A collaboration with a vineyard supplies company is helping a South Australian car component manufacturer stay in business as Holden and Toyota prepare to close.
Conma Industries has made components for the car industry for 35 years but as the Australian industry winds down it has had to diversify.
It began making parts used to repair metal vineyard trellis posts for another Adelaide company Ocvitti about six years ago. The products have enjoyed success in California following a ban on toxic wooden vineyard posts there in 2000.
However, the introduction in 2015 of Ocloc trellis posts and entire vineyard systems designed for Australian vineyards has seen business boom.
Conma Industries General Manager Richard Rebbeck said he expected vineyard products to soon become the largest part of the business.
He said although there was still demand for after market car components the new car component side of the company was almost finished.
“It used to be the biggest part of our business but over time Mitsubishi closed and then Ford went last year and production is winding down at Toyota and Holden so it’s been drying up over a period of time,” Rebbeck said.
Conma Industries has also diversified into other industries such as the manufacture of heat exchangers for air conditioning units and metal pressings for rural pipefittings.
“It’s always a challenge, you’ve just got to get out there and be known as a good supplier and innovative and people come and talk to you,” Rebbeck said.
“The more these products get out in the field the more people see them and want them.”
This week the company received a $328,700 grant from the South Australian Government’s Automotive Supplier Diversification Program to progress its diversification into the wine sector.
Conma will use the funding to help manufacture specialised tooling and to modernise and expand machinery to develop additional products that will enhance the Ocloc steel trellis system range and support further growth in the horticultural market.
The company manufactured about 100,000 posts in the past year and will have the capacity to produce up to 250,000 posts next year.
The metal posts can be used to replace broken treated pine posts, of which there are millions in Australia every year, or be used as a cheaper, more durable alternative to the traditional toxic wooden posts when establishing new vineyards.
Design features include soft wire holes to stop wire from wearing, high-tensile steel and a zinc-aluminium alloy coating, Galfan, which gives the posts twice the lifespan as galvanized steel.
Ocvitti has more than 200 Australian vineyards on its books and also has a company in California manufacturing its products under licence for the American market.
Artificial intelligence to streamline wine manufacturing and significantly increase production.
South Australian tech firm Ailytic has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) program to significantly increase production efficiency by optimising machine use.
It uses an AI technique called ‘prescriptive analytics’ to account for all the variables that go into mass-producing wines such as grape variety, packaging and finished product inventory.
The program then creates the best possible operation schedule, allowing companies to save considerable time and money.
Ailytic’s list of clients includes world-renown wine companies such as Pernod Ricard, Accolade Wines and Treasury Wine Estates.
It has now included South Australian company Angove Family Winemakers as well.
Pernod Ricard Global Business Solutions Manager Pauline Paterson said AI was highly beneficial for the wine industry and helped to increase the bottom line.
“We use it mainly around production line and use it to derive the most efficient way to produce our product,” she said.
“It is definitely helpful with changeover, how many bottles we need, how much wine and what order to do everything in.”
Ailytic’s system is able to obtain essential information from wineries using remote sensors, which are placed on equipment and around winemaking facilities.
These sensors track a number of key metrics including throughput, machine uptime and changeover time from red to white when bottling.
This includes the sub-classification of each colour such as sweet red, dry red, aromatic white and fortified wines.
Ailytic’s program ensures that wine is changed quickly, without contamination, bottled using appropriate glassware, labelled and then packaged appropriately.
The sensors then transmit the data to a computer in real time using Wi-Fi.
A single production run for bottling can take anywhere between one hour to two days but Ailytic’s system reduces time spent changing the line setup by up to 30 per cent.
Pernod Ricard is the world’s second leading wine and spirits company, with a network of growers across six countries and €8.68 billion in sales in 2015.
Its brands include Jacobs Creek, Campo Viejo, Brancott Estate, Kenwood Vineyards and Wyndham Estate.
Ailytic co-founder and CEO James Balzary said the company’s AI program was perfect for the wine industry because it thrived in complex environments.
“Our algorithms work well for things like packaging, bottling and general manufacturing – the wine industry is where we are seeing a lot of appetite and the most uptake,” he said.
“People think of wine as a romantic artisan type of process, and it is, when you are producing small batches or super-premium wine, but the majority of wines we drink are mass manufactured in big complex tank operations. That’s where we come in – the more complex the business, the bigger the benefit.”
He said wattleseed’s subtle nutty aroma and hints of chocolate and coffee when roasted were well suited to the brewing process.
“It’s a really crisp, clean lager with some secondary characteristics of honey and toasted peanuts on the back end,” he said.
“There’s a lot of interest in it but it’s very early days for the product.
“It’s currently a tap offer only but we’ll be going to a packaged format soon.”
Wattleseed has been part of the diet of indigenous Australians for thousands of years and was traditionally ground into a flour.
Adelaide-based Something Wild Beverages is a division of native food company Something Wild Australia, which specialises in sustainably sourced indigenous foods such as kangaroo, wallaby, magpie goose, native herbs and fruits.
Something Wild is majority owned by famous Northern Territory Australian rules football family the Motlops and is committed to promoting the ethical, sustainable and permitted use of native Australian ingredients.
The Wattleseed Lager launch at Skycity Darwin on July 4 will coincide with the Northern Territory launch of Something Wild Beverages.
“As an Indigenous-owned company it’s great to be able to come home and show people how we’re shaking up the Australian food and beverage industry,” said Managing Director and part-owner Daniel Motlop.
“By working with traditional land-owners we can create opportunities and outcomes for the Indigenous communities who not only harvest products, but also hold a wealth of knowledge about how to use them.”
Something Wild Beverages teamed up with Adelaide Hills Distillery in February to launch Australian Green Ant Gin, which features a “pinch” of green ants in each bottle in the same way worms are used in tequila to provide the finishing touch.
Mismatch brews out of the same facility as Adelaide Hills Distillery and Kline said more Something Wild beverages were on the way.
“If we can get them out before the end of the year that would be good but the demand for the Green Ant Gin has been quite high and hopefully the lager will go quite well,” he said.
“The satisfying thing about the gin is that most people said it was going to be a gimmick but the actual liquid inside the bottle is of such a high quality that it is ensuring it keeps going and we have also have that commitment to sourcing native botanicals using the permit system.
“Mismatch Brewing and Adelaide Hills Distillery are soon to commission their new plant so we should have plenty of capacity to start playing and creating some more beverages then.”
A thriving pasta industry in South Australia thanks to a unique collaboration between farmers, durum wheat researchers and a major food manufacturer.
Almost no durum wheat was grown in southern Australia until the 1990s when Adelaide-based San Remo Macaroni Company and a handful of growers approached the University of Adelaide about developing varieties that could handle the often-harsh conditions in South Australia.
Two decades and several new varieties later and the southern region of Australia is producing durum wheat and pasta of such high quality it is being snapped up around the globe.
San Remo has been manufacturing pasta in the South Australian capital since 1936 but relied on durum wheat grown in northern New South Wales, about 1500km from Adelaide, for many years.
Durum wheat breeder Jason Able from the University’s School of Agriculture, Food & Wine said the unique “closed triangle” relationship between researchers, growers and San Remo had allowed the southern region to rival the much older northern Australian region in production and quality.
He said the relationship also allowed San Remo to operate more efficiently, manufacture a 100 per cent durum wheat product and build an association in conjunction with growers.
“We’re very fortunate that through the grower association and the end user San Remo we’ve got a very unique relationship here where the breeding program works closely with the growers and San Remo,” Associate Professor Able said.
“We’ve got the basic fundamental science where it starts, which then feeds into the breeding program, followed by the growers, buyers and end users – the whole supply chain.”
South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent on earth.
The durum breeding program was started at the University of Adelaide by Professor Tony Rathjen who used traditional non-GMO breeding methods to cross breed germplasm from arid regions such as the Middle East and Turkey. The program now uses markers to identify genetic signatures in particular germplasm for traits such as salinity and boron tolerance.
It takes 8-12 years, many trial sites and quality evaluation to develop a new variety through to commercial release.
A University of Adelaide durum wheat field trial in South Australia. Picture: Steve Adcock.
“In those early days it was tough and Tony did a lot from a breeding point of view to develop suitable germplasm for our conditions and I guess we’ve been able to take it another step with some of the technologies we’ve been able to incorporate from a molecular level,” Assoc Prof Able said.
San Remo’s specifically designed durum wheat mill in Adelaide is one of the largest and most sophisticated in Southeast Asia and Australia and is used to test the manufacturing value of new varieties.
“Before we even release a variety we generate enough grain – 30-50 tonnes – so San Remo can make product and give it their tick of approval,” Assoc Prof Able said.
“We can then move forward with confidence knowing that we are delivering something that the growers are going to want because San Remo wants it.
“Why is it that Italians would want to buy San Remo pasta when they know it is an Australian company? Because they know it’s top shelf durum that’s being used.”
Australia has a huge grain industry dominated by the production of bread wheat and barley. But flat world prices have many farmers looking to plant alternative grain varieties such as durum, which still accounts for less than 5 per cent of Australia’s wheat production.
Bread wheat is currently selling at about AU$230 a metric tonne while durum is fetching AU$330 a tonne.
The university has released four new varieties since 2010, including DBA-Aurora in 2014, which has been hailed as a “turning point”.
The new Aurora variety has led to increased yields in more marginal areas and greater resilience to disease.
Assoc Prof Able said the gains from Aurora had made durum even more attractive to farmers.
But he said significant breeding programs for bread wheat and barley in Australia meant it was a constant challenge to develop varieties which will be competitive in the market place.
The next durum variety will more than likely be released by the university in September 2018 with a further variety due for launch in 2020 or 2021.
“I think we laid the golden egg a couple of years ago with the Aurora variety, which is doing very well, but we can’t rest on our laurels,” Assoc Prof Able said.
“We need another variety that matches it or is better because if we rely solely on one or two varieties it is a disaster waiting to happen.”
The rise of the southern region, which includes South Australia, western Victoria and southern New South Wales, has helped San Remo become Australia’s largest pasta manufacturer producing some 750 products and exporting to more than 30 countries, including Italy.
Durum has been grown in New South Wales since the 1950s in areas that have higher rainfall and more nutrient rich soils than southern Australia.
Global durum production is typically between 30 and 40 million metric tonnes a year.
Australia exports a little over half of the 500,000 – 600,000MT of durum wheat it grows a year. But it is the high quality of the clean, green grain, including protein levels consistently greater than 12 per cent that has Australian durum in demand globally.
The Australian industry was hit hard by a crippling drought and issues with crown rot disease in the 2000s but more favourable conditions and the release of new varieties has seen the quality and quantity of durum produced in recent years increase.
San Remo Milling Manager John Stuart said the company soon recognised that a “cut and paste” of the NSW durum industry was simply not going to have long-term success in South Australia.
“What was required was a strong collaboration with the SA breeding industry to ensure that growers had access to world class genetic material that met our local needs, as well as developing effective partnerships with growers who were prepared to grow with us as the industry progressively developed,” he said.
Stuart said niche crops in Australia such as durum needed support to maintain their appeal not only against more mainstream cereal crops but against the large durum producers such as North America and Europe.
“To ensure that Australian origin durum can be manufactured into pasta and be competitive globally, our breeders need to be supported,” he said.
“San Remo is happy to play a part in that support and does so not simply by financial contributions, but also in practical ways with in-kind services such as test milling.”
San Remo enters into land-based contracts with growers in southern Australia, locking in prices and quantities before harvest.
While this means the company consumes much of the southern crop each year, the surplus left over for export markets is not known until after harvest.
Grain marketing company Mellco works closely with domestic and international durum wheat processors.
Managing Director Steve Mellington said while the quality of durum from southern Australia was not in question the lack of continuity of international supply was a potential issue.
“The premium end of the market actively seeks out Australian origin durum,” he said.
“The international market is happy to embrace our product but they need to get that continuity to buy with confidence.”
Mellington said increasing production through a continued co-ordinated approach was the best way to shore up export volumes.
SADGA Chairman Alwyn Dyer first planted durum in the Kaniva district near the South Australian/Victorian border in 1994 and has had a contract with San Remo since 1995.
He said the development of better varieties had coincided with improved farming techniques as growers gained experience with durum in new environments.
“The relationship between the association and the university has been able to fast track the release of newer varieties that perform better in hostile environments and tough seasons,” Dyer said.
“Especially Aurora, it is a bit more tolerant and farmers have learnt to manage their durum crops better.
“If San Remo hadn’t of put the money in early on to support the industry and help get it off the ground along with the university, the industry would not have developed the way it has.”
Dyer said there was an increasing amount of uncontracted durum in southern Australia this season meaning there would likely be greater volumes available for export following the November harvest.
He said while many growers liked the security of fixed-price contracts, the larger and more stable supply for export markets would lead to greater competition among buyers.
X-ray technology is set to increase the efficiency of assessing ore grades and reduce the mining industry’s environmental footprint.
South Australian company Chrysos has developed a gold analysis process that is up to three times more accurate than conventional methods.
PhotonAssay uses high-powered x-ray machines to activate the gold in a given sample and measure the signal it gives off to quickly and accurately quantify how much gold is present.
The process also helps to reduce the environmental impact of mineral processing because it eliminates the need for toxic chemicals and lead.
Chrysos is setting up its first production unit in Western Australia, working in partnership with Ausdrill and MinAnalytical.
The company aims to have a smaller on-site model available next year to better support in-field exploration campaigns and make exporting its technology easier.
Chrysos CTO and PhotonAssay founder James Tickner said the AU$6m project to take the technology to market would address the inefficiencies of mineral processing.
“Technology is advancing and many industries are getting information in real-time and down the track we see the technology being deployed to mining sites so that we can provide quite substantial gains for the mining industry,” he said.
“The challenge the industry has at the moment is that the current methods for analysing gold ore are not fast enough and require too much work.
“Our process itself is not new but we have developed it further to be more accurate … it also has the potential to assess other metals as well like silver or copper.”
During the PhotonAssay procedure, a sample is put into a plastic screw top jar weighing about half a kilogram.
The jar is then placed on a conveyor belt inside Chrysos’ analysis machine where x-rays determine how much gold is in the sample.
Illustration of the PhotonAssay process where different metals are counted atom-by-atom after unique signatures are produced when a sample is hit with an X-ray beam.
Chrysos partnered with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to trial its technology in Canada last year. The results showed PhotonAssay was able to estimate the measurements of samples down to 30 parts per billion.
The level of precision depends on the amount of gold in each sample but for high-grade samples, the accuracy was within about one per cent.
Ausdrill’s COO of Australian Operations Andrew Broad said the destructive nature of contemporary procedures such as Fire Assays and the speed of PhotonAssay led the company to partner with Chrysos.
“There are two major issues with how things are done now with Fire Assays – they are quite laborious and it is quite difficult to get skilled labour in that field and they take anywhere between 24-48 hours to get results, reduced to just minutes using PhotonAssay,” he said.
“Fire Assay is also very destructive but with this (PhotonAssay) you can run further tests on a sample at a later date.”
Broad said one of the main benefits of PhotonAssay was its reduced environmental impact because it eliminated the need for dangerous chemicals and lead, which are used in other competing technologies.
Ausdrill plans to set up its first unit at a mine in Kalgoorlie about 600km east of Perth in Western Australia. It is projected to be up and running in December.
It then hopes to export the technology to other projects in Africa.