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Stranded Aussie Makes It Back from Taiwan

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You may have seen this interview we ran in July with Australian bicycle engineering and manufacturing expert Aldo Contarino.

Aldo, who lives in Perth where he runs a workshop and consultancy called Quantum Bicycles, was stranded in Taiwan through their biggest covid wave due to the extreme shortage of flights back to Australia.

He was kept busy, consulting for various manufacturers over there, but had more pressing concerns at home, namely getting back to Perth in time for his daughter’s wedding this October.

Fortunately, since our previous story, he managed to get a flight in mid-September we spoke to Aldo from his hotel quarantine room on the Sunshine Coast. In order to avoid double quarantine, Aldo was staying within this sealed room for a 15th day, so that he could then fly directly to Perth and then be free to go where he pleased.

During our conversation I asked Aldo for an update on his thoughts about manufacturing both in Taiwan and Australia, to add to his comments made in the previous interview.

“A lack of available materials and shipping is slowing down manufacturing in Taiwan,” Aldo reported. “One company, which had a contract including penalties for late production, was so desperate to avoid further penalties that they paid more than the total value of the job just to purchase the materials required.”

Despite challenges in Taiwan, Aldo does not see a bicycle manufacturing industry springing up in Australia without serious long term government support and systematic planning.

“There’s not a lot of real manufacturing in Australia. There’s a lot of assembling, but components still come from overseas,” he said, referring to manufacturing across multiple industries.

“Australia has been effectively caught with its pants down when it comes to manufacturing in the bicycle industry. We have no frame tubing manufacturing capacity, no double butting, no composites manufacturing, no final finishing. We’ve always gone for the cheaper option offshore. But now, when it can cost much more to bring a product into the country than to make it, it’s getting hard to justify this situation.

Moving his attention back to the Taiwanese bicycle industry, Aldo continued, “The just in time process has failed globally. Taiwan relies on overseas workers on its assembly lines. They also need engineers to be able to fly in from worldwide to do checks such as precise dimensional checks. There are currently major quality control and testing issues. Components can be manufactured, delivered but not be acceptable.

“Smaller brands are getting bumped off to the side. Until flights and freight get back to normal, I can’t see an end to it.

“Governments need to re-assess business travel. It’s a big disincentive to travel when you can get stuck in a country and because of limited allowance of people into Australia you can’t get back again.

“It’s good to be back in Australia. But it’s going to be even harder to do business from here,” Aldo predicted.

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