Industry Icon: Bob Woodward
It’s safe to say the advent of the B-double – still the nation’s most prevalent High Productivity Freight Vehicle (HPFV) – paved the way for the development of Australia’s world unique Performance-Based Standards (PBS) scheme – both from a mentality and engineering perspective.
It revolutionised the way Australian transport businesses thought about freight movement and established a distinct logistics mindset in the industry that went beyond the traditional load-for-load approach – making it almost as disruptive an occasion as the invention of satellite tracking or electronic fuel injection.
While Bob Pearson, a relentless diplomat advocating the B-double on the political stage, has gone down in history as the ‘father of the B-double’, a second key personality responsible for bringing the innovative concept to Australia and adjusting it to suit the local market is often overlooked.
Bob Woodward, a visionary food transport engineer with a strong focus on reaching tangible outcomes, played a vital role in pushing the B-double concept from an industry and engineering perspective, Bob Pearson points out.
While it was himself who got the ball rolling as early as 1976 when he – still an engineering graduate from the University of Melbourne – was asked to assist with the implementation of the Economics of Road Vehicle Limits Study (ERVL), a pioneering study aimed at achieving national uniformity of truck size and weight, Pearson says Bob Woodward played a vital role in helping the B-double advance from concept to general approval stage.
Drawing on a wealth of hands-on industry experience, he was involved in the design of the very first Queensland B-double in 1985 – a 23m molasses tanker – and thus blazed the trail for the State granting full approval of the revolutionary concept by 1987. A gifted engineer just like his namesake, Bob went on to develop the concept of the tandem/ tri-axle B-double in 1988, and had significant input into the design of the 19m B-double we know today.
Interestingly, Pearson and Woodward only ever met by chance during these pioneering days, with one driving the road access agenda from his Melbourne base and the other spending most of his time in the design studio, drawing up innovative equipment for ‘early adopters’ like Finemore Holdings, which would later be absorbed by the Toll Group. Both acknowledge that industry personality Ron Finemore played a crucial role in making progress happen with his strong support for innovative trailer design. “In fact, Finemore’s late 1980s 23m car carrier – called the Stinger – was the first vehicle designed using a PBS-like approach,” says Bob Woodward, who is still active in the industry today developing high productivity equipment on behalf of Ron Finemore Transport.
“It was an exciting time and everyone was very busy, so we never really paused to reflect on the fact that we may actually be making history,” he adds. “I always admired Bob Pearson for his persistence in trying to break down regulatory barriers. He was a bit of an outlaw back then, which is probably why we became such good friends later on. We’re still talking a lot of heavy vehicle design and keep a keen eye on PBS.”
This article was first published as part of Trailer Magazine’s Industry Icon series, which is dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of commercial road transport – the people and businesses that form the backbone of our industry and keep pushing the boundaries to ensure Australia will remain at the very forefront of innovation. Based on an idea by Smedley’s Engineers, the third instalment of the series profiles one of the visionaries behind Australia’s pioneering High Productivity Freight Vehicle (HPFV) scheme.