Squaring the circle

David Bonn on how Australia is taking R & D activities to an international level

In today’s competitive market, multinational companies operate without borders, especially when the market they are involved in is transport. The growth of many countries across the globe has been built on the strength of their transport infrastructure.

Having indigenous industries that support the local transport needs has long been recognised as a key building block and a national need in many countries. While many countries import much of the transport infrastructure it needs, places like Australia have, over many years, encouraged the establishing of a local and flourishing group of businesses serving its transport industry and that of the international market. It continues today to facilitate the growth of companies located in Australia that are servicing that market. Australia sees itself not as a market follower but as a leader in the development of innovative transport solutions to meet tomorrow’s needs.

There are many examples of where Australia has world-leading companies developing world-leading transport products and services. Australian companies are actively involved in projects developing solutions in:

  • Connected and Automated Vehicles,
  • MaaS,
  • Safety, Security and Privacy,
  • Freight & Logistics,
  • Data Analytics,
  • Technology & Policy to support enhanced efficiency.

Within that list, the range of products and services involved is extensive building on the wide range of skills that exist across the country. With universities delivering some of the most globally highly regarded students, alongside the innovative research being undertaken in those universities, there is no shortage of supporting skills to deliver the next generation of transport solutions.

For many of the companies involved in R & D there are a number of factors that determine where such activities are undertaken. These include:

  • Size of the local market,
  • Availability of suitable skills,
  • Financial incentives,
  • Cost of operating in that location,
  • Access to international markets,
  • Existence of a supply chain.
Australia sees itself not as a market follower but as a leader in the development of innovative transport solutions to meet tomorrow’s needs.

Expand and deliver

During June’s ITS European Congress in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, iMOVE Australia Director Dirk Van de Meerssche was impressed with the number of international companies that are investing significantly in transport-based R & D activities. That got Dirk thinking as to how Australia can help these companies deliver their R & D function effectively and efficiently.

Looking at the above criteria, clearly the Australian market has the required volume, as it is the world’s 13th largest economy. With the strength of academia and other research institutes in Australia, suitable skills in leading-edge design and development are in plentiful supply. Independent reports indicate that the real cost of operating a business in Australia is competitive with many other countries where the cost of developing new products appears to be lower. A recent report placed Australia seventh in the list of the “World’s Most Productive Countries”. As an already significant exporter to the Asian market and beyond, gaining access to international markets for products developed in Australia isn’t an issue. The existence of an extensive and high-quality local supply chain capable of supporting R & D activities provides peace of mind that access to constituent elements of new products and services will continue for as long as needed.

How then can an organisation quickly establish itself in Australia to undertake R & D activities? This was a challenge that Australia recognised many years ago and established the CRC programme. Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are an Australian Federal Government program and are key bodies for the scientific research being undertaken in Australia. The Cooperative Research Centres Programme was established in 1990 to enhance Australia's industrial, commercial and economic growth through the development of sustained, user-driven, cooperative public-private research centres that achieve high levels of outcomes in adoption and commercialisation. The program emphasises the importance of collaborative arrangements to maximise the benefits of research through an enhanced process of utilisation, commercialisation and technology transfer. It also has a strong educational component with a focus on producing graduates with skills relevant to industry needs. Most CRCs offer scholarships for postgraduate students.

The existence of an extensive and high-quality local supply chain capable of supporting R & D activities provides peace of mind that access to constituent elements of new products and services will continue for as long as needed

The CRC Programme is administered by the Commonwealth Department of Industry and Science. Currently the iMOVE CRC brings together 44 partners developing collaborative research in the transport domain. With this background and access to companies operating in the transport sector iMOVE is ideally placed to support companies establish R & D activities in Australia. iMOVE is built on three streams:

  • Intelligent Transport Systems and Infrastructure,
  • Enhanced Personalised Mobility,
  • End-to-end Freight Solutions.

With iMOVE already in place they are able to support those organisations, through facilitation and collaboration, that wish to expand their local activities to include R & D. The iMOVE team has very strong links to the Federal Government in Australia and as such have a detailed understanding on how a company can access funds to support their R & D activities. With their experience in delivering projects, they can facilitate introductions to any additional resources needed including into academia and the local supply chain. If resources are needed to manage R & D activities then iMOVE can provide that support.

Think local, act global

A further strength of the iMOVE CRC set up is that within its existing 44 partners are those organisations that will buy the transport solutions developed locally. Having them work alongside potential clients to deliver a solution that meets their needs ensures developed products will be market ready for the local and international market. This gives faster access to the local market creating a faster return and case study examples to support international marketing activities.

Australia is recognised for having a “can do” attitude where it is supportive of trying new solutions and services and sharing the learning from the experience. This approach ensures that the chance to deploy a product quickly and receive immediate feedback is highly likely. The country also established the Australian Integrated Multimodal Ecosystem (AIMES, as described in the June/July issue of Thinking Highways) that provides an ideal testing ground for innovative products and services. It is managed by the University of Melbourne covering 6km2 of intensively monitored city centre environment containing the full spectrum of vehicles and activities undertaken in a complex urban environment. It connects transport infrastructure and systems with customers using a multimodal focus. Within this environment real-world test conditions exist enabling new products to be fully evaluated in conjunction with the other elements that form a final deployable solution.

A further strength of the iMOVE CRC set up is that within its existing 44 partners are those organisations that will buy the transport solutions developed locally.

There is already an impressive list of international companies undertaking R & D activities in Australia and exporting the results internationally. Two diverse examples are Cubic Transportation Systems and Insurance Australia Group Limited (IAG), a multinational insurance company with a significant presence in Sydney, Australia.

Using and utilising

Cubic chose Australia to complete its R& D activities on its NextCity transport management platform. They recognised the value of having the right partners working in collaboration to enable it to remain at the forefront of transport innovation. As an industry leading product, Cubic needed access to the cutting-edge thinking of academia and products from partners that were still subject to R & D activities all integrated to deliver the final solution into a transport management environment in Sydney that is itself seeking to become a world-leading integrated multimodal transport city. iMOVE played a key part in facilitating the early days collaborative working during the development of the product. The NextCity transport management platform itself will be marketed internationally as part of Cubic’s international portfolio of integrated transport solutions.

Why would an insurance company want to undertake R & D projects in the transport domain? As a company who provides insurance for goods and people it is important for them to understand how new solutions can impact the risks associated with mobility services. This will in turn lead to the introduction of new business models, different approaches to insurance premiums and give encouragement to industry to adopt new approaches which will lead to a reduction in the risk of failure whatever shape or form that takes. Whether it is a reduced likelihood of produce perishing before it reaches its final destination due to congestion or where the introduction of new vehicle technology will reduce the potential for accidents, IAG wants to be part of the shaping of tomorrow’s mobility offerings. Through their involvement in iMOVE they are now able to take this understanding into the international insurance market.

R & D isn’t always about developing new bits of technology, it can be about using existing things in a different way, it can be about changing how we do things it can be about how we give a new life to things as part of the circular economy. Whatever your involvement in the transport domain, Australia is able and willing to support these new ideas and bring them to fruition in the shortest possible time with the maximum exposure.

To learn more about how iMOVE to a new international level in Australia then contact iMOVE Australia Director, Dirk Van de Meerssche at David Bonn is Managing Director of Bonn Business Solutions

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