The applications of advanced transport technologies are increasingly important to the investment strategies of companies, communities and the organisations they serve around the globe. Transport technologies encompass more than just the automotive, aerospace, rail and maritime sectors. They bring together pioneering, cutting-edge developments such as intelligent transportation systems, low-carbon and alternative energy, technical textiles and composite materials.

Locations are grasping the advantages of transport technologies and emphasising the synergies they create. The effort is good for attracting investment, enhancing job growth and promoting innovation.

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A case in point is India-based Jaivel Moulds, which designs, develops and manufactures plastic and metal moulds for multiple industries around the world. As it began to establish itself, European clients suggested that a European office would increase existing orders, provide opportunities to design and manufacture products that would appeal to its growing European market, and offer the advantages of being in the same time zone.

Strong in aerospace

In selecting its base, Jaivel executives quickly discounted London in favour of England’s East Midlands. The region is strong in aerospace, which is important to the firm’s business.

“We came to the region and visited the innovation centres at De Montfort and Loughborough universities,” recalls Vipul Vachani, Jaivel’s founder. “We decided on Loughborough because the university has a strong engineering base and excellent collaborations between researchers and industry.” In June 2005, Jaivel opened offices in the Loughborough Innovation Centre and recently expanded.

That same year, Rolls-Royce opened a facility in Loughborough University’s business park to pilot the production of ceramic components for use in fuel cell systems.

“This is a state-of-the-art facility that has the capability to produce over 1000 ceramic fuel cell components per week, while verifying the processes required for eventual full-scale production,” says Charles Coltman, chairman and CEO of Rolls-Royce Fuel Cell Systems. “It draws on technology that has been provided by suppliers in Singapore, the US and Europe, reflecting again the importance to Rolls-Royce of operating on a global scale.”

Rolls-Royce, a world-leading provider of power systems and services for use on land, at sea and in the air, operates in four global markets: civil aerospace, defence aerospace, marine and energy. It is investing in core technology, capability and infrastructure that can be applied across these sectors to take a competitive range of products to market.

The right traits

Rail transport is also important to the region’s attractiveness: Australia-based simulation technology specialist Sydac recently invested in the city of Derby, where the UK Rail Centre is a focal point for the rail industry.

Chinese companies, such as Asimco Technologies, are also driving growth of the East Midlands cluster. Asimco Technologies, China’s largest independent manufacturer of automotive components, based its European headquarters at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) in the county of Warwickshire. MIRA’s facilities include powertrain test cells, an exhaust gas emissions laboratory, climatic wind tunnels, and noise, vibration and harshness labs.

“The location of our offices in the MIRA complex not only provides access to extensive engineering and testing capabilities, but also enables us to interact daily with a wide spectrum of technology leaders in Europe,” says Asimco Technologies chairman and CEO Jack Perkowski.

The East Midlands will also be home to the Galileo/GNSS Research and Applications Centre of Excellence.

“The East Midlands is located at the centre of the UK, with outstanding infrastructure and transport connections. It is home to a huge number of transport and logistics-related companies, roughly 2000 in total. So there is a huge market for industrial applications. Couple this with leading research and development work that is going on in the region and it makes the East Midlands a compelling choice of location to develop and deploy the latest transport technologies,” says Paul Bhatia, international investment manager at East Midlands Development Agency.

Precision power

Switzerland’s tradition of precision is resulting in expanded R&D in solar aircraft technology. Bertrand Piccard, known for taking the first ever non-stop balloon flight around the world, is now working on Solar Impulse, a solar-powered aircraft. The aircraft is in its design phase at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

“Solar Impulse is the first of a multitude of projects ongoing at PSE-EPFL [Parc Scientifique/École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne],” says Luiggino Torrigiani, Solar Impulse marketing director. “It’s a pioneering project that involves an 80-metre wing span.”

While Solar Impulse sounds like something from a Jules Verne novel, those at EPFL see it as promoting technological innovation. “Our ambition is to achieve a flight around the world with a solar-powered aeroplane,” says Mr Torrigiani. “We do not want to set world records. We want to promote the platform.”

The project brings together a host of experts, including those from Solvay, a major Belgian industrial group involved in developing plastics and polymer materials; Paris-based Altran, a European leader in innovation consulting; and French company Dassault Aviation, which is reviewing its design. Solar Impulse is counting on the European Space Agency for technology transfer.

“This is a long-term project with a projected launch in 2010,” says Mr Torrigiani. “The risk is not to fail, but to take too much time finding a solution.”

Telematics cluster

Transport technologies remain a growth industry in Sweden, a country that is long recognised as a leader in automotive safety and for having one of the world’s largest telematics clusters. The Göteborg region has been a leader in developing and promoting mobile data technology in vehicles for more than two decades. For that reason, General Motors (GM) doubled its R&D investment to subsidiary Saab Automobile in the city of Trollhättan to take advantage of the research and collaborative efforts in the Telematics Valley between industry, universities and government authorities.

“GM’s policy is to invest research money where the best minds are,” says Blair Carlson, chief science and technology officer at GM Sweden.

Telematics Valley is anchored by the $400m Lindholmen Science Park, which was built to increase the region’s leadership position in telematics by attracting and maintaining the interests of the premier players in the industry while supporting the emergence of dozens of innovative start-up companies from around the world. About 20,000 employees there concentrate on mobile data communications, intelligent vehicles and transport systems, and media and design.

Primary players in the park include Volvo Car Corporation, Business Region Göteborg, Ericsson and Chalmers University of Technology, which was chosen to design and execute the Global Active and Passive Safety course for General Motors engineers.

Singapore is a hotbed for expertise in the aerospace, marine and offshore engineering, and land transport industries. In aerospace, Honeywell Aerospace, Matsushita Avionics Systems and Boeing have started high-level design and engineering activities there. Singapore Technologies Aerospace offers engineering and aviation services. Rolls-Royce and a consortium of Singapore companies, known as EnerTek Singapore, have an agreement to develop a commercially viable power system based on fuel cell technology.

Likewise, DaimlerChrysler, Yamaha, Volvo and Delphi selected Singapore for headquarters facilities, distribution, test-bedding, R&D and manufacturing.

To ensure continued availability of skilled manpower, Singapore has established education, recruitment and R&D programmes, such as those at the Centre for Offshore Research and Engineering and Nanyang Technological University.

Locations across the US are strong in transport technologies. For aerospace, the states of California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Washington weigh in heavily. Graduate Aeronautical Laboratories of the California Institute of Technology maintains close connections with industry and government labs involved in space technology. Also located there is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates as a NASA laboratory.

The University of Arizona ranks in the top 10 of NASA grant recipients, and number one in space science research. Nearly 300 aerospace companies are located in Greater Phoenix, where major employers include Honeywell, Boeing and General Dynamics.

Rocket venture

State and local officials in Ohio are considering an incentive package that would lead the Canadian-American rocket venture PlanetSpace to put manufacturing and launch/landing facilities for its sub-orbital spacecraft at Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus. The company, with operations in Chicago and Nova Scotia, is talking to other localities regarding incentives for its entertainment venture.

Energy issues are spawning transport technologies in the automotive industry. The California Fuel Cell Partnership is collaborating with member companies to jointly promote the commercialisation of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Members include automobile manufacturers, energy providers, government agencies, fuel cell technology companies and transit authorities.

The Transportation Energy Centre at the University of Michigan is engaged in fundamental and applied research in advanced energy conversion and storage technologies, such as fuel cells and synthetic fuels.

Transport technologies are undoubtedly the wave of the future for innovation as the world seeks more advanced and efficient means of transportation and as communities seek opportunities for economic development.