SH 2572

The Melt set to launch at "innovation precinct" in Muswellbrook

Industrial prototyping lab The Melt is launching a satellite operation in Muswellbrook, designed to "super-charge" startups and small businesses and train the "workforce of the future".

The Melt site in Muswellbrook will have a focus, not only on startups, but also on helping businesses trying to scale or invest in the so-called "Industry 4.0" technologies of the future.

The Melt CEO Trent Bagnall says the Upper Hunter was an obvious choice for the next Melt to help entrepreneurs and companies design and build the hardware necessary to commercialise innovative products.

"Muswellbrook has a whole bunch of exciting capacities and skills in mining, engineering and power but it has challenges with two power stations (Bayswater and Liddell) closing, so we are creating new business, new products, supporting exisiting businesses and diversification," Mr Bagnall said.

This project will be launched in Muswellbrook in two phases. The first phase will open in August in the existing heritage listed building, Loxton House. This will house a co-working space to support startups and SMEs.

The next phase will see construction of a building next to Loxton House, which will be named the Donald Horne building after the late author and intellect. This building will house a state-of-the-art prototyping space.

Dubbed an "innovation precinct", the building will focus heavily on STEM training - both in-house and delivered via programs in local schools - which will be overseen by full-time facilitator.

"We are trying to supercharge SMEs and startups and education and training in STEM," Mr Bagnall said.

"It is a real first for the Hunter in terms of integrating STEM education into economic development programs. We are looking to build future workforces and train existing ones."

It is expected that businesses dealing in mining logistics, agriculture, energy and the Port will benefit. "The Melt will help existing businesses and SMEs with commercialisation of new products as well as startups and it will attract new business into this LGA," Mr Bagnall said.

The Melt site will be a space for existing businesses to learn about the risks and benefits new technologies and expand into new products before committing to them.

Mr Bagnall said The Melt's vision is to continue to expand in regions or LGAs which want to support its industry in specific areas, for example agtech, cleantech, health and defence.

At the Warners Bay site, at least 50 advanced manufacturing projects are being developed using the estimated $3 million of production equipment.

The Melt has been linked with Astra AeroLab at Williamtown and Mr Bagnall is examining one other Hunter location alongside one in Sydney and another in regional NSW.

"What we've learnt in the last year is that it's better to have a lot of smaller Melts with specific capabilities build a regional network together that can form a powerful opportunity for people who want to use them," he said.

While the first Melt raised $1 million in investment, its backers are now raising a second similar sum for use in the Muswellbrook project.

A statement from Muswellbrook Shire Council mayor Rod Scholes said its "early preparation" for the shire's economic transition involved attracting new innovative industries to capitalise on the innovation already being done by existing SMEs.

'We know that investment in STEM workforce skills will best equip the Shire's workforce for the jobs of the future because of the critical thinking and agile skills that STEM provides a workforce," he said.

"The Melt were successful in winning a tender to undertake some of this work in Muswellbrook and have a proven track record in these areas in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie."

This project will see innovation, retraining of workforces, and retaining talent within the Hunter Region.

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