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Op-Ed: DST & Axiom Precision Manufacturing, teaming to support the COVID-19 frontline

The COVID-19 pandemic has been causing great disruption to daily life in Australia and around the world, with these disruptions putting huge strains on global supply chains, especially PPE for frontline health workers, bringing together organisations like DST and the Australian defence SME ecosystem in an unprecedented way, explains Craig Maynard, general manager at Axiom Precision Manufacturing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been causing great disruption to daily life in Australia and around the world, with these disruptions putting huge strains on global supply chains, especially PPE for frontline health workers, bringing together organisations like DST and the Australian defence SME ecosystem in an unprecedented way, explains Craig Maynard, general manager at Axiom Precision Manufacturing.

When you look at how to address this shortage of PPE, I’m sure a partnership between Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group and Axiom Precision Manufacturing, a defence industry small to medium enterprise (SME), is not the most obvious solution.

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DST and Axiom have been working in partnership for 10 years on the REDWING Counter IED program producing products such as Greengum, Greygum and Silvershield. Over this time, DST and Axiom have built an open, trusting relationship through strong collaboration; working together from design to prototyping and into production manufacturing.

The development of the face shield came about as a result of discussions between members of DST and personal contacts in the health sector regarding PPE shortages resulting from COVID-19. It was during these conversations that the particular shortage of face shields was identified.

In true Australian fashion, the team at DST identified they could work on filling this void through designing a simple, lightweight and cost effective face shield. The team designed and 3D printed multiple variants in quick succession until a suitable design was settled upon.

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During this design stage DST also sought feedback on the designs from Axiom to ensure the design was suitable for plastic injection moulding.

Once the final design was chosen the team at Axiom swung into action, designing and manufacturing the plastic injection mould in eight calendar days, which included the four-day Easter break.

Eight days is very quick turnaround for a plastic injection mould of this size, manufacturing of the mould would usually take four weeks. Once the mould had been manufactured, 600 units were produced and distributed to frontline healthcare workers, which enabled DST to gather rapid feedback regarding the comfort of the face shield when worn for extended periods. This feedback was used to refine the design of the head piece and production was continued.

This program has highlighted the value of sovereign capability and also the effectiveness partnerships between Defence and defence industry.

If Australia didn’t have sovereign capability available to manufacture these face shields and had to rely on imports, our frontline healthcare workers would be left at great risk. It could have resulted in much higher infection rates in hospitals, leading to reduced care being available for those most in need.

While a face shield seems like a small item, it is the concept of Australian sovereign manufacturing capability this small item is highlighting. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how critical sovereign manufacturing capability is to Australia’s safety.

A renewed and concerted effort by Defence, defence industry and wider government is vital to strengthening Australia’s sovereign capability and improving the nation’s ability to respond to similar situations in the future.

The continued support by the federal government of the Sovereign Industry Capability policy is key to SMEs being able to build sovereign capability; it provides the confidence needed to invest in training and development.

The benefits of Defence and defence industry having a trusted working relationship was highlighted during the rapid turnaround of this program. The relationship DST and Axiom have built over the last 10 years enabled us to start working together during the design/development phase.

This aided in reducing the manufacture cost and time to market. This collaborative approach also works well for DST and Axiom on the Redwing program, demonstrating that this trusted relationship can have significant benefits for Defence manufacturing and sovereign industry capability.

As the large Defence programs develop to the production phase it will be critical to these programs that Defence and defence industry build these trusted relationships through the entire supply chain to ensure these programs are a success.

These relationships could be the starting point for strategic partnerships between Defence primes and SMEs in Australia, helping to build the strength of Australia’s sovereign industry capability across all platforms for the future.

Craig Maynard, is the general manager at Axiom Precision Manufacturing. Maynard started working at Axiom in 1995 as an apprentice toolmaker, also completing an Associate Diploma of Engineering during his apprenticeship.

In 1999, he transferred to the US facility, managing the workshop. During his seven years in the US he was promoted to managing the facility and business development. In 2005, he returned to Australia and worked at several manufacturing companies in project management and work shop management roles.

Maynard returned to Axiom in 2015, starting in a project management role and being promoted to general manager at the end of 2015.

After returning to Axiom, he has graduated from the 2017 Defence Industry Study Course, also completing the Growing South Australian Companies course at the University of South Australia and the Professional Management Program at the University of Adelaide.

Op-Ed: DST & Axiom Precision Manufacturing, teaming to support the COVID-19 frontline
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