Our recent survey to measure the pulse of the Australian composites sector revealed heartening results that counterpoint COVID-19 manufacturing conditions. When asked to rate business conditions since COVID-19 hit in early 2020, 62 per cent of respondents have experienced growth of either up to, or more than 20 percent. Continuing the positivity, 70 per cent responded as being ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the future of manufacturing in Australia – with only 8 per cent ‘pessimistic.’
Undoubtedly, manufacturing conditions were challenging with supply chain uncertainty plaguing almost all companies, so too the rise in raw material prices and increased costs due to pandemic conditions, particularly in Victoria. Labour and skills shortages also dogged most manufacturers across the country, with 92 per cent indicating that the pandemic had heightened the pre-existing skills and labour shortage.
Coming out of a year like no other, it wasn’t surprising that the future is not expected to be ‘business as usual.’ All respondents anticipate having to pass on raw material price rises by increasing their selling prices. As a foil for the labour shortage, 70 per cent of respondents indicated they will be spending on new equipment and have plans to automate where possible. Equally, over 70 per cent indicated that they will be increasing their workforce in the near future, with close to 40 per cent actively seeking engineering expertise.
ABS data on the volumes of fibreglass imports for 2020/21 financial year shows an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year across the three relevant tariff codes – validating the results of the survey. This equates to an additional 2,500 (20 ft) containers on the previous year. And given shipping times, these orders are likely to have been placed at the height of the pandemic.