We know that we are really lucky to work with some very smart clients in the industrial sector. The sorts of people who are inventing, improving, problem-solving – basically engaged in work that can change our lives for the better. These people are rarely household names, which is usually ok by them as they do not crave the limelight. However, we think that even the humblest of people still quite like recognition from their own peers – people who understand their world and the ups and downs associated with it. Therefore, we are pleased to bring to you a new regular feature: ‘The Great Invisibles’ – where we shine a light on some of the people, we are fortunate to know, who have an interesting story to tell.
For our first article we meet Anthony Lele. Anthony is a Melbourne-based entrepreneur, product development specialist and experienced business developer. Founder and CEO at Automation Acoustics, a digital monitoring platform for Advanced Manufacturing and Industry 4.0
When I zoom-meet Anthony it is the start of my day and the end of his. The latest iteration of his website has just launched, and he has the relaxed air of a man who has spent weeks fighting to write web content and has won. Over the last eight months he has been focusing on a re-positioning strategy and working hard to find the right language to describe what Automation Acoustics is and does.
So, Anthony, bearing in mind that you are talking to the layest of lay people…what is it that you do?
“Well, perhaps I should start by telling you how we got here? I was observing a team of welders at work one day and the guy in charge explained to me that he knows if someone is not doing their job properly, just by listening to the sound of the weld. If something is off, the sound is too. This got me thinking that there must be some way to use acoustics to QA the welding process. After a couple of years of working with some very smart people in universities and some hard graft we came up with a really interesting and viable product. The market said it loved it. Only problem was that no one wanted to pay for it. And even worse than this, there was no drive to adopt and implement it. Trying to introduce new tech to a workforce with the average age of 50+ is, erm, challenging.”
This is the point at which many inventors or entrepreneurs might make a critical mistake – continue to flog a dead horse. The idea was great, the need was there, the product was excellent, but it wasn’t flying. When you truly believe in your product, it is hard not to fall into the trap of trying to make the market bend to your will, ‘You are wrong and I am right and I will make you love me’, but not Anthony. He decided to park the idea and instead turned his attention to 3D metal printing to bring a new perspective.
I asked Anthony if this was a major blow to him at this time.
“Well, it was tough, but I am a problem solver by nature so the best thing for me to do at that time was to fling myself at a fresh problem”.
Looking at Anthony’s entry into the engineering world, the fact that he hasn’t stood still and allowed himself to get bogged down in one particular problem has clearly served him well. In 1996, he was travelling around Europe, working bar jobs to pay for his next plane ticket, when he decided that he should probably get a proper job. So, he went to a trade show and met (and clearly impressed) a bloke called James who offered him a job starting the following Monday. The bloke was James Dyson and Anthony spent a couple of years designing things with him, such as the ‘bagless’ vacuum cleaner. Anthony is the sort of person who seems to have fortunate encounters with very influential people, but you get the sense that he very much earns this good fortune – these characters do not suffer fools gladly, after all.
Anyway, back to 3D metal printing – it was whilst Anthony was working in this field that he started to think about additive manufacturing processes and the similarities between these and welding. Both industries are involved, to a certain extent, in the manufacturing of metal objects. 3D metal printers are very high-tech and use lasers, but there are fundamental similarities between the two. “But do they have the same problems? This is the question I had to answer”, said Anthony, “And it transpires that they don’t. With additive manufacturing the issue is a monitoring problem – it is really difficult to monitor a process which is happening at laser speed within an enclosed space. No supervisor is going to be able to hear if something is off, like you can with welding. Our product can do all this and allow the machine operator to pause the process and make corrections to prevent a mistake occurring in real time.”
So, all of a sudden you are not trying to sell a solution to someone who doesn’t want it, instead you are filling a gap in a process that you are also helping to define?
“Yep, this is a new technology landscape, the focus is on efficiency, precision and excellence; prevention not cure. Processes aren’t fully formed yet, there’s an innovative mindset, so you don’t have to battle against perceived ideas of how things should be done because there is no 1,000-page manual, people are learning and improving as they go.”
So, what’s next?
“We are self-invested, organically grown, our new website is up and running, we have representation in the UK and the US and I’m (hopefully) going to get on a plane to Germany in November to talk with some potential new clients but right now, I am going to have a beer!”
Quick fire round
1. What makes you tick?
Solving a problem that delights. I love the (sometimes) chaotic ambiguity intrinsic to a new problem – I’m happy to pass my ideas on and let others run with it, I’m not a control freak, honest, but I love the initiation, formation and outcomes stages, the middle bit, not so much!
2. Who has helped you along the way?
Lots of people, not necessarily in an obvious way but there are people I have met or worked with who provided key anchors or said something that resonated at a particular point of my life which later turned out to be significant. They are probably completely unaware the influence that one of their passing sentences had on my life – but then that’s a lesson for all of us, and the potential impact of our words and deeds. James Dyson, Alexander Gosling, Bill Hill and Eberhard Weiss to name a select few.
3. Of what/whom are you most proud?
4. Your greatest disappointment?
That business challenges and failings have had an impact on family. Me not being around for certain things, missed family holidays etc. However, I have just built them an awesome trampoline in the backyard (it lights up), and a basketball court so I’m clearly trying to compensate (plus, I also love doing that stuff).
5. If you could give your younger self a piece of advice?
“Don’t coast, young Anthony, don’t get too comfy and complacent – take informed risks, but don’t stress it – it’ll work out just fine”. A mantra I have always told myself, “Challenging your securities creates opportunities”. Basically, the lyrics from Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’ but especially the bit about not worrying about not knowing what you want to do when you are older, just keep going and you’ll work it out.
Soundtrack to your life?
- The Lightening Seeds: Pure
- Liberation: Pet Shop Boys
- Undercover Martyn: Two Door Cinema Club
- Shooting Stars: Bag Raiders
- Tokyo: The Wombats