Driving Our Future: Launceston's Definium Technologies has embraced a new future for advanced manufacturing

FUTURE: Definium Technologies owner Mike Cruse is paving a new way for manufacturing in Tasmania by producing IT motherboards for local, national and international clients. Picture: Scott Gelston

FUTURE: Definium Technologies owner Mike Cruse is paving a new way for manufacturing in Tasmania by producing IT motherboards for local, national and international clients. Picture: Scott Gelston

When one door closes, a window often opens.

The national and statewide manufacturing industry has been undergoing immense change, with the loss of car manufacturing in Australia.

The final car manufacturing plant, Toyota’s Altona plant in Victoria, closed its doors last year.

On the state front, the shut down of Caterpillar’s North-West operations in Burnie in 2015 sent shockwaves through the industry.

CAT announced in April 2015 about 280 of its 400 Burnie jobs would go, with Burnie underground mining equipment manufacturing to be moved to Thailand.

The past year in manufacturing in Launceston has painted a grim tale.

In the past year alone, at least three advanced manufacturing businesses in Launceston have shut down or moved operations outside of Tasmania.

After 70 years in business Elster Metering, that had a factory in Launceston closed their doors in October. As a result, 28 people lost their jobs.

Hazard Systems, who also had an office in Launceston, announced in November it would centralise all operations to Melbourne. This decision left 24 employees displaced. Finally, 12 jobs were lost in December when concrete products supplier Holcim also announced it would close its Launceston operations.

The company decided it would cease its Tasmanian concrete pipe and precast manufacturer Humes, after a market review revealed it was unviable to operate in the long term.

However, in a back room of a small office space in Launceston, the revolution of manufacturing in Tasmania is taking place.

Definium Technologies is the brain child of Tasmanian man Mike Cruse, who started as a one-man operation in 2006.

Demand is absolutely outstripping supply at the moment; we can’t keep up. - Mike Cruse, Definium Technologies

The company was born in Colorado in the US but when Mr Cruse and his family wished to return to his home state in 2008, he brought the business with him.

“I was a bit worried about what I would do, but then I decided that I really enjoyed this [Definium] so figured we’d just bring it back with us,” he said.

“I just like building things.”

The business was initially run from the garage of their Invermay home but as demand for the products grew, it soon moved into its new headquarters in Launceston.

Definium Technologies manufactures IT motherboards that can be programmed to be used in any computing and technological product.

“We are working on some [motherboards] that will be used for temperature control in taxis in Las Vegas,” he said.

“Other things we are working on some that will be used in audio therapeutic systems in Texas.”

Locally, the company has partnered with Sense-T to develop digital sensors to be used in its tourism, agriculture and aquaculture research.

What started as a one-man operation now has three full time employees and two casual and Mr Cruse said he has plans to employ more in the future.

“Demand is absolutely outstripping supply at the moment; we can’t keep up.”

The small business received a boost from the state government after it was the recipient of funds from the Caterpillar Transition Taskforce. Definium received two grants worth a combined total of nearly $57,000 as part of the advanced manufacturing transition fund, that was set up to assist displaced workers.

Mr Cruse said the funds came at a “critical time.”

It allowed Definium to purchase an oven that sped up the drying time of the motherboards.

In addition Mr Cruse also recently partnered with the University of Tasmania who helped him purchase automated equipment for the motherboard production line.

“[Advanced manufacturing] is just like industrial home economics,” he said.

Mr Cruse likened the process to being “like a huge sewing machine.”

The blank board is placed into a soldering machine that places wet solder onto spots for the individual pieces.

After that, the board is sent down the production line automatically to the jewel-in-the-crown machine that uses a robotic arm to select each component and place them onto each place on the board.

The boards are programmed depending on their use and the machine has been designed to run 24 hours a day for its whole life.

It’s the only machine of its kind in the country and can place, if worked to its limit, 20,000 components in an hour.

Mr Cruse said the machine, that had meant his production line is fully automatic, had increased their output level.

“We can do 100 component boards in one day,” he said.

After the robotic “sewing machine” the board is sent to the oven to dry, to make sure the connections between the solder and the board are sound.

To check that, Definium has an industrial x-ray machine that can check each electronic connection has been made.

Mr Cruse said he hoped to build his reputation and grow his Tasmanian customer base because he believed it was important for Definium to play its part in the community.

“It’s hugely satisfying to be back in Tasmania,” he said.

He said the future of Definium looked bright, with hopes to expand his employee base, grow the demand among Tasmanian customers and the company also has a number of products nearly ready for commercial sale.

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