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Prime Mover Magazine

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Phil Taylor

Welcome to the ideas boom

February 2016

When Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced his innovation vision for Australia on 7 December 2015 with rhetoric such as, “welcome to the ideas boom”, “we need to embrace new ideas in innovation and science, and harness new sources of growth to deliver the next age of economic prosperity in Australia”, “unlike a mining boom, it is a boom that can continue forever” and “I know that Australians believe in themselves, I know that we are a creative and imaginative nation”, I reflected on how Australian innovation has already transformed our road transport industry.

Australia has developed the highest Gross Combination Mass (GCM) on-highway trucks anywhere in the world. Coupled with some of the longest, harshest and most remote haulage routes, we have conquered these challenges as a direct result of local engineering, testing and development of prime movers over many years. Some examples are tri-drive rear axle sets, larger engine cooling packages, relocation of exhaust after treatment systems to above the chassis allowing space for over 2000L of fuel, integrated under chassis AdBlue/DPF tanks, etc. At first glance, they are simple solutions to the unique environment facing road freight vehicles in this country, but all of which required Australian engineering and innovation.

Looking ahead and with the world being consumed by globalisation, local truck innovations may become less – after all, Australia is increasingly becoming a “technology taker” in this space. However, there is a strong heavy-vehicle manufacturing industry and culture in this country and we will continue to push the boundaries of higher masses, as this is what has led Australia to having the most productive road freight industry in the world. This will require ongoing local engineering and inventiveness.

In terms of innovation in our industry, we need to look not only at the truck but also beyond. I see significant local innovation continuing in the area of heavy vehicle trailers. Decades ago, Australia took the B-double concept from Canada and turned it into arguably the most efficient mass produced road freight combination on the globe. Only last year have some – but by no means all – European countries passed laws that enable B-double type vehicles to use roads in Europe. They are years behind us in unlocking the road freight efficiencies Australia has enjoyed for years.

Of course we have moved on too, with Australians first developing the concept of Performance Based Standard (PBS) vehicles 15 years ago. It has taken quite some time (due primarily to our archaic State controlled road access laws) for PBS vehicles to catch on, but we are now seeing these innovative combinations becoming popular and offering better road freight efficiencies and safety benefits per tonne of freight moved. Twelve months ago in my February 2015 column, I wrote about a then recently released Austroads report that showed High Productivity Vehicles (HPVs), such as those certified under the PBS scheme, were not only significantly more productive – 37 per cent and 26 per cent more freight is moved by articulated and rigid HPVs respectively – they were also much safer. The report showed an average 76 per cent reduction in accident rates for the HPV/PBS vehicles, a clear win on the safety front.

Again, Australia is a world leader in this area and I firmly believe that Australians will continue to develop innovative road freight solutions in this PBS space.

Looking to the future, Australian truck manufacturers will play their part in the global development of new technologies such as the driverless truck, with local testing of systems and technologies in Australia’s harsh environmental conditions and unique road transport industry essential for the global development and rollout of this equipment.

Our poor or non-existent road line markings, dirt roads, dust, and the two, three and four trailer heavy-vehicle combinations must all be considered and tested to ensure such technology can be deployed successfully across Australia and the globe. I am also very confident that we will continue to lead the world in road freight efficiencies with HPV/PBS for some time to come. Finally, I hope that the hard work and inventiveness of the Australian trucking industry gains the recognition and accolades that it deserves from government and that the federal government supports future innovation in our industry with an appropriate level of funding.

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