PODCAST: Australian SME cracks the defence code

PODCAST: Australian SME cracks the defence code
PODCAST: Australian SME cracks the defence code - Commonwealth of Australia

Tristan Cross, Fibre Tech Solutions director, and engineering partner Chris Riggs join Defence Connect Podcast host Phillip Tarrant and co-host Paul Robinson to uncover the method they used to break their company into the defence industry.

Cross and Riggs recount the steps they took to diversify from the resources sector into defence, from their initial homework right through to practical demonstrations and invites into massive Defence projects.

Their story and tips make this episode of the Defence Connect Podcast unmissable for anyone wanting to crack the code and be part of the $195 billion project influx from Defence.

 

Enjoy the show,

The Defence Connect team

Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:

Episode 27: PODCAST: Brave new world – the ever-evolving defence technology sector
Episode 26: PODCAST: Going global with SMEs
Episode 25: PODCAST: Shaping Victoria’s defence industry
Episode 24: PODCAST: How game-changing geospatial technology is shaping the modern military – and delivering business growth
Episode 23: PODCAST: Drones in defence - changing the shape of modern warfare
Episode 22: PODCAST: Making it in the USA, Vince Howie
Episode 21: PODCAST: Making the team mission ready: Ian Bell, CAE
Episode 20: PODCAST: Getting set for F-35 sustainment – Steven Drury, director of aerospace, BAE Systems Australia
Episode 19: PODCAST: From cockpit to trailblazing CEO – John Lonergan, founder of Milskil
Episode 18: PODCAST: Greg Barsby, QinetiQ Australia & Chris Otley-Doe, RubiKon Group

Full transcript

Announcer:

Welcome to the Defence Connect Podcast with your host, Phil Tarrant.

 

Phil:

Good day, everyone. Welcome to the show. It's Phil Tarrant, here. I am the Director of Defence Connect and I'm also your host of the Defence Connect Podcast. I'm joined by my regular co-host and Editor of Defence Connect. Paul, how you going, mate?

 

Paul:

Hello, Phil. How you doing?

 

Phil:

I'm all right. Thanks for coming along and joining us for this chat today.

 

Paul:

No worries.

 

Phil:

A bit of an interesting one. The genesis of this podcast has been very much a way in which we can get industry and government to forge a great relationships, greater connectivity.

 

Paul:

Yes, a bit of a community.

 

Phil:

A bit of a collaboration in terms of community and I think it's a theme that's coming through both within Defence Connect, the online community, our print mag, but also our chats around the traps is the sort of warming attitude of Defence and industry to forge these closer relationships.

 

Paul:

Yes, definitely.

 

Phil:

And links and I'm very optimistic and bullish about it, particularly on the back of the White Paper that everyone's chatting about, but I think for the first time in a long time, there's real sense of cohesiveness between all areas of the industry. The podcast is, the idea of it is to have a chat with the different people within Defence and defence industry to actually look at the ways in which, of greater communication and greater transparency about what everyone is doing can benefit the industry as a whole, and the end result of that is a much more capable Defence force on the ground.

 

 

With that in mind, we'd like to cover all bases from CASG and government, all the way through to the primes, and also into the SME land, and our chat today is going to be very much having a good nag with a couple of guys behind what I think is a really interesting SME or small business, who are just finding inroads into Defence. I'm hoping these guys will share their story thus far in terms of engaging Defence and the opportunities that they see there, but also some of the realities of operating within that space, as well. We'll get inside their minds and actually try and get some good tips from them to help other SMEs working this space connect with government and the ways in which to do that.

 

 

On that basis, I'd like to introduce Tristan Cross and Chris Riggs, and they're from a business called Fibre Tech Solutions. Guys, how you going?

 

Tristan:

Really well and thanks very much for having us here today. It's an exciting time.

 

Phil:

Okay, so that's Tristan, and Chris?

 

Chris:

Thanks very much. How you all going?

 

Phil:

Chris looks a bit older than Tristan, so from what I understand, Chris, you're an engineer by trade.

 

Chris:

Yes, I've been doing a lot of that in the past.

 

Phil:

Okay, and what's your background, Tristan?

 

Tristan:

My background is lightweights synthetics into multiple sectors and collaboration between Chris and I allows us to put engineering and certification with what we do now. My background was in Europe in the yacht racing circuit, so my owners that I worked for were looking for lightweight textiles from carbon fibre to lighter styling solutions. I've brought that home. I went mining, our mining clients that I worked with were looking to reduce downtime and that's where it's all come from and that's why we're here today. We collaborated with Chris and we're able to loggerhead sometimes. Most of the time it's really good and work our way into Defence slowly.

 

Phil:

You guys are a manufacturer? Is that a fair description of what you do?

 

Tristan:

We are. We bring filament fibre in from Holland at the moment. It's a molecular fibre. It holds its structure. We you finish it here in Australia. Our goal in the next five years with a bit of support will to be to manufacture those filaments here in Australia and give every sector lighter capabilities to what they're doing.

 

Phil:

What sort of products do you guys create or produce?

 

Tristan:

Well, when I first started, the fibre rigging was the first concept about 10 years ago. I was a one-man band. Lightweight cabling for underground mining to helicopter lifting. They're all cabling, so they're all cabled to replace flexible steel wire and metal. All the clients that I slowly started to work with were looking for lighter weight solutions to reduce fuel burn, pinch points, manual handling injuries and I engaged Chris because I was starting to get to a bit of a crossroad with engineering the fittings. We still have to integrate Grade 80 fittings, which is metal components with the fibre op table. That's when Chris came along and really helped me to make sure we're pegging the right component with the right safety factor with the fibre and the next generation of businesses that are out there now and they want to work with us.

 

Phil:

Okay, so I reckon probably understood about three-quarters of that.

 

Paul:

Spiderwebs. You make spiderwebs right?

 

Phil:

Essentially, you guys manufacture gear that can pretty much replace traditional steel cabling and other type of things and the application of that is that you provide greater strength, greater safety, lightness, which has a lot of efficiency associated with it, fair sort of wrap-up.

 

Tristan:

Government's looking to save money in key sectors, so our mining clients, if they have to use wire and cable, that job can take four hours. With our synthetics, it takes fifteen minutes. A helicopter pilot, he's using our synthetics now. He reduces his fuel burn each year.

 

Phil:

Because he's not carrying around so much.

 

Tristan:

Not carrying so much weight. Hence, why we're starting to move into the defence sector. I'm trying to engage primes with what we do is because we can definitely save a lot of time. We offer training with the fibre to engineering solutions to sustaining those solutions for 25 years. That's the goal.

 

Phil:

Okay, let's have a chat about this foray into defence.

 

Tristan:

Sure.

 

Phil:

Traditionally, you're oil and gas, I guess?

 

Tristan:

Yes.

 

Phil:

Sort of heavy industry type stuff.

 

Tristan:

Chris' background is really oil and gas.

 

Phil:

Okay.

 

Tristan:

He's got a fantastic business that he started in South Australia. Supplies solutions into Santos. Who else, Chris?

 

Chris:

Anybody in the oil and gas industry, basically. Here and overseas.

 

Phil:

You guys have just come back from Fleet Base East where you spent four hours down there at the, what is it, the Centre for Innovation. I guess ...

 

Tristan:

Fantastic spot.

 

Phil:

Pitching your products to the guys down there? Is that what you've been doing?

 

Tristan:

We demonstrated in front of RAN (Royal Australian Navy), about a month ago now, Chris?

 

Chris:

It is.

 

Tristan:

Really humbling to be there. We're really small, civilians walking on to a Navy base was quite humbling. We actually flew a drone in front of the RAN personnel. First time ever in the history of Fleet Base East. There's been drones flown at Fleet Base East, but not legitimately.

 

Chris:

Okay.

 

Tristan:

I'm not sure where that's come from, but we had certification to fly there. It was in a controlled environment. Hence, that was the first of their launchpad events to get SMEs in the back door of Defence and put unsolicited letters together to aim CASG or a sustainment group in Canberra.

 

Phil:

You guys did a demonstration down there.

 

Tristan:

Yes.

 

Phil:

A month ago, so you got a drone in there? Would you just grab your cables and pick up stuff?

 

Tristan:

Well, it's very interesting for Defence at the moment. They're happy to see innovation. We flew a camera underneath the drone and did an underwater inspection on a structure in the water.

 

Phil:

Okay.

 

Tristan:

The only reason we're able to lift that camera underneath the drone - drones have a payload anywhere from two kilos up to 20 kilos - because our fibre filaments are so light, we can rate those filaments to lift the camera. We can get around any red tape, so the whole day was revolved around everything we did that day. It was certified and signed off by, we call them the Head Wigs.

 

Phil:

Yes, that's good.

 

Paul:

The brass.

 

Phil:

I'm quite interested in this whole demonstration process. Were you guys sort of, the preparation for that, you must have been?

 

Tristan:

Very nervous.

 

Phil:

Yes.

 

Tristan:

The initial contact was with a gentleman called Don Moloney. He's heading up the Innovation Centre there. Every time an e-mail came to me, it felt like we knew each other, so that was really amazing. Then, basically, touched base with Chris. We wanted to do a demonstration for these guys. It was a little bit different, outside the norm. Instead of just rocking out with a bit of fibre rope and a bit of ballistic material. We wanted to do something a little bit different because the audience there gave their time over lunch to see us demonstrate. Let's do something a little bit out of the ordinary to really catch these guys. We ended up going overtime. We ended up missing flights.

 

Paul:

Speaking of out of the ordinary, let's step back a little bit.

 

Tristan:

Yes, sure.

 

Paul:

Because the way you approached Defence was a bit out of the ordinary. Can you tell us what you did?

 

Tristan:

What I've learned from the few clients we work with. I'd love it to be more clients. We're getting there. Is really finding these sustainment managers inside the business to OH&S advisors and I selected two or three people from ... Well, we'll go back a bit. We reviewed the White Paper. I selected certain sections out of the White Paper that our products could align to in the future. LHD program, helicopter lifting, all that sort of stuff, so really for me, I found Greg Laxton, who was heading up innovation and so was Don, and e-mailed them. Purely found their e-mail through the good old channel, LinkedIn. Which is just amazing for me because they messaged me straight back, "Guys, this is our e-mail."

 

 

E-mails went backwards and forwards and then, we got a demonstration with them. Hence, why we've been back today. They've invited us to come back today to see another company which was BAE today, demonstrate their solutions to the Royal Australian Navy.

 

Phil:

What's the application for your fibre ropes, then, for Navy?

 

Tristan:

I'll pass you on to Chris, here. Really for me it’s land based. To see sustainment, to reducing downtime, so really for the Navy is this land based operations when they're cleaning vessels up, to pulling propellers off in shafts. We've got lifting solutions that are a lot lighter than what they're using.

 

Phil:

Yes.

 

Tristan:

I'll let Chris take off there because he's right into all that.

 

Chris:

Really, the fibre that we use is essentially size for size, as strong as steel and an eighth of the weight. If you go to do something by yourself, instead of getting seven of your mates which is half a football team down to help you, you can actually do it by yourself.

 

 

For the Navy, there are an enormous amount of applications where they can cut their workforce down by 80% or just work safely. The biggest cost to the Navy in occ health and safety is crook backs.

 

 

If you take that out, then the Navy just operates efficiently because they haven't got a large percentage of their workforce non-operational. Being operational, doesn't matter whether it's at dockside or at sea, obviously, it's really significant.

 

Phil:

I'm just trying to think of this demonstration, so you've got a drone. You're lifting stuff up. All very cool, so who were you demonstrating to? What was the calibre of uniformed personnel that you were in front of?

 

Chris:

The way the fleet based innovation hub's being setup, it's a lunchtime event at the moment for the launchpad. It's basically a group toolbox. A lot of people that are listening to the podcast will understand what a toolbox does. Most of the time a toolbox brings people together at the start of an event or the day's work and has a chat about what's going on. These guys were anywhere from the contractors at Thales to BAE Systems to Captain Greg Laxton was in the background. We're from all walks of Defence within that base.

 

 

Basically, how the round toolbox works is we did a demonstration. We had our chance to let them know what we could offer them. The demonstration happened and it's a collaborative event at the end. Massive questions asked and then, these guys actually design their own solutions with your fibre.

 

 

We walked away that day and they said, "Well, can we do this with it? Can we do that with it?," so that's really exciting for us. Because they already work with some of the stuff, solutions, but they wanted to actually see this rolled out.

 

Chris:

Most people, as happened down there on this day, they thought we were going to turn up with a couple pieces of string, essentially, and what we did was turned up with small string under the drone which would simply carry you away, because at one millimetre, it'll carry 500 kilos. You've got kite surfers now using little tiny pieces of string. They're biggest problem is it gets in knots. Hard to handle, so we use things which are a little bit bigger than that.

 

 

We will build out of the same material, a little fibre that will pick you up or a single piece of rope that will carry a load that's just under 3,000 tons. We can build in rope, we can build it in web, we can make a suit out of it.

 

Phil:

What next then for you guys? You've gone down and you found a good demonstration it sounds like. It's some favour with the guys down at Fleet Base East and the Innovation Centre. What happens next? How do you get this into dollars in your pocket?

 

Tristan:

That was huge leverage for us, that meeting. From that, we had e-mails flying around with our State government back in Victoria. We will go to South Australia in two weeks time and demonstrate in front of the LAND400 team.

 

Phil:

Okay.

 

Tristan:

Which is BAE and Rheinmetall and we've been told today that they're all interested in saving weight on these vehicles, so it's a really exciting time for us. We'll use that to our advantage to demonstrate to them and collaborate with them. We've got challenges that we need to cross and we need a bit of support, but we've got a lot of knowledge as well in how to reduce weight on these vehicles, but provide training solutions and supply these guys for 25 years to these clients.

 

Paul:

That's come directly from that demonstration?

 

Tristan:

Huge, huge amount. We wouldn't have got that LAND400 demonstration offered to us. It's very tight at the moment. SMEs, there's only a select few getting a job out of it. Sorry, a bit of a go at it, simply because we demonstrate in front of the Navy, it's helped us to be able to send those e-mails to other primes to get those meetings. They're quite interested.

 

Phil:

Issues like the Centre for Innovation is critical to the ongoing development of defence industry and our capabilities of the Defence Force and I think in issues like that, it sounds as though the aptitude and the attitude of the people within it, very accommodating to SMEs, so those guys are doing a good job which is excellent. Depends who you talk to, which type of SME, and you guys have a good story and it sounds like you're doing all the right things and I think a lot of people will listen to this and try and emulate that and that's a good point to take away from this.

 

 

You speak to a lot of SMEs and they'll to you, there's just huge roadblocks along the way and it's near impossible to actually interface and connect with the people that they need to connect with, so you guys are after, looking to engage the prime market who are looking to, you're saying with LAND400, looking for some weight minimizations and some efficiencies there, so you know your target audience is there, but have you had any help from anyone else to get you guys thinking better or more laterally around engaging defence industry or has it just been trial and error?

 

Tristan:

It's been a little bit of trial and error. It's you guys, as well. James Keogh giving us a ring and saying, "Guys, you're doing a great job." Hence, why we're here today having a chat with you guys. It's been a lot of our own hard work. It is quite hard to pick apart Defence websites and really look at how you engage with Canberra and State government, but for us now, we can see these little changes coming, especially with Fleet Base East. I'm trying to set a hub up with the Defence Alliance in Geelong now, so SME can demonstrate in front of these people with no risk.

 

 

Okay, we flew the drone there that day, it was reduce risk. There's no pressure on you. There's no pointing fingers or “you're not very good at what you do”, that's what's going to happen in the next sixth to eight months and I think it's a really exciting time if everyone can collaborate. There's some great talk there and we can help smaller SME to get those meetings, as well. As long as they're ready to pitch their product to Defence Forces, I think we can help them out.

 

Chris:

I think also one of the things with you guys here at Defence Connect and also the Innovation Centre, I mean, it gives a focal point because dealing with the Defence Force and a lot of the primes is like dealing with a mythical hydra. There are so many heads.

 

Paul:

That's a good way of putting it actually.

 

Chris:

You think you've dealt with someone and then you find that there's someone in the office down the hall or they're in a different state and they're actually in charge, and the person that you're dealing with is actually not in control, and so, it's incredibly important to understand who you need to be dealing with because otherwise, you may as well go out the back and talk to a brick wall.

 

Tristan:

We got a huge gap at the moment. We discussed this, this morning with a few personnel at Fleet Base East is the next generation of engineers coming in to some of these projects. There's a huge gap. We try and engage universities on a weekly basis and offer them some of our solutions to work on, but we see quite a front when we turn up at universities or CSIRO at the moment. It's a little bit of, "We're going to charge you to solve a problem." We've got to break that down at the moment. We've seen it break down with the little hubs being set up and a little bit of support from our local government, but it needs to grow.

 

Phil:

Work in Defence has a bit of an X factor that we talk about. Oil and gas, you're digging stuff out of the ground, so someone can use it to power a light switch.

 

Tristan:

Good way to put it.

 

Phil:

Within Defence, the type of technology and capabilities you have can actually give our guys and girls in the field an advantage, and you spoke about the safety aspects of lightweight ropes, greater lifting capacity, occupational health and safety components of that, so there is this X factor about how great technology and great capabilities empowers our Defence Force. For you moving into Defence outside of those traditional industries you’re in, was that any of the realisation, that idea that you're actually doing that little bit more and has actually got a little bit more relevance.

 

Chris:

I think one of the things that comes out of this is that so many SMEs, and we've been involved in them. As Tristan said earlier, he started in yacht rigging. Now, if you focus on just one thing, it's fabulous when it's going beautifully and it's thriving, but if it runs out of puff, you're dead in the water. It's really important to have a whole bunch of little campfires burning, as opposed to a big bonfire somewhere. Because if something goes wrong with your main fire, how do you survive when you’ve built a business that is relying on just one thing. This where Defence and all the associated industries that go around are so important, and when I say associated industries, we're looking at servicing emergency services, Country Fire Association, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, rescue systems. All of the associated people in climbing, winching, cranes, everything and every application from having protective clothing because it's lighter, stronger, so you can move faster and more efficiently.

 

Phil:

You guys are on this process right now, so you've gained some traction. You've done some good demonstrations. You've been invited back to Fleet Base East, so you're part of the innovation community right now, so you've got your work ahead of you to try and turn that into some type of commercial contract or reality for you guys, but you've made the right steps thus far. What would be your tips to similar SMEs who have an interesting product that has a defence application to start looking into getting into Defence. What would be those two or three things that you do straight off the bat?

 

Tristan:

I think being diverse with their product or their solution. Being dynamic and being able to supply certain areas in Defence and it's a bit hard when you're selling a tyre or a battery, but being a little bit more effective in their marketing, engaging the right people in Defence. Not necessarily going straight to Canberra. Look with inside - There are certain sectors within Defence and really target these engineers. Target the safety advisors. Target the supply chain managers and that who I seem to be talking quite a lot with at the moment from DCNS. I went to a meeting that you guys got me into the other day in Melbourne which was fantastic, which was all revolved around the new Barracuda-class submarine.

 

 

I sat there. I was a fish out of water. I listened and the Supply Chain Manager really interested for these SMEs to come on board. One of the biggest things that came out of that meeting is DCNS have got a portal at the moment. They've only had 20 people signup in the portal.

 

Phil:

This is for SMEs looking at potential commercial contracts coming in to DCNS.

 

Tristan:

Supply. I said, I put my hand up in the meeting and I said, "Look, the porthole's great, but the small SMEs don't really have that much time to put an effort into the portholes. They put people off, so what I said to some of the supply chain managers, you actually need to get out there and see these SMEs because they have got some good solutions. They don't necessarily have the time to put effort into paperwork and certification to get those contracts.

 

Paul:

How did you know, out of curiosity, how did you know about that portal?

 

Tristan:

How did I know about that portal? Simply by researching. I had to read. We knew DCNS was coming to Australia. We want to be a big part of what they do because the French do things well and they collaborate with Australia. I had to research. I had to read, but we can see websites like yours popping up now that'll actually give those SMEs an idea of what is actually going on. I think it's so important.

 

 

Hence, why I got the meeting with him. If James hadn't rung me and said “get to Monash University and listen” and I wouldn't have understood what they're trying to achieve.

 

Chris:

And I think it's really important and one of the things that Tristan hasn't really said here is that, it doesn't matter whether you want to be an Olympic runner or run a good business. There's a lot of energy goes into getting to the first base. It's not just going to just happen by itself.

 

 

You can't wake up one morning and say, "I want to be a Defence contractor." You've got a lot of work. 10% inspiration and a lot of hard work comes after it.

 

Phil:

Do you reckon you guys have passed first base yet?

 

Chris:

We convert a lot with our smaller companies that we work with from aviation to mining, they all convert. They're small on our radar. We haven't converted with Defence yet and we'd love to and we will, and that's our goal. If it takes 10 years, it takes 10 years, but we want to convert.

 

Phil:

Defence is, when you compare it to other industries in Australia, it operates slightly differently. There's typically a longer incubation process and you've got to earn your stripes, no pun intended. There's a lot of, I don't want to call them hurdles, there's just a lot of steps you need to check-off to get to a point when you can actually obtain some sort of commercial contract or commercial benefit out of it. That's putting aside the reasonable rationale for the products we put into the field, but from a commercial business perspective, understanding that you need to invest long-term into going through the motions or the process to get to a point that you want to get and that is influencing someone to choose your products over someone else's or if it's a new product, to understand the benefits of it. What are you doing personally, Tristan, in terms of your own education to be better at doing what you need to do? That is to influence the right people in Defence or the right people in primes or Defence to do the rest?

 

Tristan:

Well, on the back of their demonstration a month ago, we've had Capability Sustainment Group e-mail us. E-mail us with details about how to supply the Defence.

 

Paul:

CASG have approached you?

 

Tristan:

Yes, we've got a gentleman from Sydney, Benjamin is his name. He's down in Victoria early December for SEA5000. He's taking us, we're involving us in a workshop for SEA5000, which is great. On the back of that, for myself, there'll be some upskilling for sure. Contract management, training staff, integrating with Defence. There's definitely a lot of work there to do, but at the moment, my time is zapped in getting this new solution out there and then my time once we do convert will be back into really setting a standard for our business.

 

Chris:

One of the things to add to what Tristan is talking about is understanding that you've got to build something fit for purpose, and so, if you've got normal regulations under the law and the regulations that are to the law in Australia, but then you've also got all the Navy regulations on top of those regulations. There's no good building a Mini Miner when they want a track and vice-versa.

 

 

You have to be very aware of the specific structure of what you're trying to fulfill. Otherwise, it won't past go.

 

Paul:

Are you finding that Defence are good at talking to you now, like you're getting a reasonable understanding of what they want?

 

Chris:

They are and as we learn more, that's becoming much easier, but what I'm also finding is that when you ask a specific question, you've got to, as I said earlier, you have to be speaking to the right person, otherwise, they can't answer you. If you're talking to somebody who's in restraint and you say, "Well, what are the safety margin that you work on?"

 

 

Well, they can't answer you, so you can't go to the Australian regulations and say, for load restraint on a truck, it's 0.8 of the load, for instance. That's not like that at the Navy. You've got to back to the regulation and find out what it says, so it might be four times the load, so what you use on a truck isn't fit for purpose on a boat.

 

Paul:

The BDMs are going to busy, aren't they?

 

Phil:

They always are. The utility or the application of the product that you have, there are different stages in terms of product development. You have something which works and you can apply that to solve a solution or a challenge currently sitting within Defence, so you don't need to do much more with the product, you just need to get the application of it right.

 

Tristan:

We do because that's how our business is different. I just don't sell a helicopter lifting line to a client. I ring them up every six week. "How are you going with it? Do I need to do anything different next time?" What's happening with our industry in Australia, Defence is generally looking at composite materials into Defence. That's why we are looking at a destructive testing facility either in Victoria or south Australia, we're not sure where yet. We will have to re-certify all this fibre filament solutions that we supply from ballistic jackets to sportswear. We're doing stuff with sportswear at the moment to undersea cables. These guys will want to see this stuff re-certified under our standard.

 

Phil:

Okay.

 

Tristan:

We'll set that standard and they'll be no other fibre filament that comes into Australia that doesn't meet a certain standard. That's so important. Our hub will be somewhere where other SMEs can collaborate and test their components. 3D printing's coming along quite quickly. How do we put 3D printing on a future frigate? It's got be break tested. It's got to be compressure tested, so that's what we're interested in at the moment. We're working quite tightly with a lady called Sarah Henderson, who's a forefront of innovation, MP, in our area in Geelong and she's all for what we're trying to achieve, and creating a hub for you guys to come and see what we do.

 

Phil:

To fly the flag for Geelong to bring this talent and innovation into Geelong, yes.

 

Tristan:

Sure, because we're across a range of industries, but Defence is going to be there. That's a huge project about to be undertaken over the next 50 years, not just our generation, the next generation will sustain these submarines, land vehicles to the future frigates. That's where we're a little bit different. We'll always follow-up with our clients.

 

Phil:

From a business perspective, with the product or solution that you have, there's a perpetual improvement, refinement, fit for purpose, etc. You have that in motion and then you also have the, "I've got to sell this thing, as well, and run a business." How do you sort of get that balance right?

 

Paul:

No sleep.

 

Tristan:

Yes, no sleep. It is difficult. Like Chris says all the time, we do more work a week than the average person sitting in an office because we're thinking about what we can do with this fibre, who we've got to go and talk to. Have I got to book a flight? Have I got to go here to South Australia next week? Have I got the right business cards?

 

 

It's always takes time, but we'll get there with the right support and we're starting to see that little bit of support from the back of the innovation meeting with the Defence - Navy is giving us beautiful leverage to really work with the State governments.

 

Phil:

That process of, it was another industry, I'd probably call it the sales process, right? I don't want to call that in Defence. I want to look at you found the right person to chat to and you had the opportunity to actually get in front of them and demonstrate, which is, you guys, you're own thing. You say you aren't at first base yet, but you're sort of running towards it, right? Putting aside the fact that you've got a good product that Defence needs or is a requirement for it or an application for it in some way, what do SMEs need in order to operate effectively in Defence.

 

 

You spoke about business cards and this sort of stuff, but what do you need?

 

Chris:

Well, one of the first things you have to be able to prove, not only to yourself, but to whichever department in the Defence force it is, that you can provide longevity of supply. Because if that's not, if you can't get to that base, there's no point in thinking you're going to be there for a one sale, or two sales, or one year or two years.

 

 

I mean, the current support system is keeping the current subs and the current frigates going for the next, until at least the end of this decade and possibly, halfway through the next and before the next build, that's 25 years, so you've got be able to prove you're going to be around for 35 or 40 years. Otherwise, they're not interested.

 

Phil:

Interesting point. How do you do that?

 

Chris:

Be organised and show a succession plan. Show how it's going to work.

 

Paul:

The basics of business?

 

Paul:

It's a bit of a success story there. It's pretty unheard of from what Defence used to be like. And we've had this discussion Phil with Defence, that they have to change, that they can't keep doing things the same way, but it's almost a success story now, with the fact that you got in charge. You did the right thing, you got in front of the right people. You got out of, you went out of your way to find the right people. Studied the White Paper and you're sort of semi-being reward for that, aren't you?

 

 

You've had help from CASG. You've had Centre for Innovation at Fleet Base East. You've had a Minister who's flying the flag for you. Things are starting to fall where Defence has said they're going to fall, you know, so.

 

Tristan:

And I reckon we will see some change in the next six to eight months. These hubs are being setup. SME will get their chance to demonstrate. It'll be unsolicited. You can go there. It's a safe environment. You'll get your chance to innovate in front of these guys and it's happening.

 

 

I think it's really important. We're pushing and I won't stop. I'm not just going to run my business. I'll help create this culture. What we're seeing in the industry is culture change.

 

Paul:

Yes.

 

Tristan:

We have to change culture. It is happening and there's a few people that are actually jumping on the wave and riding along with the culture change, and that's what I think he's saying.

 

Chris:

And I think the other thing that is also important to understand with all this. You can't supply our Defence Force from overseas with everything.

 

Paul:

Yes.

 

Chris:

You can't supply it with robotics. There's a large number of people who are looking to go to work. You don't have to replace them with a robot. You can teach them to do a whole bunch of things that will supply the Defence Force and we can do all that locally.

 

Phil:

I think the opportunities, because a lot of latent capabilities, particularly in South Australia and Victoria following the closures in car manufacturing plants, and a reduction in manufacturing businesses, but you've got some extremely talented and skilled people down there who are a major asset for Australia. If they can be pointed in the right direction and given the opportunity to support defence industry, what's that going to do to our capabilities?

 

Tristan:

Just on the back of talking about that, to really get this Fibre Tech Solutions going, we'll actually have to train two days a week. I'm training, this is off the back of mining, I'm a trainer and assessor. I have a contract with Toyota at the moment, Toyota Group. They're made redundant in October next year. I've got 25 guys I spend three days a week with from OH&S teaching them that. Integrate into the new industry that they need to go. I can tell you now it's simply they will not work in a civil or mining industry.

 

 

They've worked on a production line for a long time. These guys are so intelligent at what they do. They've worked on cars for 25, 30 years, these guys are the ones that are perfect to jump in to these production lines with some basic training, and that's Chris and my goal in the next couple years. Every part or component we design where it's 3D printed will be so simple to put together and I think other SMEs need to understand that. That there is support from local government if you keep your solution simple.

 

 

Chopping a piece of fibre, putting a fitting on it, do load testing on it to certify it, to having the client come and see it work, to out in the industry, but that was done by a Toyota worker. Toyota workers are paid quite well for what they do. They'll be a general shift. They'll get paid well. They won't get what they were getting paid. We understand the mining industry is up and down all the time. It's simply those mining operators get paid well. We need to change our culture. You'll have a job for life. You're not necessarily going to get paid $150K a year.

 

Phil:

Things change. We've run out of time. This is really intriguing, we'll have to get you guys back on and keep chatting about it. To me, I think it's a good story and I appreciate you guys coming in and sharing this journey because there's still a long, long way to go for you guys, but the fact that you're willing to come on and explain to our listeners the process for how you've got to where you are and some of those key points to help other SMEs move along.

 

 

The main point I take out of this podcast is that all the stuff, myself and Paul, we cover as much ground as possible and everyone's saying the right things at the moment. This level and attitudes of toward greater collaboration, transparency, from CASG, Department of Defence, all the way through to SMEs. Everyone's talking about it and chatting with you guys today it shows that this is actually in motion because you've got the Centre for Innovation. They're doing some great work in Fleet Base East. You've got CASG being proactively engaging you guys to support you as you go down this journey of sort of supplying in to Defence, so there's a lot of green lights for me all over the place and if we can continually discuss this type of stuff, and be a voice of how this collaboration is happening and hoping to empower some other people to start this journey or help them along that journey as they go down in to supplying in to Defence or supplying more in to Defence, so yes, really appreciate you guys coming on.

 

Tristan:

Yes, thanks for having us and we really look forward to the website. That's going to be a great spot to send our SMEs. We've got some other guys that are so keen to be involved. We'll send them straight to your website.

 

Phil:

Absolutely. We're pro-defence industry, obviously, but, you know, for us, the idea that we have this great talent within Australia. Great capabilities to produce technologies and produce gear to support our troops on the ground is a big driver for us, so if we could help support industry to do what they do better, the upside of that is a much more effective Defence Force, so yes, today's been very SME oriented. Go, the SMEs. It's great, but the idea of the podcast over time is to make sure we get every single player within this space in there and give them a voice and hopefully, we can maintain the dialogue.

 

Chris:

And in closing, thanks very much, but the only other thing that I would like to say is don't be scared to get on the phone because if you get a text or an e-mail from somebody they don't know, a lot of people don't necessarily respond, so get on the phone.

 

Phil:

I was actually going to say as a summary, good old fashioned business. You've got to hustle. You have to hustle.

 

Chris:

You have to talk to people.

 

Phil:

Get on the phone.

 

Tristan:

It's very exciting times. Thanks for having us, guys.

 

Phil:

No, nice one.

 

Tristan:

Thank you.

 

Phil:

Keep in touch guys. Thanks for tuning in everyone to the Defence Connect podcast. We'll be back again next week. Remember to check us out at defenceconnect.com.au. We're on all the Facebook, Twitter.

 

Paul:

Instagram.

 

Phil:

Just search Defence Connect. If you want to contact us or if you want to come on the show, or you'd like any further information about the guys from Fibre Tech Solutions or just in general, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Paul:

That's it.

 

Phil:

We pretty much covered everything we needed to, Paul?

 

Paul:

Yes, I like that. A success story. Times are changing.

 

Phil:

Times are changing. It's great. Thanks, guys. See you again next week. Bye.

 

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