Now is the time to prepare

The Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association’s (ARTSA) bi-annual Global Heavy Vehicle Leaders Summit (GHVLS) has become a key fixture on the transport equipment community’s increasingly busy event schedule.

Recognised globally as a gathering for some of the industry’s most innovative minds, the 2018 edition of the iconic event was held in conjunction with inaugural supply chain event, MEGATRANS2018, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in early May – and headlined by Australia’s most prominent scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.

The entrepreneurial-minded neuroscientist and founder of Axon Instruments serves as the nation’s Chief Scientist and is responsible for advising the Australian Government on scientific and technological issues – many of which also affect the transportation of goods, as he pointed out.

Dr Finkel especially emphasised the rise of Australia’s Performance-Based Standards (PBS) to global fame, saying high-productivity vehicle design was key to creating more efficient transport solutions worldwide.

In line with that, he also pointed to the advantages the local trucking industry had gained since the introduction of B-double combinations in the 1980s, which led to notable reductions in congestion and improved productivity. According to Dr Finkel, that success must serve as the blueprint for the adoption of future technologies like PBS.

“[The road transport industry has] to make the case on evidence to the ministers and to the public. Today, there are more than 10,000 B-doubles on the road and they carry more freight than any other vehicle configuration in Australia,” he said – indicating that performance and safety data speak in favour of modern high-productivity vehicle design. “[PBS] puts the focus where it needs to be for Australian industry to be genuinely competitive.”

Dr Finkel also touched on the seemingly omnipresent block chain debate, saying it might create whole new growth opportunities for the transport and logistics industry: “It turns out that consumers overseas may pay a premium in produce if they can trace the provenance,” he explained, suggesting that purchasing a packaged T-bone steak in China using blockchain technology may provide the consumer with a detailed product history stored in the cloud, such as the name of the farm and the breed of cattle it came from. “The technology at the core of these initiatives – be it Artificial Intelligence, data analytics or blockchain – is the 21st century frontier in trucks.”
Dean Croke, Chief Analytics Officer for US-based Blockchain in Trucking Alliance (BiTA), agreed with this assessment. According to the expert, the technology revolution is already well underway – but not sufficiently understood.

“When blockchain started to emerge as a serious topic early last year in the transportation and logistics space, some of us got together and realised that if we do not standardise data formats across the supply chain, we will spend disproportionate time mapping legacy data systems to a standardised data system so that it makes sense,” he explained – adding that blockchain could help industry facilitate immediate payments, complete automated settlements and record safety protocols indefinitely.

“That’s why we formed the Blockchain in Transport Alliance. The technology holds great promise, but to encourage its proliferation, we felt that developing industry standards was paramount.”

Croke said he expected to see blockchain uptake grow substantially until 2025, but added the technology might not mature before 2060. “There are a number of case studies, proven concepts, in action at the moment,” he shared. “One blockchain platform tracks the lifecycle of heavy vehicle equipment with telematics data for operators to review leasing costs. Another one, Blockcerts, is a verification tool that acts like a LinkedIn for drivers – it digitises and locks in employment details, which fleet operators can use as predictors for driver drop-out.”

He added that despite the long lead-up, action had to be taken now: “Getting involvement from the Australian transport industry in the development of blockchain standards is vital because the American market can learn a lot from what Australians do.”

Paul Retter, CEO of Australia’s National Transport Commission (NTC), took the same line as he reflected on the changes automated transport systems, increases in on-demand and shared mobility solutions will bring them – saying the course for future success is set now.

In a move to not just name the problem, but also provide solutions, he tried to outline a pathway as to how fleet managers and owner-operators might prepare for the future. Customer convenience, he warned, will be a key selling point in the future, alongside safety and productivity, which will serve as powerful drivers for government action.

With the domestic freight task estimated to increase by 27 per cent over the next decade, Retter said that the pressure is on the Australian Government to facilitate and better manage freight movements at the base level: “In times of rapid technology changes, governments [need] to ensure that transport products are safe, and their operational deployment is in the community’s best interest, while at the same time ensuring that the current laws do not act as barriers to innovation.”

Marcus Coleman, Managing Director of Melbourne-based PBS engineering firm, Tiger Spider, added he believes industry can achieve safe, productive and sustainable outcomes by implementing new technologies, but there are challenges to overcome – particularly for legislators and manufacturers.
“Aligning with global standards can be difficult, especially when there is a disconnect concerning heavy vehicle equipment size and mass limits when comparing Australia with Europe,” he said – referencing the Euro VI requirements of European prime movers and how current access regulations prevent these builds from travelling on Australian roads legally without additional modification. “This is just one example of how Australia is being left behind in the uptake of safer and more productive road transport equipment. It is increasingly becoming more difficult to adapt these products to accommodate the Australian market. The first step to address this issue is to look at size and mass limits.”

Coleman presented his reform priorities for PBS, which covered the adoption of safety technologies and recommendations to boost general access to 60-70 tonnes, while also stressing the importance of ensuring bridge data and assessment protocols are consistent and made public to facilitate cost-efficiencies when working with transport departments.

While productivity and safety are important, Coleman brought his presentation to a close by asking the question: is it time for regulators to review PBS? “When PBS was first envisaged, tyre data was not initially considered.

Through the efforts of the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) as well as OEMs and other organisations, there is now a significant pool of tyre data to refer to,” he said – explaining that of the 170 tyre variations Tiger Spider has had independently tested, only 10 per cent are considered to be suitable for PBS-approved road transport combinations.

Sal Petroccitto, CEO of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) – the governing body behind Australia’s PBS scheme – spoke directly with trailer builders, fleet operators and other road transport representatives as part of a panel about ‘Regulation Innovation’. He engaged with a passionate audience about the high productivity scheme, with reference to in-roads being made on regulatory reform.

When directly confronted with some of the challenges and frustrations being expressed from the floor, many of them regarding pending route access approvals for PBS equipment, Petroccitto used the NHVR Portal – an online application management tool – as a poignant example of how industry can better manage applications and see where bureaucratic bottlenecks truly occur.

In many cases, the delay was not with the NHVR, he explained, but rather with the relevant road manager assigned to the request. By elaborating on the route access approval process, Petroccitto clarified the Regulator’s role while highlighting opportunities to improve it.

As part of this year’s GHVLS, ARTSA also hosted the Victorian Government’s annual Ministerial Briefing Breakfast. Petroccitto used the occasion to launch a new Safety Management System (SMS) designed to “promote a positive safety culture” in the country.

According to the NHVR, the SMS is a systematic approach comprising four key components: safety policy and documentation; safety promotion and training; safety risk management; and safety assurance.

“I encourage all to look at the material and to develop more sophisticated systems,” Petroccitto said. “Over 40,000 businesses work in and around the supply chain. They all want to see a safer more productive model for drivers and workers.”

The buzz that followed NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto’s high-energy presentation on PBS and the resulting regulatory challenges demonstrated just how vital it is for key influencers from government to business to manufacturing to use forums such as GHVLS to openly discuss the critical issues that impact the local and international road transport industry. After all, it is not every day that chief executives, managing directors, general managers and owner drivers get to rub shoulders with association officials, government representatives and decision makers to share their thoughts on the fundamental issues that shape their world with the people who can potentially play a part in actioning positive change. More importantly, rather than shy away from the day-to-day struggles of freight businesses, individuals like Petroccitto prove to be vital to the growth of Australia’s road transport sector. It is this willingness to engage and to be transparent that is driving better outcomes for tomorrow.

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