as such our runs are small. Capital is important so we do not want large stocks of individual componentry sitting on the shelf either. We want to get it in and ship it out. These manufacturers that have set themselves up to deliver on this type of order are helpful, creative and part of your team. It is a case of seeking out the right relationship that suits you.
It is our experience that the caravanner seeks and appreciates Australian made and owned product. It enhances our sense of pride when we can do things for ourselves. There is a greater percentage of Australians in the Caravan community that support this view and better still spend their money accordingly. The attitude of the caravanning community and the range of product type today offers great opportunity to produce our own parts by being innovative and competing with imports. By producing creative, well designed and robust products that compete with the imports, we obtain:
This is another area where the specialist manufacturer has looked at the niche market needs and today we have box companies that can supply a printed, custom made box and or packaging at very competitive rates. You end up with your product branded and looking very professional. The first product we designed and produced attracted very high costs not only for the graphics but the actual boxes which had to be purchased in large quantities as this was the only cost effective way to deal with what was required. What resulted was stock sitting on the shelf for an extended period of time and the cost was measured in thousands of dollars. Today this same process can be done for under one thousand dollars with a small run only sitting on the shelf for the next 3 months. This is a big change. Technology in manufacture has moved along as well delivering machinery that can be installed and run by small business too! The effort can go into servicing the customer’s needs. Of course the machines have got very clever too!
Printed matter such as brochures or technical specifications are also items needed in marketing. Again the printing costs have reduced in real terms. Dependent upon the design and volume even in house top quality printers can do the job. We have one ourselves that prints folds and staples. We can produce a 24 page A4 stapled catalogue in colour for under $2.00. If this was a big run then that would be expensive but for short run top quality presentations done when needed it is very affordable. If the same thing was done in black and white it would be under 35 cents. These sorts of costs where unheard of a decade ago.
The final area of interest in our field was the PCB board, a very common component in electronics. Again if we go back a decade and wanted to change our boards it would end up costing in the region of $3.5 to $5K. You could not experiment too much because you would have to repeat the process. Today we can produce a prototype for less than $500. We can afford to do it again if we feel there is more to gain. This is the only step that is not done in Australia. Overseas expertise on the design of the artwork and files is more efficient and weeks quicker. The Chinese have dedicated companies that turn out boards with a simple web based ordering system. You can turn around a prototype board in less than 3 weeks. Again a decade ago apart from the cost you would be looking at months.
Manufacturing today is really about researching the resources needed to get the product to market or prove your idea works. Most can all be done in Australia with some very special support from overseas. It takes time to identify the resources needed and what suits the application but we at explorer thoroughly recommend to anyone with an idea or dream that it can be done and do not listen to the dooms day people. They will never win or have a sense of pride in achievement.
RF Consultant Founder
Wilkgard Technology Group P/L