Talking Circular Manufacturing in Australia and the Netherlands

Talking Circular Manufacturing in Australia and the Netherlands

In NovemberIntegra Systems announced a partnership with Dutch sheet metal solutions manufacturer Brink Industrial. This partnership is a groundbreaking one for the Australian manufacturing industry because of its circular manufacturing model and the possibilities it opens to similar cross-continental partnerships being formed.

We sat down with two people who were instrumental in facilitating this partnership – Consul-General and Head of the Economic Team at the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in Sydney, Frank van Beuningen; and Senior Policy Officer for Economic Affairs with the Netherlands Embassy in Canberra, Dai Forterre – to learn more about this important agreement for Australian and Dutch economic relations.

Integra: What was the role of the Netherlands diplomatic missions in bringing Brink and Integra Systems together?

Frank van Beuningen: “There are two stories to tell, actually. Firstly, for an economic team like ours, our business is to connect companies so they can explore future cooperation for mutual benefit, forming partnerships like this one between Integra and Brink. For me, I’ve worked in many countries and it is such a joy to see that, even between two countries from completely different parts of the world, like-minded entrepreneurs find each other and are able to cooperate.”

"What we do, as a diplomatic mission and as an economic team, is to facilitate introductions and bring people together. The actual cooperation is something the companies need to do themselves. For us, circular economy is a concept that is worthwhile in itself in the sense that it helps us to promote sustainability in business contacts and in how business is being conducted by Australian and Dutch companies."

"A circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy, which follows a ‘take, make, dispose’ model. The circular economy replaces this with a closed-loop system in which materials are used and reused as efficiently as possible, minimising resource use, pollution and carbon emissions. European and Australian authorities agree that a new and circular model is needed: where resources are kept in use for as long as possible, have the maximum value extracted from them while in use, and are recovered and regenerated into new products at their end-of-life.’’

‘’At its essence, a circular economy offers the opportunity to innovate and create jobs using sustainability as a prism. In the case of the Netherlands, this way of looking at innovation and economic development is based on a set of ambitious and clear goals. Our policy objectives are a 50 percent reduction in the use of primary raw materials by 2030, as well as the goal to be 100 percent circular in 2050. We find that these goals inspire not only our entrepreneurs, but also those abroad, thereby making it easier to facilitate business collaboration across the globe."

"Moreover, we see in the Netherlands that circularity thinking is, in fact, creating new jobs, new business models and innovation, which strengthens us and increasingly others, in we believe that this could offer similar opportunities elsewhere too. It is against the background of these ambitions, positive developments and a profound interest in collaboration that we present the circular economy and circular thinking here in Australia.”

Dai Forterre: “The Integra and Brink case was extremely topical and relevant for us for three important reasons. Firstly, it was about entrepreneurs; entrepreneurs who embraced this idea of circularity and use it to build on their competitiveness and their proposition in the market – that’s one thing. That’s always exciting because that’s ultimately one of the reasons why we do what we do: to forge those ties.”

“Another reason was related to the sector that Integra and Brink are in: manufacturing, digitisation and circularisation. Those three are major developments in our world. Circularity, a bit more broadly, can be thought of as sustainability – the digitisation of manufacturing, the digitisation of value chains, are the return of manufacturing to major markets, and then there’s the idea that we need to embrace sustainability as a way of driving innovation.”

“The third reason was, basically, that the connections were there (laughs). Sometimes, you just need to show a bit of fortitude, if you will, and try and get people to connect. We were able to contribute ever so slightly to making those connections and then have the entrepreneurs – who do the real job – connect and help us all better understand and shape our discussions with Australian partners around manufacturing, innovation, sustainability and digitisation. This partnership brings it all together.”

How do you see a global partnership of this nature facilitating local manufacturing?  

Dai Forterre: “Brink and Integra are committed to modularity and upgradeability, so as they proceed, they can quite easily tap in their respective manufacturing and design capabilities and, as a result, create a globalised network of localised production – a network that can expand over time based on the needs of local customers."

“If a designer is in the Netherlands or in Australia, it doesn’t matter. He or she can contribute to product design and have input in other areas – you’re overcoming a lot of the boundaries. So that’s one element, I believe, which is exciting, and is particularly exciting in the joint context of shared values.”

“The other thing is learning how to collaborate in high income countries and creating these clusters to be competitive. I believe this is key, and those are two elements where I see potential. How do we collaborate? How do we create these models? How do you work with your suppliers and your clients? How do we create that ecosystem in the Netherlands and in Victoria of like-minded companies that can help each other improve manufacturing?"

Frank van Beuningen: “We, from the Netherlands, have a policy that we try to challenge the economic status quo for the sake of a brighter and cleaner future and, in that sense, I think, with the cooperation between Integra and Brink, we’re on the right track. If I may say so, from the Embassy and from the Consulate-General, we’re really looking forward to continuing to be a resource for Integra and Brink, and increasing cooperation with the Netherlands and Australia.”

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Diagram courtesy of Brink Industrial: brinkindustrial.com/circularity

In what way can this partnership act as a positive example of the circular economy and digital licensing for others to follow?

Dai Forterre: “Actions speak louder than words, so having a living case to help highlight the possibilities of circularity thinking is very valuable. We recognise that the circular economy can come across as fairly abstract and theoretical, so having an actual real-life example can help tell the whole story.”

“I also believe that the human factor in new digital manufacturing technology offers new models for collaboration and levels of customer interaction. This, in turn, gives customers a chance to co-design and iteratively improve products, which is priceless."

"Before the adoption of these technologies, the manufacturing industries in Australia or the Netherlands didn’t have that capability. Manufacturing was predominantly volume-based and mass-production focused. Now we see a rise in high-precision manufacturing, digital and value-add manufacturing – manufacturing that tends to take place within the setting of local clusters of like-minded companies as part of a broader dynamic eco-system. These eco-systems can be regional or even global, and can change shape depending on the needs and preferences of customer, overcoming the limitations of traditional mass-manufacturing."

Frank van Beuningen: “In the Netherlands, we have this objective of being a circular economy by 2050 and, what I’ve experienced as a diplomat abroad, we’ve always had to talk to people about it instead of being linear – you have to think from this circular perspective. For some reason or other, Integra had already embraced that initiative. Integra was already open to these kinds of ideas without fully realising that what the company was doing was setting up something that is circular. That was fascinating to us. It fits 100 percent with our mission to stimulate circular economies abroad and fine ways of cooperation, so let’s continue to invest in a sustainable future."

“Time and again, what we encounter is that it’s not about recycling and it’s not only about the environment, it’s a way of thinking ­– it’s thinking circular, as I always call it, from the first step. How you design a product will determine whether it will be circular; it’s not the other way around. It’s a change of perspective and of a new business model."

"This makes it really fascinating to talk to people about it; to see that you stimulate the thinking. Now, we don’t claim that we from the Netherlands have the ‘silver bullet’– we don’t. We’ve made mistakes, we’ve stumbled but that’s how you learn. And the value that we want to promote with this approach is, hopefully, this method of doing business will help preserve the Earth and nature as we have it at this point in time.”

What was the role of Steve Morriss from Planet Ark in bringing this partnership together?

Dai Forterre: “From our side, we were starting to see ‘market signals’ such as a growing interest in digital manufacturing and sustainable manufacturing. We were fortunate enough to have been approached by Brink to put the feelers out, and we were starting to have conversations with the Holland Circular Hotspot and learning as much as we could ­– what is the development like in that sector and what can you tell us the key players? We had similar discussions with Steve Morriss but in an Australian setting."

"Steve was instrumental as the representative, if you will, of Planet Ark, and of the Australian Circular Economy Hub (ACE) that was launched recently. That’s how it all came together and then we started forging the ties with the respective parties. We were focused more on the Dutch side, while Steve, of course, played an instrumental role on the Australian side and then, luckily, everyone got together and got connected without much 'interference' from us, if you will (laughs).”

“I believe that Steve Morriss has been instrumental in bringing everyone together because, early on, he felt that there was this alignment in values and in capabilities. We can’t say enough about the work Steve and Planet Ark has done in this partnership. His vision for Victoria as a digital and circular manufacturing hub, mirroring some of the hubs that we see in the Netherlands and how you create these global networks of localized, value-adding and circular production clusters… you couldn’t get someone with more passion and energy than Steve.”

Are there any opportunities for further collaboration that could come out of this partnership?

Frank van Beuningen: "The other factor to this is what the Brink/Integra partnership has added to it: this idea of digital licensing so you don’t have to travel and see each other but you can do it instantly – even in these days of a pandemic when there’s a travel ban for Australia. So, in that sense, it’s innovation within innovation and that, I think, is very positive and something that we will certainly refer to when we talk to other companies.”

Dai Forterre: "The other thing is that there’s now a pivot around which you can deepen the existing relationship to start looking at opportunities that we use from our side: Are they contributing partners? Could they link up and expand the eco-system? There’s no guarantee that this could happen but having these starting points and having, for example, what we see with Brink and how it plays this pivot role in the Netherlands, that could inspire Australian peers. If Brink has been able to be part of this network, then you know, why not more partnerships in Victoria? It gives us a really fantastic starting point to have deeper conversations."

For more information about circular manufacturing and the partnership between Brink and Integra, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON January 05 2021
Written by Erika Hughes