From Mower Blades to Fighter Jets: How One Queensland manufacturing business has taken flight

As a child, Karen Stanton remembers sitting on a stool in her father’s small metal workshop in suburban Brisbane, feeding mower blades into a kiln.

Today, as Director of Strategy and Corporate at Heat Treatment Australia, she oversees that same family business as it produces high-end components for the global Joint Strike Fighter program.

But this Queensland family’s business journey from low-tech production line to one of the world’s largest aerospace projects is not your typical Cinderella story. It’s a tale about being in the right place at the wrong time, and having the foresight to respond to a significant challenge as if it were an opportunity.

Since early 1990’s, cheap imports have flooded the Australian manufactured goods market, placing significant pressure on Queensland manufacturers. Many have quietly buckled under the immense competition.

“Every week, we are seeing manufacturers closing their doors because of the big structural shift to manufacturing in low cost countries” says Karen.

Karen Stanton recording the inaugural Voices of Innovation podcast

But unlike many competitors, Heat Treatment Australia responded to the disruptive shift in their market not by slashing costs and attempting to compete on price, but by investing in technology, which allowed them to tap into emerging markets in advanced manufacturing. “We spotted the shift, so we moved into aerospace,” she says.

The family company invested heavily in research and development to achieve the leap into the aerospace sector.

And they were in the right location to make the leap. Queensland is fast becoming an international hub for niche manufacturing capabilities, products and solutions.

The Queensland Government is supporting this high-tech transformation with the $20 million Made in Queensland grants program, which assists small-to-medium manufacturers like Heat Treatment Australia to grow, innovate and create jobs for the future.

Investing in high-tech patent, product and process has given Heat Treatment Australia a unique advantage against global competitors. They have expanded operations in Melbourne, Sydney and Los Angeles, with more growth on the horizon.

Karen is now part of the government-industry advisory group working with Queensland’s Department of State Development; helping other SMEs develop the vision and agility to see disruption as opportunity.

This week, she’s sharing her company’s journey from low to high tech as part of the Department of State Development’s Voices of Innovation podcast live at Myriad 2017.

The three-day Myriad festival builds on the success of the 2016 Advance Queensland Innovation and Investment Summit, providing opportunities for Queenslanders to network with international innovators and investors.

Want to hear more but can’t attend? Karen’s story and the “Voices of Innovation” podcast is available below.

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