Pivots that paid off

How 3 Aussie manufacturers found a new niche.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to think creatively and adapt to the year’s unique set of challenges. Three organisations in particular have performed spectacular pivots, refocusing their efforts on the health industry to keep people safe while opening up exciting new business opportunities. Here’s how they did it, what they learnt and their advice for other businesses during this tough time.

Producing lifesaving ventilators

When the world was just becoming aware of COVID-19 in January 2020, Sydney-based health manufacturer ResMed knew, through its own modelling, that the virus would create unprecedented global demand for ventilators. ResMed develops digital health technologies and cloud-connected medical devices to treat people with sleep apnoea, COPD and other chronic respiratory diseases, but ventilators made up less than 10% of its business.

So ResMed quickly pivoted its manufacturing operations to produce more of these lifesaving devices, despite the higher costs of device components, reduced availability of components, and the challenge of keeping frontline employees safe.

In the first six months, teams produced a record 150,000-plus ventilators – 3.5 times the company’s output over the same timeframe last year. Of those ventilators, 7,000 went into Australia’s stockpile, ready to treat tens of thousands of people. All this within rapidly changing health and business environments.

For ResMed, this success was achieved by reconfiguring teams to focus on the new priorities, including COVID-safe practices, and engaging with suppliers, customers and government in new and strategic ways – all while staying true to the company’s core purpose.  

“Our advice to other businesses at this time is to find and follow your North Star,” says Brendan Mullins, VP Global Manufacturing and Engineering. “ResMed may have pivoted its entire business, but we did these things in service to our mainstay mission and priorities: preservation of life and employee safety. That resolve enabled 7,500 ResMedians to make seismic shifts that might seem daunting to other multinational corporations.”

Protecting Indigenous communities

In Western Australia, another business pivoted to produce new health products, connecting customers with communities for global cooperation and discovering a whole new way to deliver on its vision.

Born out of Aboriginal desert nomads’ cultural responsibility to safeguard the Australian sandalwood tree (Dutjahn) found deep in the Gibson Desert, Dutjahn Sandalwood Oils sources and supplies sandalwood oil. It’s a 50:50 partnership between the Dutjahn Custodians, which represent the Martu and Wongi Nations, and W.A. Sandalwood Plantations, and it’s won national and international awards for its innovative, ethical business model.

Over 90% of the organisation’s revenues come from luxury fragrance exports, so when COVID-19 hit, it faced potential cash flow collapse. Of even greater concern was the danger the coronavirus posed to WA’s isolated Indigenous desert communities. So Dutjahn shifted its focus.

Leveraging the power of partnerships, the business signed an Australian-first deal with Givaudan, a global fragrances giant, and Melbourne skincare company Aesop to produce and distribute 250,000 sanitiser sachets, containing antimicrobial sandalwood oil, to Indigenous communities.

Through staying relevant to customers by keeping them engaged in the project and tapping into their desire to assist, Dutjahn increased its exports by 44% for the 2020 financial year and increased net profits by 220% – an incredible achievement in such a difficult year.

“Nature-based solutions are one of our most important allies,” says Guy Vincent, Chief Executive Officer. “Business needs to be bold and understand that ethical business is good business.”

Stopping the virus in its tracks

Another manufacturer saw an opportunity to reduce virus transmission by creating protective surfaces. Northern Territory-based company SPEE3D manufactures metal parts and developed the world’s first metal 3D printer.  The company exports to Asia-Pacific, the US and Europe, so the arrival of COVID-19 caused major challenges.

SPEE3D realised it could pivot to keep its business going while helping the community at a crucial time – and this became a priority. So the business reworked its 3D metal printing technology to produce copper-based antimicrobial coatings, which help reduce virus transmission on surfaces such as door handles and railings.

Thanks to SPEE3D, copper fixtures have now been installed in buildings at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Swinburne University in Melbourne and the University of Delaware in the US, and SPEE3D is partnering with other organisations to rapidly deploy these products where they’re most needed.

Says Steven Camilleri, Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder: “Our proudest moment has been developing our technology into a useful tool to make an impact against COVID-19.”

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