A Quickstep into creating more high-skilled local jobs

High-tech manufacturer and supplier of parts to the world’s biggest stealth fighter jet program, Quickstep, has plans to expand its Geelong technology facility, creating more high-skill local jobs. 

Australia’s biggest independent manufacturer of carbon fibre composites moved its research and development centre from Germany to Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus in 2015.

Quickstep Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Mark Burgess said that Geelong’s proud history as a centre for car-making had provided a competitive edge to the Australian share market listed firm.

“We have plans to expand the site,” Mr Burgess said.

“I’m confident that over the next 12 to 24 months, we will add a good number of employees. We’ve got some really significant ambitions for the business.” Mark Burgess, CEO, Quickstep

Following the departure of Ford, Geelong’s manufacturing sector is transitioning towards advanced manufacturing in new speciality areas such as carbon fibre.

Quickstep staff at the Waurn Ponds site did the design work for new advanced processes and technologies that will help increase the involvement of home-grown businesses in supplying the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program.

A new $7 million facility, located at Quickstep’s site at Sydney’s Bankstown Airport, is entering final commissioning for the production of housings for F-35 flares.

Flares are released by the aircraft as a decoy to protect it from heat-seeking missile strike.

From November, the first units will be supplied to pyrotechnic and countermeasures company Chemring, which is based in the north-east Geelong town of Lara and makes the flares.  

Mr Burgess said the value of that facility was “significant” and “it’s been generated predominantly out of the team in the Ponds”.  

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said that advanced manufacturing is critical to growth and productivity for all Australians.

“The nation is well-placed because of its high-skilled workforce and political and economic stability,” Ms Westacott said.

“But we need to address the challenges of high production costs and complex regulatory frameworks.” Jennifer Westacott, CEO, Business Council of Australia

Mr Burgess said the Advanced Fibre Cluster Geelong – a group of innovative local companies including Quickstep – could put the region at the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing. 

“In our industry a lot of the best technological development comes out of those kinds of clusters in the northwest of England, southwest of England, the Ruhr Valley in Germany, and around Madrid,” Mr Burgess said.

“In most countries in the world you get that clustering effect and it drives an awful lot of development within the industry. And Geelong is about the closest we’ve gotten to it. We’re really keen to see that develop and grow.”

Mr Burgess said he would like to see the Geelong cluster promoted at a national level to “avoid any unnecessary duplication” of clusters and to send the message, “this is a nationally-meaningful capability and globally relevant”.

Quickstep makes parts for the F-35, as well as wing flaps for the C-130 military transport aircraft. It has also made parts for Boeing Defence on its F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15. Across Australia, Boeing employs more than 3,500 people. In 2016, according to an economic impact report prepared by Oxford Economics, Boeing’s activities supported 9,300 direct and indirect jobs. Boeing has more than 1500 suppliers located across Australia, of which 50 per cent are small and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr Burgess said he wants to grow in the commercial aerospace and advanced industry sectors.

At the Geelong site, Quickstep has started manufacturing carbon fibre parts for a portable super-lightweight X-ray machine being developed by South Australia’s Micro-X. It is also producing a carbon fibre ramp for wheelchair access to trains for Victoria’s Lockelec Innovation, which in turn supplies rail operators. The company has 11 staff, predominantly engineers, in its R&D and technology centre at Geelong and is currently recruiting another engineer.