Line Zero – Factory of the Future a partnership approach towards the growth of South Australia


Where the air used to vibrate with the sounds of heavy manufacturing, it now resonates with the buzz of new technologies and collaboration at the Tonsley Innovation District, as what was once home to Chrysler and Mitsubishi manufacturers is transformed into Line Zero – Factory of the Future.

Based on Industry Catapult centres in the UK, Line Zero – Factory of the Future is a major research and training partnership between BAE Systems Maritime Australia, Flinders University, the Innovative Manufacturing CRC, Cisco and the South Australian Government, bringing together education, industry and government to facilitate the implementation of Industry 4.0.

The facility will connect SMEs to sectors that are key to the growth of South Australia, including the $90 billion Defence shipbuilding industry based at the Osborne Naval Shipyard.

“The key thing about the technologies is they are nothing new in themselves – we are looking at the use of robots and cobots, automated goods delivery, track and trace of parts and safety technologies – but it’s really about the application into the shipyard,” says Sharon Wilson, continuous naval shipbuilding strategy director at BAE Systems, which currently has 30 people working directly at Line Zero. “We’re putting people at the heart of technology: It’s about how people can use that technology in our environment.”

The research aims to support the development of world-class digital shipbuilding in South Australia. While initially concentrated around the $35 billion Hunter class frigate program currently under way at Osborne, the lessons learned will be transferred to other industries. “The key thing we want to achieve is for SMEs across industry to see this technology in a working environment and hopefully use that as part of what they do,” Wilson says. “We’re not fussy about sharing with just defence companies – the intent is that the whole of industry can benefit from the work we’re doing at Line Zero. There’s no point in BAE Systems knowing all the cool stuff and our supply chain not.”

Also key is building a workforce to take advantage of the opportunities presented by Line Zero, both now and into the future. “We want people to rethink a career in shipbuilding, that it’s more than welding,” Wilson says. “Even if people are contemplating a career being a in welding, we have the ability to program welding robots, so it’s starting to move people’s work from purely manual labour to a digital environment.”

Last year, BAE Systems teamed with Flinders University, state and federal governments as well as its Defence customers to offer a Diploma in Digital Technologies. Designed to upskill the current workforce, the diploma provides students with an understanding of Industry 4.0 approaches and digital design. “That was a fantastic collaboration: those students did their final project at Line Zero, which linked that education piece in to what we are trying to achieve,” Wilson says. “We’re hoping to extend what we’re doing with students into the future.”


While the Hunter class frigates are one of BAE Systems’ major contracts, there are plenty of other projects underway at the company – so much so that it is looking to expand its workforce considerably over the next 12 months.

“In South Australia we also have our Jindalee Operational Radar Network, we sustain periscopes for the Collins Class submarines and manufacture parts for the Lockheed Martin F-35s,” says Danielle Mesa, chief people officer at BAE Systems. “Over the next year or so we’re looking to hire at least 250 people through different pathways.”

Those pathways include work experience, internship programs, apprenticeships and traineeships. “We’re also kicking off with our first STEM returnist program, to encourage STEM professionals who may have left the discipline to come back,” Mesa says.

The roles on offer provide exciting opportunities to work within Industry 4.0. “We have an incredible focus around systems engineers, software engineers, IT, hardware design (which incorporates complex combat ship systems), project management procurement and a lot of functional roles that underpin the growth in our business,” Mesa says.

“Future industries are not in the future – we’ve had them for the past 10 years: they’re just rapidly increasing upon us. So we are doing a lot of work to make sure we systematically review our short, medium and long-term demands in terms of labour and skills.”

For BAE Systems, the economic catalyst associated with defence is substantial. “For every 10 jobs we create in BAE Systems Australia, there are another 23 created in the supply chain and the community, so it’s in our best interest to partner with our competitors, supply chain and industry to create opportunities across the board,” Mesa says.

With long-term contracts such as that for the Hunters on its books, shoring up a pipeline of talent is key. “Having a career in Defence is the only industry in Australia where you can be pretty much guaranteed a job for life,” Mesa says. “Our focus and programs are long-term so we need to ensure we are sustaining both the labour and the skills to service that work.”

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