I have been fortunate of late to visit two very special manufacturers – a couple of not-for-profit organisations that make things no-one else can.
Both have workshops in Perth where teams of people grapple with problems, devising solutions and then making them work in practice.
There are distinct similarities between the two, yet they are targeting very different markets.
Intriguingly, both have developed a 'seated Segway' – a variation of the two-wheel devices people stand on and navigate through the pedestrian traffic – one to meet a customer need, the other because it was a fun challenge.
The two organisations are Dreamfit, which was established by 40under40 winner Darren Lomman to make or modify equipment for use by disabled people, and Scitech, the science education body established by former deputy premier Mal Bryce 25 years ago.
I was struck by what these organisations did. To me they prove that, far from being behind the pace, Western Australia has real innovators – even in areas such as motorisation, automation and robotics.
In fact what I learned was that these growth areas of design and manufacturing are increasingly accessible, as technology becomes cheaper and wrestles R&D out of the hands of big organisations with their near-limitless funding.
Both groups had 3D printers churning out parts and accessories, and both groups already have strategies for earning money from what they do; although in this regard, Scitech is far more advanced – touring its bespoke, royalties-earning science exhibitions around the country and overseas for years at a time.
Dreamfit is only just looking at large-scale manufacture of an item – a chin-operated palate and easel –originally designed for one-off usage. Even though the disabled market is small, the team at Dreamfit recognises the opportunity to offer its specialist product relatively cheaply to earn a recurring income, while satisfying the artistic urges of a select group of the community at the same time.
Manufacturing, like other industries, is being changed and disrupted by technology such as 3D printers and the internet, which are breaking down the control by 'big enterprise' of various markets and allowing smaller players to propagate.
This is all part of a cycle; one that might favour a high-cost place such as WA, which has smart people, access to capital and a small market on which to test ideas.
In the interim, Scitech and Dreamfit are both worthy causes for your attention.