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Briefcase: Business snippets from around SA

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In this week’s briefcase, 3D metal printer AML3D wins a contract to produce an 8-tonne part for ExxonMobil, Archer Materials patents its quantum chip technology and Canberra defence contractor AeroPM sets up in Lot Fourteen.

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3D printer to produce 8-tonne part for oil giant

Large-scale 3D metal printing company AML3D has signed a $190,000 manufacturing purchase order with ExxonMobil to create the world’s largest 3D metal printed commercial pressure vessel.

The 8-tonne pressure vessel will be eight metres long and about 1.5 meters in diameter and printed in Adelaide from AML3D’s higher strength metal feedstock.

The listed company said it was chosen because of the advantages of its methods over traditional manufacturing and the significantly faster lead times.

“Production has significantly faster lead times to manufacture of around 12 weeks as opposed to a 12-month lead time for traditional manufacturing, allowing AML3D to address supply chain constraints that ExxonMobil was experiencing and to meet a September 2022 delivery deadline,” the company said in a statement to the market last week.

The large printed vessel will be produced in Adelaide using five of the company’s eight installed ARCEMY systems combined to construct the 8-tonne vessel.

AML3D Managing Director Andrew Sales said the deal with ExxonMobil was an example of its major focus on building capability and presence in the global Oil and Gas sector as an immediate value driver for the business.

“It is also pleasing to note that during discussions with ExxonMobil the advantages of AML3D’s technology over traditional manufacturing were a key consideration,” he said.

“Our proven WAM (wire additive manufacturing) technology disrupts traditional industrial-scale metal manufacturing by producing superior components with a significantly shorter production cycle and a far more sustainable methodology involving less waste and lower energy input.”

AML3D also recently printed what is currently the world’s largest 3D metal printed Oil & Gas high-pressure piping vessel, a 940kg monocoque “piping spool” component.

The piping spool was printed according to the new, stringent American Petroleum Institute (API) Standard 20S, has met all test acceptance criteria and has been verified by Lloyd’s Register.

NeuRizer strikes $1.5b urea deal

A render of the proposed urea processing plant near Leigh Creek.

The South Australian company aiming to turn gas from the former Leigh Creek coal mine into a million tonnes of urea fertiliser a year has signed a binding $1.5 billion deal to sell half of its annual production to a Korean multinational.

This morning’s announcement follows the granting of a state government licence last month allowing access for Adelaide-based NeuRizer to use a network of offices, sheds and warehouses at the former Leigh Creek mine site for the life of the project.

Last month, Korean company DL E&C also took a nine per cent stake in NeuRizer.

The $14.4 million investment (US$10 million) and offtake agreement are major coups for NeuRizer as it progresses the front-end engineering design (FEED) stage of the $2.6 billion project.

Daelim, a 100 per cent subsidiary of DL E&C will buy 500,000 tonnes of granular urea from NeuRizer for the first five years of operation with a contract value of $1.5 billion on forecast prices.

The listed SA company, formerly known as Leigh Creek Energy, already has significant Korean involvement.

Last year it awarded the Engineering, Procurement, Construction, Commissioning and Finance contract for the project to DL E&C Co.

The project has also received a letter of support from a major Korean bank for debt finance of up to $1.5 billion or 70 per cent of the turnkey price of the DL E&C construction contract.

It aims to become the largest underground coal gasification site in Australia and a globally significant producer of nitrogen-based fertiliser for agriculture.

The project, 550km north of Adelaide, will use unconventional technology to extract syngas from beneath the ground at the former coalfield and convert it into a million tonnes of urea a year for agricultural and industrial use.

A final investment decision is expected next year.

The project aims to create 1200 jobs with about 1000 of those on site. The former coal mine, which ceased operation in 2015, is serviced by a 250km rail line to Port Augusta.

The price of urea fertiliser has skyrocketed to about $1600 a tonne in the past year or so due to a number of factors including the war in Ukraine.

NeuRizer managing director Phil Staveley said the Daelim agreement secured significant revenue for the company.

“A further 50 per cent uncontracted urea supply allows us to remain agile to support domestic demand and take advantage of market pricing,” he said in a statement this morning.

“The continued global fertiliser crisis made a compelling case for DL Trading to shore up domestic supply from a reliable and cost-controlled source.”

SA economic recovery on track despite strain on household budgets

South Australia’s export performance will need to improve to compensate for an expected weakening of household and public sector consumption, according to the latest Economic Briefing Report from the University of Adelaide’s SA Centre for Economic Studies.

The report, released on Friday, says the state’s economic recovery is set to continue despite inflation and rising interest rates putting increased strain on household budgets.

“Aggregate spending within the state has grown strongly over the past year in response to strong growth in household consumption and public consumption spending, and a solid, though lockdown- interrupted, rise in dwelling investment,” the SACES report said.

“But with household and public sector consumption expected to weaken, the State’s export performance will need to improve to compensate.”

The SACES report also found:

These conclusions are contained in the latest Economic Briefing Report prepared by economists from the University of Adelaide’s SA Centre for Economic Studies (SACES).

SACES acting executive director Jim Hancock said the South Australian economy was expected to continue to grow at an above-trend pace in the short term.

“Household spending growth is likely to slow in response to cost-of-living pressures,” he said.

“But the reopening of the nation’s borders will facilitate a recovery in overseas migration which will provide a boost to population growth going forward. It will also help to relieve the inflationary pressures that come from very tight labour market conditions.”

However, Hancock said the global recovery had become “increasingly vulnerable”.

“Any worsening of the war in Ukraine would generate further disruptions and it is not yet clear how much global growth will slow as overseas interest rates are increased to curtail global inflationary pressures,” he said.

“In Australia, the Reserve Bank of Australia faces a delicate balancing act with monetary policy; it needs to return real interest rates to a neutral level with some haste.

“But borrowers have become accustomed to cheap credit and raising rates too far increases the risk of defaults and a major downturn in the housing market.”

Patent is quantum leap for Archer

Archer CEO and co-inventor of the ¹²CQ chip technology Dr Mohammad Choucair (left) and Quantum Technology Manager Dr Martin Fuechsle.

Adelaide-based Archer Materials has been granted a key Australian patent for its 12CQ quantum computing technology.

The patenting approval signals a step forward for the listed company in the race towards the world-first technology being used in everyday products, such as smartphones.

The tech company, which has an office in Adelaide’s Lot Fourteen innovation district, announced this month it now has commercial rights to its 12CQ chip invention.

Archer Materials chief executive officer Dr Mohammad Choucair said that once fully developed, it’s hoped the ultra-powerful 12CQ chip will be able to operate at room-temperature and integrated into everyday electronic devices.

“The patent protects a potential pathway and a proposed qubit processor chip to realise practical forms of computing,” Choucair said.

“Australia is a very important country when it comes to quantum computing and you’d be surprised how many Australians there are leading the way around the world and here in Australia we are at the forefront of quantum computing and quantum technology.

“So, having our patents approved here in Australia is something that’s very important for us and something that’s very significant for us.”

The classic computer uses “bits” to process information with each “bit” valued at either zero or one.

However, a quantum bit, or a qubit, can represent these values simultaneously to run machines faster.

While still early days, the CSIRO says the emerging technology could create more than 16,000 jobs and have an annual turnover of $4 billion annually by 2040.

Archer Materials now has chip-related patents in the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Europe.

It also has an office in Sydney and is also developing biochip technology in its prototype foundry.

 – Kurtis Eichler

Lot Fourteen adds defence firm

The Lot Fourteen innovation precinct on North Tce.

Defence contractor AeroPM has moved into offices in the Lot Fourteen innovation precinct as it attempts to take advantage of the growing number of defence projects slated for the state.

The professional services consultancy firm specialises in supporting the Australian Department of Defence to acquire complex and significant sovereign capabilities.

The Canberra company said the new Lot Fourteen location would help accelerate the company’s growth in the defence and space industries.

AeroPM’s Chief Executive Officer, Emily Frizell, said the new location would help accelerate the company’s growth.

“Lot Fourteen is a genuinely collegiate environment and the access to like-minded professionals and companies is just good for business,” AeroPM’s Chief Executive Officer Emily Frizell said.

“Our Adelaide team has grown strongly over the last three years and the maturation of the company into a second facility reflects our expectations that this growth will continue as the demand for premium consultancy support within the Defence environment will remain high.”

With experts in systems engineering, test and evaluation, program and project management, commercial and integrated logistics support, AeroPM supports critical acquisitions within the aerospace, land, maritime and joint domains.

The South Australian-based team lead the test and evaluation campaigns for key programs within the Air Warfare Centre at RAAF Base Edinburgh north of Adelaide, spearhead technology solutions for warfighting network applications and provide systems engineering, project management and integrated logistics support for counter-improvised explosive device capabilities.

Borrowers brace for another rate rise

There appears little doubt that the Reserve Bank of Australia will lift the cash rate again when its board meets tomorrow, the third monthly hike in a row.

If economists are correct, borrowers will be looking at another 50 basis point increase as the RBA tries to rein inflation as it balloons towards seven per cent this year from an already lofty 5.1 per cent.

In his recent public appearances, RBA governor Philip Lowe has made it clear that his board will do all that is necessary to bring inflation back to the two to three per cent target.

However, he appeared to rule out taking a lead from the US Federal Reserve, which last month jacked up its key rate by 75 basis points, the biggest move in nearly 30 years.

Lowe told a conference that he expects the RBA board will have the same discussion as it did in June when the options of 25 or 50 basis point increases were on the table.

Economists expect the cash rate will continue to climb in the coming months, reaching around two per cent by the end of the year compared with 0.85 per cent at present.

“The RBA wants to quickly lift rates to more ‘normal’ levels to slow the economy and stem inflationary pressures,” Commonwealth Securities chief economist Craig James said.

On the economic data front, further figures to be released in the next week will show how the economy was impacted by Australia’s first interest rate hikes in over a decade.

However, figures so far suggest the first increase, in May, had little impact.

The week kicks off with building approvals and lending figures on Monday from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

RBA figures released on Thursday showed that demand for credit in May held relatively steady, with annual growth at nine per cent – its highest since October 2008.

The ABS will also release international trade data on Thursday and payroll data for the fortnight to June 11, a precursor to a full labour force report due on July 14.

Separately, the weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index is due on Tuesday.

Confidence has been slowly grinding higher over the past couple of weeks after slumping nearly eight per cent to its lowest level since April 2020 after the last interest rate hike.

However, the level of confidence indicates that pessimists still far outweigh optimists.

Despite such gloom, figures last week showed retail spending hit a record high in May.

Meanwhile, Australian shares are poised to rise on Monday after global indexes lifted on Friday ahead of the US Fourth of July long weekend.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 321.83 points, or 1.05 per cent, to 31,097.26, the S&P 500 gained 39.95 points, or 1.06 per cent, to 3,825.33 and the Nasdaq Composite index added 99.11 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 11,127.85.

Australian futures were up 96 points, or 1.48 per cent, to 6545.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished Friday down 28.2 points, or 0.43 per cent, to 6539.9 after losses in the mining and energy sectors.

 – Colin Brinsden, AAP

Micro-X joins Major League

Micro X’s Edgar Nabua (left), Dan Ginsburg and George Hinton in Seattle. Photo supplied.

Adelaide hi-tech imaging company Micro-X is starting to make inroads into North America with the first sale of one of its mobile X-ray units to a major sporting club.

The Tonsley-based firm announced today it had sold one of its lightweight Rover x-ray systems to Major League Baseball team the Seattle Mariners.

The immediate delivery of the Rover x-ray system from Micro-X’s Seattle facility means the unit can be used to diagnose baseball injuries for the remainder of the 2022 baseball season, which ends in October.

Seattle Mariners senior director of high-performance Rob Scheidegger said the Rover was ideally suited for use in the professional sports environment.

“Having the ability to produce high-quality images from such a versatile and mobile unit right in our ballpark is a game-changer for our medical team,” he said.

The machines use carbon nanotube technology, with a simpler design and more reliable performance in a smaller, lighter and less complex unit than traditional mobile x-ray devices.

The sale comes as Micro-X looks to increase its activity in North America. The listed company this month signed a distribution agreement for Rover in the United States with Medlink Imaging, a nationwide dealer of radiographic equipment.

Medlink Imaging is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vieworks Co Ltd, a major global supplier of imaging plates, based in South Korea. A key element of the distribution agreement is an initial commitment to acquire US$0.72 million (A$1.0 million) of Rover mobile systems during the first year of the agreement and each year thereafter.

Micro-X managing director Peter Rowland said Vieworks was one of the largest suppliers of detectors worldwide and was well respected internationally.

“This relationship with their US distributor not only positions us well for the US market, but also positions us for further expansion globally,” he said.

Micro-X this month also announced it had struck an exclusive deal with Leader Healthcare Group to distribute its Rover in the UAE.

In March, Micro-X partnered with a US charity to provide four of its portable X-ray units to be used in Ukrainian hospitals.

The company is also developing a miniature CT Baggage Scanner that can be incorporated into automated airport checkpoints. The design of its prototype has been accepted for approval by the US Department of Homeland security.

Micro-X listed on the ASX in December 2015 shortly after relocating from Victoria to South Australia to establish a manufacturing hub at the Tonsley Innovation Precinct in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.

It launched its flagship lightweight mobile x-ray unit, the Nano, in 2017 and has since launched the more durable Rover version, which is designed for defence applications such as military field hospitals.

But the company is yet to make a profit and posted a $14.7 million loss after tax in 2020-21. It also reported a $9 million half-year loss in February.

Micro-X has a market capitalisation of about $64 million and a share price of $0.15 at Friday’s close, well down on its price of $0.33 a year ago.

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