Coping with complexity

Connecting some of the most prominent people in the world of road transport, the Australian Road Transport Suppliers’ Association’s (ARTSA) second Global Heavy Vehicle Leaders Summit, held in melboin May delivered on the promise to provide a vibrant knowledge sharing platform for the international heavy vehicle community. With just over 100 delegates making the way to Melbourne, the Summit’s second instalment didn’t quite match the turnout of 2014, but still ditched the dreaded sophomore slump, according to ARTSA Chairman, Dr Peter Hart.

“The road transport market is going through a phase of extreme volatility and the turnout may have fallen victim to it in some way,” he said on conclusion of the event. “But that didn’t affect the quality of the Summit. In fact, having such a high profile line-up coming to speak here in Australia in the current environment must be considered a major achievement.”

He added, “I don’t think there is any comparable event in the entire Asia Pacific region, and we are extremely proud of being able to stage such an important gathering here in Australia’s freight capital.”

Pointing to the amount of new and exclusive information shared in Melbourne, Dr Hart concluded that the Global Heavy Vehicle Leaders Summit again proved that size doesn’t always matter in the business intelligence industry, where content and – importantly – context still outweigh volume.

“At the end of the day, the event must be measured by the quality of the information provided, and in that sense, there is no label other than ‘world-class’ that would suit what we have seen and heard about.”

Over the course of two days, the event revolved around three core themes – the transition from a confrontational to a more collaborative culture, both on a business and a regulatory level; data abundance and how to manage it; as well as the shortening of development cycles and the resulting disconnect between innovation and implementation.

Setting the scene for the two-day gathering, Gary Beecroft, Managing Director of UK consultancy, Clear International, opened the Summit with a captivating keynote address profiling the European commercial vehicle industry – revealing that productivity is still the driving force behind many a purchasing decision, especially in the trailer domain: “Think about it – why does the trailer market exist? Does anyone want to own a trailer? No. But, it’s the most efficient way to transport goods from A to B, especially in regions with limited rail access, which goes to show just how important road transport is for the success of our modern economy.”

While displaying cautious optimism about the European market – the next slump is not expected before 2018 – Beecroft also pointed out that the continent’s heavy trailer population is now shrinking for the first time in almost half a century. “There is currently not much new demand. Any growth we see is replacement-driven at the moment, so much so that we may actually see negative growth once the market starts cooling off again.”

However, Beecroft added that market development in Eastern Europe is running about a decade behind the west still, promising a distinctly buoyant environment for the foreseeable future should the centre of the continent eventually cave in again.

ARTSA’s own Dr Peter Hart gave the discussion a local edge with the surprise release of new market data ranking the key players in the Australian truck and trailer market, by share of the overall vehicle population. Causing a heated debate in the audience, Hart also revealed that the median age of the nation’s truck fleet is going up 0.1 of a month, every month, making Australia one of the oldest, technologically most challenged marketplaces in the world.

To complicate the situation even more, he also outlined just how embattled the Australian marketplace really is: While the nation’s 37 truck OEMs are currently offering a total of 127 ADR-approved heavy truck models in Australia, there are 375 sizable heavy trailer manufacturers with access to some 1,230 different Australian Design Rules (ADR)-approved designs – creating one of the most crowded business environments in the developed world.

Representing two blue-chip businesses trying to navigate the global transport and logistics landscape from a trailer perspective, the Summit saw Kässbohrer’s İffet Türken and Peter Sijs, Services and Sourcing Operations Leader Europe at TIP Trailer Services in Amsterdam, speak in Australia for the first time.

As the Executive Board Member responsible for Business Development
at Kässbohrer, Türken gave the audience a unique insight into the dynamics of the global trailer market and the changing perception of the trailer building industry in general: Today, she said, trailers are not seen as simplistic commodity items anymore, but actively contribute to a fleet’s value offering.

As a hands-on example, Türken granted the audience a unique ‘behind the scenes look’ of Kässbohrer’s development since it came under Tirsan ownership in 2002 – not as a promotional exercise, but as an example for shrewd management and visionary leadership in a business environment that is becoming more convoluted by the day.

According to Türken, the key to handling that complexity is collaboration – even though it may contradict the more confrontational business culture of the past. “If the past decade has taught me anything, it’s that the only way to survive is to manage complexity together,” she said. “There needs to be more understanding between truck and trailer manufacturers, as well as suppliers and, of course, the client. [The industry] needs a more integrated approach where we can reach common targets and common goals. We are connected, but not enough. Today, all stakeholders need to work together to generate success in an ever-more complex world. The only way to survive is to listen and manage the complexity we face together.”

Building on Türken’s passionate appeal, Peter Sijs shared the story of how TIP Trailer Services collaborated with German company Knorr-Bremse on designing one of the most advanced telematics systems currently available. Reinforcing that the view has shifted from seeing the trailer as a commodity item to appreciating it as a piece of high-tech equipment that can add real value to the supply chain, Sijs’ refreshingly open address showcased just how much time – and money – TIP Trailer Services is investing in understanding the trailer as a return-generating asset.

For example, Sijs said his team has pushed the innovation bar to a point where TIP Trailer Services is now able to predict tyre failure up to five days in advance, dramatically improving both safety and bottom line performance of the 71,000-unit strong fleet.

As part of his speech – the first ever on Australian soil – he also gave the audience a glimpse of what it’s like to oversee one of the largest trailer fleets in the world and shared some of the findings TIP’s self-funded research on tyre management and aerodynamic optimisation have brought to light – inspiring many a fleet manager in the audience to seek his hands-on advice on the feasibility of boat tail devices and trailer skirting.

Inspired by Sijs’ applauded keynote on how to apply and improve on innovative technology in a real-life business context, the Summit also brought together many a professional with operational experience. BP’s Rachel Johnston, for example, gave the audience a sneak peek into the global giant’s complex product development processes, while Truck-Lite’s Tim Walker pointed to the next disruptive development on the lighting market – the High-Power Blue Laser Diode, which could be replacing the now prevalent LED as early as 2021.

Lion Co’s Nick Hutchin and Adam Wade also gave a practical example of applying innovation in the field when they outlined the company’s research into the quality of refrigerated transportation services in Australia. The complexity behind shipping a batch of yoghurt from Melbourne to Brisbane surprised many a delegate, with Hutchin and Wade revealing a whole range of shortcomings in the industry that need addressing – from lacking insulation of refrigerated vans through to incorrect usage of refrigeration systems. Hutchin pointed out, “There is a design standard the industry should be following, but it’s little known and often ignored. As end customers, we need to insist it is used properly. We also need better guidelines on how modifications and repairs are carried out so the standards are no changed.”

With the Lion duo presenting a new list of minimum standards for the transportation of perishable cargo within Australia, the call for regulation wasn’t long in coming, making for a smooth transition into the much anticipated ‘rumble of the regulators’ session featuring Sal Petroccitto, CEO of Australia’s National Heavy Vehicle Regulator; Chris Koniditsiotis, CEO of Transport Certification Australia, the country’s foremost telematics authority; and Chris Melham, CEO of the Australian Trucking Association. Chaired by Paul Retter, CEO of Australia’s National Transport Commission, the session made for a historic clash of regulators with ample potential for controversy.

As if to close the circle on the first day of the Summit, the nation’s leading regulators repeatedly touched on cultural shortcomings within the Australian transport community – especially when safety is concerned – and revealed a striking disconnect between industry and authorities, who each demand more input and guidance from the opposing party.

“We have to change the industry’s safety mind-set,” Petroccitto said. “We need to enable businesses to take positive steps towards safety and give them the right framework to do so. We know that can only be done through collaboration between industry associations and operators, but I think we’re now on a good way now.”

Local Melbourne business consultant, Brendan Richards, elaborated on the topic of cultural disconnect with a provocative presentation on Day Two, calling for a new focus on insight, energy and a dose of a realism. With anecdotal evidence showing most business failures can be traced back to ego, complacency or greed on a top management level, he said creating the right culture – both on a micro and macro-level – is the key to lasting success.

Phil Bixley, Fleet Manager, Heavy Vehicles at New Zealand’s Fonterra Co-operative Group, reinforced that view by outlining just how critical healthy vendor/ client relationships have been for the success of the 542 milk tanker strong fleet. The cost of changing a supplier, he emphasised, is often much higher than the cost of working through an issue, especially when tooling, parts supply and training are considered.

As an example, Bixley pointed to the relationship Fonterra has forged with SAF-Holland, which provided extensive support from Germany when Fonterra switched to the new Intra suspension system. “Sometimes a product isn’t a perfect fit from the start, that’s just the nature of the beast,” he said. “But working through the issue together is often more economical than making an emotional decision and changing suppliers just to make a point; in fact, it may help deepen the relationship and lead to better outcomes down the track.”

Ken Kroeger, CEO of global technology company Seeing Machines, expanded on the topic during his applauded presentation on eye tracking technology, saying the company is embracing failure and celebrating it as an important milestone to success. “In a world where disruption is quickly becoming the norm, you need a team that is able to handle failure and bounce back quickly,” he said. “As a company specialising in monitoring the driver by tracking their eye movement, we see every day that positive change has to come hand-in-hand with a positive and encouraging culture. What we do often uncovers that connection and can lay bare just how well a business is working below the surface.”

Kroeger’s Australian-made eye tracking technology – which is quickly winning over the US and European market – was but one example of high technology featured at the second Global Heavy Vehicle Leaders Summit. Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic & Product Safety Director at Volvo, flew in from Sweden to give the audience a glimpse on the technology Volvo is working on for the next generation of commercial vehicles.

“The problem we’re facing is complex to say the least. There will be more people, and they will live and work in ever-growing cities and consume more, so supplying them with what they need in a sustainable way will be tricky,” he said. “The challenge is obvious – next to productivity, we need to think more and more about the environment and doing more with less. We can’t ignore the big issues like urbanisation, climate change and so on.

“We need to change our mind-set to make sure we’re not falling behind. In the technology game, 10 or 15 years can be a lifetime. Think about what mobile phones looked like in 2000 and what they can do now. As such, 2030 is very close already, and trucks will be part of our response to the challenges we have to face as the human race. We won’t be able to sit it all out.”

While Almqvist criticised regulators for falling behind the tech industry, saying more freedom is needed to test new technology in a real life environment, he pointed out that connectivity will likely be the next megatrend in the transport industry – and the first step toward taking the human out of the transport equation. “I believe that reducing human input will at some stage make transport a lot safer, but it’s a long way to go. Until then, we need to handle issues like congestion, city traffic and so on. Systems like lane departure warning and active braking can play a huge role in that.”

Gerard Waldron, Managing Director of Melbourne-based ARRB Group and a leading authority in the field of autonomous driving, also pointed to a range of potentially disruptive developments looming on the horizon – with one unexpected common denominator, regulatory lag. “We need to understand what’s coming at us and set the scene for it. At the moment we’re behind and we don’t really know how to handle it all. For instance, how do we enforce safety? Is the truck a workplace and therefore WorkSafe territory? We need to find answers to some of these questions before we start dreaming of driverless vehicles.”

Reflecting on the varying level of engagement with disruptive future technology globally, he commended Australia for being in a “great position” to enter “a new era” of commercial road transport. “We sometimes forget how good a position we’re in. Having nationally respected authorities like the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and the National Transport Commission in place is an important advantage and something other nations would love to have. We should support them in creating a coherent framework for everyone for work in,” he said, firmly positioning Australia at the bleeding edge of the transport world.

“It was the perfect mix of global content and local insight,” Dr Peter Hart concluded in response. “We wanted to provide a stimulating networking opportunity outside the classic conference environment, and I believe the Summit turned out to be the inspiring industry gathering we envisioned it to be.”

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