Innovation is the product of technology and culture. With the right technology and without the right mindset innovation is unlikely to be achieved.
I often get asked what is innovation? For some it’s invention, for others it’s fast following. For me, it’s doing new and better things, sooner. Inherent in this is leadership as well as a degree of risk — after all what is being tried might not work.
In the transport industry there are many areas of innovation. Fuelling this innovation is the need to be more cost efficient, improve safety, offer better service and reduce greenhouse gases. Currently, there’s a lively debate about vehicle automation and to what extent trucks might become automated.
Another conversation is about new industry models such as ‘Uber’ for trucks. And for anything with wheels there is a lot of consideration being given to alternative fuels. Given time, all these developments will become part of our industry. The key for companies is not to spend too much time pondering whether things will happen but rather what their approach might be when it happens.
Ultimately, we are influenced by the markets that we seek to serve. All of them place a high importance on reducing greenhouse gases, and this is driving an interest in electric vehicles.
For this reason, Toll trialled Fuso’s eCanter vehicles in Sydney to learn first-hand about all electric vans. The advantages of electric vehicles are they have no emissions, lower running costs and are quiet. We work in cities which are densely populated and congested.
The trends forecast increased urbanisation with two thirds of the world’s population living in cities by 2050. Developing transport solutions that can service large cities is a challenge. Daimler, Volvo and Scania have been developing electric rigid trucks suitable for short range services. An advantage of these is that they are quiet and can potentially operate inside current curfew periods.
Operating during these hours is desirable as it eases congestion for all road users, allows the trucks to operate more efficiently and provides a benefit to customers who may have pressure on their delivery docks.
A 2020 study by Austroads made some predictions about autonomous vehicles. It forecast that by 2030 nearly all light vehicles would be equipped with advanced driver assist features and of these, about 12 per cent would be capable of highway autonomous driving. The implications are significant for heavy vehicles.
Autonomous vehicles do not necessarily equate to driverless vehicles. It may be that such driver assistance will be found to be incredibly helpful to drivers, in much the same way as we consider anti-lock braking, emergency braking technologies and automatic transmissions are helpful.
Since 2018, all of Toll’s long haul vehicles have been fitted with fatigue management systems. These include driving facing cameras, forward facing cameras, alarms and vibration motors for seats. The systems are connected back to a central control centre which monitors all long haul vehicles Australiawide 24 hours, seven days a week.
The technology has had a profound impact on safety. Since the systems were fitted, we have not had a single roll over related to fatigue.
It’s not the systems but rather the culture that delivered the behavioural changes needed. The system provides managers with better empirical information to inform decision-making and drive the changes needed.
While no one can predict the future you can engage in conversations that can help shape it. The consulting firm, McKinsey and Company’s 2019 article, The Innovation Commitment reports that companies that pursue innovation outperform those that don’t. This is why Toll is actively pursuing innovation.
Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation, however, and so Toll participates in Urban Logistics Forums, the ALC’s Electric Vehicle Working Group, and works with Data61, to name a few. The advantage of developing an innovative culture in an organisation is that you are by default looking at far horizons and looking for signs of change.
It’s more likely than not you will detect these earlier than those who do not. This enables us to be fast adopters as Toll was in the deployment of advanced AGV technologies in our latest large distribution centre in Melbourne.
This technology is the core of an autonomous cell in the facility that will operate without human intervention, putting away and picking pallets in double deep storage racks.
The facility also features automated dimensional compliance checkers for pallets and an automated battery changer, further improving its efficiency.
There is ambiguity in innovation as there is ambiguity in the future. It takes a bit of bravery and courage for companies to pursue that path. Leaders sometimes stumble. But with a bit of luck you don’t and you may end up doing new things sooner than the other guys.
(Peter Carney is Head of Innovation at Toll Group. He has a wealth of experience in the supply chain and logistics field with an interest in emerging technologies and creating value through the application of ICT technologies to business problems.)