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Small Ipswich manufacturer part of Defence’s largest unmanned aircraft program

A small Ipswich advanced manufacturer will play an important role in the production of the first military aircraft to be designed and built in Australia in more than 50 years.

The Australian Government has invested up to $40 million in the Boeing Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program, alongside Boeing’s largest investment in a new unmanned aircraft program outside the United States.

Carole Park’s Protonautics is one of the 35 Australian companies contributing to the design, development and manufacturing of the prototype. 

Protonautics is a precision machining, engineering and production manufacturing business owned and operated mostly by Ipswich residents.

Boeing Loyal Wingman

Protonautics can offer solutions from one-off prototypes to ongoing production volumes.

With over 30 years of industry experience, the company started out developing covert surveillance equipment for law enforcement agencies around the world.

Fans of Australian true crime drama series Underbelly will see Protonautics surveillance gear being used in the series.

General manager Chris Bush said in those early years no one had heard of GPS technology but as technology caught up and GPS and recording devices were built into normal mobile phones, their business model had to change.

They moved into mechanical design and started producing electronic housings and circuit boards from scratch.

As some of their biggest customers moved offshore, the company was able to pivot again as they set their sights on the defence industry.

Mr Bush said now the company is on the cusp of expansion.

“We are currently working towards signing a defence contract of our own,” he said.

“We are working with the Centre of Defence Industry Capability (CDIC) who are advising us on what capabilities we require to meet Defence needs and join global defence supply chains.”

Before and after images of a block of metal that Protonautics machinists turned into an intricate component 

Protonautics was a recipient of a Defence and Aerospace Industry Development Fund round.

This funding was used to start the process for Protonautics to acquire internationally recognised industry certification.

“We have been based here in Ipswich since 2011,” he said.

“It’s great for our workforce who are closer to their homes but also great for our business as Ipswich has a great infrastructure hub and there is a lot of support from both council and the defence hub.”

The challenge for the company moving forward is a skilling one.

“We enjoy supporting Challenge Employment who have helped us find some great employees,” Mr Bush said.

“What we are now focussing in is finding highly skilled workers who have mechanical skills, machinists and tradesmen.

“It takes years to become skilled to the level that we are operating at.

“We are known for our accuracy and precision. That requires a high skill set.”

Being part of Ipswich’s manufacturing defence hub benefits all of the businesses to stand up together.

As Protonautics upscale to be able to produce larger volume runs and expand their footprint, their workforce will also expand creating more jobs for Ipswich residents.

Protonautics is a member of the Ipswich Industry Network and has received value added service including introductions to supply chain opportunities. Council’s Community, Cultural and Economic Development Department has assisted with industry development acting as an intermediary to connect Protonautics with global defence corporates and provided advocacy to industry stakeholders.

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