In playgrounds, parks and foreshores across Australia, people are sitting on trailblazing South Australian street furniture built on a foundation of innovation and collaboration sparked at Tonsley Innovation District.
When Specialised Solutions wanted to take their traditional manufacturing business to the next level, they only had to look within the precinct to find the right partners.
The company, founded by Bronte Modra, had moved into Tonsley in 2016 to build on its vision to transform the humble park bench into smart-tech outdoor furniture that keeps people connected.
It had already installed solar powered benches in nearby Marion but wanted to push innovation further by equipping the off-grid units with integrated charges, LED lighting, public wi-fi and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to improve digital equality, particularly for those living in rural communities.
“To find the Smart Cities solutions we needed a partner,” Specialised Solutions business development manager Brad Riddle, who joined the company in 2019, said.
“And whenever we look for partners, we always look in the precinct first, and that’s where companies like SAGE Automation came in.”
SAGE Automation, a leader and specialist in industrial automation, was an important early partner, providing its SAGE Edge IoT componentry to power the hidden wizardry inside the off-grid SEDI range of outdoor furniture.
The first SEDI rolled off the production line in 2019 and today there are more than 100 across metropolitan and regional Australia.
Specialised Solutions is producing 50 pieces each year from its 5500sqm factory at Tonsley – the old tool shop of the former Mitsubishi factory – and has secured its first export order to the US.
The Middle East and Europe have also expressed interest in the units.
“What we’re doing now is refining the product to become export ready; the size, shape, weight, all those considerations and that’s where we will lean more on our precinct partners to help,” Mr Riddle said.
“Being in this precinct drives our innovation and our desire to move beyond traditional manufacturing.
“It’s been a real key in our thinking of ‘how do we take the next step in our evolution?’ and ‘what is our next step?’ – do we start looking at 3D printing?
“It’s great that we have both styles of manufacturing [traditional and high value] in the precinct; we can help each other solve problems – it’s a symbiotic relationship.”
Specialised Solutions has also collaborated with precinct partners Flinders University and Renewal SA on solar charging and EV chargers, modular buildings for BAE Systems and Renewal SA, componentry for TESLA and many more.
Mr Riddle, who has a background in economic and community development and worked in regional development in SA, recognises the value of the SEDI product in improving lives.
“It’s our company’s philosophy that everyone should have access to good connectivity and quality furniture,” he said.
Clients include councils, universities, and even homeless shelters, where there is a need for displaced people to have somewhere to charge their mobile phones.
“We’re seeing the youth engaged with this furniture too, particularly in Whyalla, where the kids will sit down and charge their phones and it creates a point of activity for them,” Mr Riddle said.
“We’re still looking at how we innovate, provide more activation in the furniture, for example e-scooter chargers, but broadly, how can we solve some of our social and community development through a piece of furniture.
“Technology is advancing, with AI and everything else, so we’ll just keep looking at what we can deliver for communities and continue to work with our precinct partners to help deliver the solutions.”
Mr Riddle said the critical importance of being at Tonsley Innovation District was the ‘collaboration and the culture it creates’.
“Every time we go up into the MAB, or you’re going to have breakfast or lunch, you’re catching up with people you know, be it SAGE or TAFE,” he said.
“That integration of education and the businesses, is also critical; and being able to get students involved is an important way to deliver on skills and training.”
The relationship Specialised Solutions has forged in Tonsley has also cultivated an “open workshop policy” where project partners including SAGE and BAE can “drop in” and work on projects like an extension of the Specialised team.
“Often we build the chassis for SAGE’s switch rooms, the SAGE technicians will come down and work in our workshop and fit it all out,” Mr Riddle said.
“Having that space we have with overhead cranes, that traditional big manufacturing where we can make noise, really helps partners in the precinct.”
For more information about Specialised Solutions and their Sedi smart furniture visit specsolutions.com.au
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