Micreo is a specialised designer and manufacturer of high performance microwave and photonics sub-system products for defence.
It was founded in 2002, originally with 17 people, and has grown to 72 staff. Located in the Brisbane Technology Park since 2003, it currently has 14 design engineers and over 40 manufacturing and technical staff.
Micreo is the only manufacturer of such products using bare chip technology in Australia. Micreo believes the key to its success in the microwave Electronic Warfare sub-systems market is reliability of supply. This encompasses the ability to supply products which consistently meet all specifications, at the right price, and on time.
“We’re part of a global supply chain, supplying to aerospace prime contractors, delivering Australian content,” explained Jeff Abell, managing director of Micreo.
Micreo’s patented “Gain Shaper” technology was successfully deployed into its latest product design and achieved significant cost savings, enabling them to successfully compete for new opportunities in foreign markets. In addition, the inclusion of the Gain Shaper into a design upgrade for an existing product resulted in production at a lower price than when it was first sold by Micreo in 2003.
Of the patent process, Abell said, “We very carefully went through and we had a lot of good advice from patent firms and legal advice there, and it’s, well, it’s a long process, but we certainly believe it’s worthwhile and protects that technology and we can get royalties for it going forward.”
And what does a gain shaper do?
“The Gain Shaper corrects for the natural frequency response of a microwave or millimetre wave circuit and can be tuned electronically,” explained Abell.
It’s a massive labour saving for us. It used to take days. Maybe even weeks of time to align a microwave or millimetre wave circuit and we’ve done that electronically in a much quicker timeframe and therefore massive labour savings and electronically programmable rather than getting in and doing risky work under a microscope circuit.
Micreo’s core business is the design and manufacture of products to transmit and receive signals in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Its Microwave Integrated Circuits (MICs) and subsystems as well as photonics products are supplied to global defence companies and Micreo products are currently installed in several of the world’s leading military aircraft and ships, and supplied directly to defence forces both here and overseas.
“The products are, as you said, highly technical,” agreed Abell.
“I’m just really pleased for the company to be recognised for this quite groundbreaking technology that we developed. Our engineering team put a lot of effort into it.
“It’s putting our products in a competitive position against the United States, as they’ve been building these types of product historically have been the world leaders.”
Micreo’s products utilise high performance microwave and advanced photonic techniques for optimum performance. These products have to operate in extreme environments and, to be able to manufacture them, Micreo has installed facilities which include ISO Class 6/8 cleanrooms, laser welding, environmental testing, and extensive state-of-the-art assembly and test equipment. Much of this equipment is unique to industry in Australia.
As an Australian high-tech manufacturer exporting 85% of its production, Micreo has faced significant challenges due to the high value of the Australian Dollar and increasing domestic labour costs that have set its hourly rates at more than 25 per cent above those of its US competitors (a complete reversal to the situation prior to the Global Financial Crisis, it says.)
The judges noted that they were “impressed by Micreo’s approach to overcome the challenges posed by the high Australian dollar and wage rates.
“The application of unique home-grown technology has given the company an edge in a competitive international market.”
In order to maintain their customer base and have a chance for repeat orders, and to compete internationally for new business, Micreo has had to improve manufacturing processes and efficiency and introduce innovative technology to reduce both the time to market for new products as well as the manufacturing cycle times for existing products.