||Technology in Australia 1788-1988
Table of Contents
II The Australian Chemical Industry
IV Chemists In Other Industries
V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis
VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links
VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories
VIII The Plastics Industry
i Plastics processing
ii Phenol - basis of the first plastic
iii Plastics - the first generation
iv Plastics - the second generation - from petrochemicals
v Styrene monomer - the West Footscray petrochemical complex
vi The Botany petrochemical complex
vii The petrochemical complex at Altona
viii CSR - from sugar alcohol to petrochemical OXO alcohol
IX The Paint Industry
The ingredients of successful technology and technology transfer (continued)
The technologists. The needs for a major petrochemical venture extend over a range of skills, technical, operating, engineering, construction, maintenance and commercial. What was critical in an enterprise of this size and complexity was the correct assessment of problems, resources required, collective experience, timing and, particularly in a co-operative venture between several parties, effective co-ordination. In the Altona Complex, all these technologies were essentially imported -by bringing in people with the required skills, by sending Australians overseas to acquire them, or by a continuing interchange and dialogue on management and technology. The end result was that in Australia an educated trained corps of people was established, who are now fully competent by world standards. Many have subsequently sought fulfilment in other Australian industries, both for personal promotion and to bring their new skills into the community.
Government intervention. Because of balance of payments problems, the Menzies Government had imposed import restrictions for some years before the creation of the Complex. The early feasibility studies were thus based on the assumption of a fairly secure access to the Australian market. In the event, with the start-up of the several plants in the Complex planned to take place in late 1961, import restrictions were abandoned in early 1961. In 1974 the Federal Government cut all protective tariffs by 25 per cent and in 1987 the Government introduced further drastic cuts, below the levels of protection prevailing in many industrialised countries. The fundamental basis for the Altona companies' feasibility studies and for their investment had changed. The various chemical manufacturers found themselves exposed to severe import competition, particularly from countries where the raw material -oil or gas -was available at very low prices and not so severely taxed by Government.
The Australian product slate. Although many of the products made at Altona could be designated as commodities made to worldwide standards it was necessary for the companies to tailor their products to the unique needs of the Australian community. This was done by local technologists. The companies developed a diversity of grades in single line facilities, in excess of 50 different products, grades and packs to meet individual customer needs. It did so in facilities designed for essentially four products. The Australian process managements developed unique skills in making these relatively short production runs of diverse materials. The companies of the Altona Complex entered production in Australia with a time disadvantage in 1961. By tight planning and co-ordination they established a unique co-operative venture rapidly to the level where, collectively, the seven companies represented the largest complex dedicated exclusively to petrochemicals in Australia, with a production volume of about 780 million and a capital value estimated at around 1000 million dollars. The dominant problem in manufacturing and research, and ultimately in other skill based enterprises too, is and will remain the disadvantage of scale. To bring together ventures in a complicated fit of interdependent product streams and market demands and to manage divergent corporate interests is one way of overcoming the scale problem. It is a task of extraordinary complexity requiring high levels of skill in technology, management and even diplomacy. This skill is a key element in Australia's evolution to a technology based economy.
Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Altona Petrochemical Complex
© 1988 Print Edition page 713, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher