Coronavirus Shutdown Perspective

One of our members, Peter Farley, would like to share his perspective on the Corona shutdown and open with quotes form widely read international newspapers

No country has been able to control the virus without a fence. Fences are not enough to stop the virus on their own, but they’re a necessary part of the solution. European countries and U.S. states had hoped otherwise. They were deluded. They opened their arms to their neighbors too soon and got infected in the hug.

They need to realize that not every country or state is effectively fighting the virus. Why should their citizens sacrifice so much for so long, with lockdowns and business closures, only to waste their efforts when their neighbors visit?

And as long as states fail to control their borders, the coronavirus will come back.

Across Spain, Covid patients occupy 8.6% of hospital beds, but in Madrid, the figure is 21% – and climbing. Two of the region’s hospitals said their intensive care units (ICUs) were already operating at 100% capacity.

Here are the big developments from Sunday:

Coronavirus is heat tolerant, self-healing and very resilient in lab tests

If you think the virus will go away, just look at the data from US states and European countries that have opened up quickly or the chaos in Israel.

The reason for distance restrictions are, a) to stop people traveling at all if possible, For example my friend Fred isn’t going to the plant nursery at all because it is more than 5km away. b) because when they travel they meet people and can spread the virus further and the longer time they are traveling, the more likely they are to forget at least one individual they met c) to cut down the contact tracing task. If you double the radius traveled you quadruple the number of likely interactions and more people will travel so the contact tracing task gets less reliable and 4-6 times as big, then like Victoria 8 weeks ago and the UK now, it just falls apart.

The same is true for restrictions on churches and family visits. Religious and family gatherings have proved to be among the strongest sources of serious illness because people stay together for long periods and both involve an older cohort.

Then we come to the alternative, just shield the vulnerable:

  1. It is no by no means foolproof, as we can see from the number of health workers infected even people who are trained all their lives to be careful still get infected
  2. The vulnerable aren’t just the elderly in nursing homes, it is almost everyone on this mailing list and many younger people with health issues, asthma and diabetes being just two. Therefore you must also quarantine their partners and therefore their families and then the carers and health workers who look after them and kitchen staff and cleaners, and all their families or housemates so 30-35% of the population indefinitely.
  3. Quarantines will go on for nine months to years because the other 65% of the population may not be dying of Covid but they will be keeping it spreading through the community and ready to pounce as soon as people make a mistake.

If the virus is allowed free rein in the community how many people will skip the night at the restaurant, the visit to the CBD shops, the day at the footy  or the lecture concert etc etc. Most might risk it, but not as often and 35% won’t be allowed to. In my wife’s family they wanted to have a family gathering between lockdowns but two of the eleven work in healthcare so it was all called off. Net result is restaurant, discretionary retail trade, sport and entertainment will still see a 20-40% fall in trade for a year or more, that will in turn affect commercial real estate and spread throughout most of the rest of the economy.

This is not to say that the Victorian or federal governments have not made many mistakes but Victoria’s death rate is still one fifth of Sweden’s and the unemployment rate is still the same or better. The commentators and business press may argue, but none of them have come up with a viable plan that has any less long term pain for the economy and all of their suggestions will result in more illness and death.

If you want to hug your grandchildren in the next 12 months and keep hugging them, you will support the very gradual relaxation of restrictions now and continuing wearing of masks and social distancing rules till long after a vaccine has been proven.


For the second year running, it was a privilege for Peter Sutton and Jack Parr of the Vernier Foundation to attend the Dandenong High School Awards Night 2019 and present the Foundation awards to 3 of the school’s outstanding STEM students!

The event was held in December at the Robert Blackwood Hall in Monash University and was packed with proud students and parents and the night was particularly pleasing as it was the culmination of celebrations for the school’s centenary “1919 -2019: A hundred years celebrating the past, present and future”!

The evening was a mix of presentations and musical and theatrical interludes, showcasing the amazing talent of some of the young people and was a compliment to the school’s professionalism, the discipline of the students and the accomplishment of the teachers.

The three Foundation awards were for individuals, chosen by their teacher, who made both an individual and a team contribution in each of the three disciplines; STEM, Robotics and Systems Engineering.  The awards were funded through donations from Sutton Tools and from individual donations of members and both Peter and I were pleased to be invited to personally present them to the winning students.

The STEM award went to Mohammad Mohsen Ali who completed 3 STEM based elective in Year 9 – STEM, IT and Graphs and Technology.  His teachers were proud of his leadership skills within the group, his perseverance and a strong understanding of the design process.

Mohsen, as he is known to his teachers, main project was the design and build of a small moving car and he believes the project gave him “a better view of how the world of STEM works “.  Mohsen says that engineering is one of his interests for the future as he always wanted to design and build his very own technology. Mohsen states “The Vernier Foundation scholarship has given great support to my family but has given me the determination and pride for my future engineering to come.  In the future I hope I take part in a computer engineering career”.

The Robotics Award went to Vaishnav Vengilat who was a key contributor in his Year 10 Robotics class.  He was an integral part in the class’s best functioning team; constructing a robot that could complete almost all of the required tasks, an impressive achievement!  His teachers also complimented Vaishnav for his academic contribution to the robotics class, contributing helpfully to the class discussions and demonstrating and admirable work ethic.

Vaishnav is seen here with his donation certificate and Vernier Foundation representatives Jack Parr and Peter Sutton of Sutton Tools.

The final recipient of the Systems Engineering Award with Adeel Jaffrey. Adeel was unfortunately not able to personally receive his award on the night but it was well deserved for the highest overall score in systems 1&2 and a consistent commitment to his mechanical project and documenting the process.  He responded to inevitable setbacks with resilience and innovation and above all the drive necessary to persist though the variety of problems that practical tasks create!


A poor PMI result for November is only one part of a much bigger question!

by: Jack Parr Vernier Society Member

Those eccentrics who, while driving, listen to the Senate would have caught this week a debate following the release of the latest PMI manufacturing figures for November.  It soon predictably  became a polarised argument with the opposition manufacturing spokesperson seizing on the result to lampoon the government for having no policy for the economy; no plan to lift wages, productivity, employment.  Apparently, it also demonstrated a government led by a heartless PM who does not care for the millions who will go without this Christmas – all on the back of one negative PMI.  The Government response was equally perverse; this is a strong economy with 1.4m jobs created, a budget back in balance, the low personal tax rates increasing disposable incomes to their highest level.  Just ignore all the other economic signals! 

Above all this political rhetoric though there is a much bigger macro picture  about the reality of manufacturing, which was well articulated by Adam Creighton in his article “Manufacturing Further Decline” (Australian 3/12).  These are some of the points he makes:

  • The number of manufacturing jobs collapsed by 30% across the decade to 2016 and has now shrivelled to 7% of the workforce far below comparable nations.
  • Manufacturing makes up 16% of the workforce in Germany, Japan, Switzerland; Canada with similar economy has 1.7m workers compared to ours at 0.7m.  In Sweden and Israel with far smaller populations, advanced manufacturing is thriving.
  • Quoting Economist Bob Burrell, we are now dependent on commodities and immigration to pay our way and generate growth
  • Last year our trade deficit in advanced manufacturing was $185b, while our surplus in commodities was $187b.  The only way we can afford these advance.
  • Manufacturing and farming have traditionally been the drivers of productivity and hence high living standards; higher productivity means higher wages both in manufacturing and across the economy
  • Today, wages will be determined more by the price of minerals
  • All countries have seen a steady fall in manufacturing employment but most have fostered new hi-tech sectors.
  • The government pins its hopes on population growth and a weaker exchange rate to bolster growth as the last gasp of the resources boom plays out.

Creighton and others clearly realises, as all in the Vernier Society do, that a vibrant manufacturing sector is vital for the prosperity of the nation.  The question is how are we to develop the direction and policies that will sustain and regenerate this sector?.  It seems that neither side of politics can or even wants to answer this question!  The question of ‘how’ should be the question for the imminent, next decade.  Vernier, along with all who understand the real productive value of manufacturing must keep this question front of mind!

Engineers Australia Panel Event – Distortions & Delusions: Lessons from the Silicon Valley Grand Illusion

The panel discussion will begin with an examination and a recognition of the failures of innovation to commercialisation systems over the past twenty years throughout the US, Australia and Silicon Valley:

Upcoming Engineers Australia Event – The Road to Autonomous Vehicles

One of our members, Bob Weekes, is helping organise this very interesting event in conjunction with Engineers Australia on 20th August.

Come along and listen to some great speakers talking through how Australia defines autonomous capability and what are the technological steps required to go from driver assistance to driverless?

Networking/refreshments at 5:30PM followed by the presentation at 6:00PM-8:00PM.

Building Engineers not Products

Engineers Australia Presentation – Professor Mike Xie

Join Engineers Australia as Professor Mike Xie, RMIT Centre for Innovative Structures and Materials delivers a presentation on Design Optimisation and Advanced Manufacturing of Innovative Structures and Materials.

Professor Xie and his team have developed an innovative design methodology to remove inefficient material from structures, producing lightweight and strikingly elegant designs. This technique can significantly reduce the weight and the associated energy consumption of aircraft and motor vehicles, and building these structures has become possible through advanced manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing.

This presentation will demonstrate how Mike’s “BESO” (Bi-directional Evolutionary Structural Optimisation) method can be applied in light-weight structures, mechanical metamaterials, and connections.

This event will take place at Engineers Australia, Level 31, 600 Bourke Street, Melbourne on Tuesday 20 November 2018 from 6.30pm to 8.00pm – arrive at 6.00pm for a 6.30pm start.

Meet the Speaker: Professor Mike Xie, Director, RMIT Centre for Innovative Structures and Materials

Prof. Mike Xie is the Director of RMIT Centre for Innovative Structures and Materials. He is a fellow of both Engineers Australia (EA) and Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE). He has collaborated with many companies including Arup, Boeing, and Smith & Nephew. Prof. Xie was awarded the 2017 AGM Michell Medal by EA in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the field of mechanical engineering. He also received the 2017 Clunies Ross Innovation Award from ATSE.

Engineers Australia Event

The Victorian Vernier Society recently sponsored an event at Engineers Australia – some great sessions and speakers!

Vernier organised the main speaker and a panel comprising of Vernier ‘associates’, all experienced in 4.0, with Vernier President, Kerry Little, acting as Moderator.


Reflections on the AMTIL Conference 2018

There are times today when one feels that Australian Manufacturing does not get the support it needs, so it was good as a Vernier Society member to attend Australia’s leading Manufacturing organisation, AMTIL, at their National Conference held on the 22nd of August in Hawthorn.

From my experience, there are two main ingredients to a successful conference; the first is organisation and Kim Banks and her team at AMTIL certainly delivered with a professional and well managed event.  The second is to produce a set of speakers who maintain both the theme and the enthusiasm throughout the event and again after a slow start, AMTIL delivered, with an exceptional afternoon program.

The role of the keynote speaker is a daunting task at the best of times and Michael Grogan of AMGC (Australian Manufacturing Growth Centre) task was not eased when he was asked at the last minute to fill in for his sick boss.  The conference theme was ‘Resilience’ and Michael outlined the 3 major messages of AMGC’s recent report on ‘Resilience; ‘Superiority – Diversity – Flexibility’.  AMGC’s message of what companies need to do was clear (and well spelled out in their full report) but I am always left with a feeling that organisations like AMGC do not go far enough in assisting the delivery of the ‘how’.   Victorian manufacturing seems to be focused on the ‘S’ in SME’s (it would be interesting to know AMTIL’s member profile in this regard) with owners more comfortable on the shop floor than in the board room; while the appointees to these government sponsored organisations seem to have the reverse comfort.

Another element of a successful conference recipe is that one can take away from each speaker a lasting taste, a little nugget of knowledge or even a new technique that one can use or repeat in their business and so here are my message picks from some of the other speakers.

Rick Shalders of IDU Raytheon outlined the opportunities for Australian companies in the American and global defence market.  It is a very tough but lucrative market to crack and Rick showed one chart of the differences in competitive and acceptance entry levels between companies that compete on niche technologies and companies that want to compete on what he called “Build to Print”.  Both routes require exhaustive processes to success but the ‘BP’ route is much more competitive and requires very high standards of continuous improvement.

Gary Birtwistle is a motivational speaker who left the audience with a vast number of messages about dreaming, thinking and delivering future success.  One phrase that stuck was “will it make the boat go faster”.  Whatever ideas one has, this question should be asked – will it really improve what we are trying to do?  The other thing he highlighted were the many motivational books and authors worth reading but one is “Legacy” – the story of the All Blacks success by James Kerr.  I can also recommend this fabulous book about the culture and spirit of the All Blacks and very pertinent to both their recent retention of the Bledisloe Cup but also one of their key characteristics is ‘humility’, something that the recent appalling, political intrigues showed was clearly missing.

Claire Madden is an author and social researcher who shared her insights on Generation Z (born after 1999) and how they appear to think and act so different to other generations and especially mine (baby boomer).  It was a well-researched and insightful presentation highlighting issues such as use of technology and new language, attention spans and career ambitions but to myself and other colleagues it created a disturbing picture of how this generation will integrate into today’s business practices.  Which will have to change and how will compromise be reached?

The final speaker was a remarkable woman.  Deanna Blegg is a world class athlete who has overcome HIV and cancer to still compete in endurance competitions that most people would never even contemplate.  There were no messages to be taken away – only astonishment and admiration!

It was a successful conference offering strong networking around breaks enjoyed by the 150 plus attendees who took the day out to attend.  It is though a disappointing fact that many of the people in Victoria’s manufacturing community seem to be so entrenched in their businesses today that attendances at such events (including Vernier) is diminishing.  Too many business people (and others) seem to feel the need to be in constant touch ‘in’ the business that they do not appreciate the value of attending such external events.  The conference message was resilience but it was also about just taking time out to think insightfully ‘on’ the future business.

Where have all the engineers gone??

The rise of the bureaucrats was as deliberate as it is disastrous

By Philip Breen

When the Chifley Government, in 1948, decided to implement a scheme to harness the waters of the Snowy Mountains and direct them into turbines to generate electricity, they first set up an authority to design and implement the scheme. They did not appoint a high-flying CEO to lead this venture as would happen today. They sought applicants for the position of Chairman and apparently when the responsible minister, Nelson Lemmon, reported to cabinet concerning a short list of  three, he sent a note to the PM that read, ‘Hudson, Hudson, Hudson’.

And so, New Zealand-born William Hudson, then an employee at Sydney Water Board, became the first Chairman of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority, a position he was to hold until near completion of the scheme below budget and on time. He first assembled an engineering design team to create an overall concept, engineers for the detailed designs, engineers to direct the construction and lastly a workforce sometimes numbering over 7,000. He was a Civil Engineer with vision who was able to lead and inspire those who worked under him. The rest is history. Today a Snowy Chairman and CEO are managerial, needing no engineering design or construction experience. A William Hudson Chairman and his Civil Engineer CEO would not have been waiting for the PM to call them about Snowy 2.0. If that scheme does stack up, such an Authority run by engineers would have already investigated and optimised it and put it to the politicians long before now.

In an earlier period, John Bradfield, born in bayside Sandgate, Brisbane, educated at the State Primary and then the Grammar School in Ipswich, went on to study for a Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of Sydney. Graduating in 1889, his name was to become synonymous with the arguments for and the promotion of various designs for a bridge over Sydney Harbour and the associated roads and suburban electric railways. His plans were described by Sir John Monash as ‘works of exceptional magnitude’. NSW Premier Jack Lang wrote: ‘Bradfield was always thinking of the future, probably the first man to plan for Sydney as a city of two million people’. He lived before the rise of government and corporate bureaucracies that today shut out the innovative and creative, to secure their own positions, in a tiered managerial structure with infinite possibilities for expansion. There is no scope now for the rise of the visionary.

The process of rooting out engineers and forward thinkers from positions of influence, particularly in government bureaucracies at all levels of government, has been gradual but insidious. It did not happen by accident but by design. The forward-thinking, forward-planning, innovative mind is likely to be noticed by superiors, especially by those in a position to have their leadership challenged and they are therefore a threat. Best to sideline and silence  people like that. That has been the task of a born-to-rule, self-serving managerial class for a long time. They are the graduates in arts, law, government, economics, history, philosophy, the social sciences and the like. This is not to downplay the worth of these callings, but as a class they see themselves as an intellectual elite born to reign supreme in the bureaucracies. They are dismissive of the creative and inquiring minds that constitute the derisively-labelled STEM callings whom they have subdued and lord over to effectively silence them. STEMs are banished into small groups handy to be consulted by superiors in an emergency, as one would the plumber for a leaking tap.  Well, you may say ‘this is too much, this fellow is completely over the top’. Not so, let me illustrate, with the tragic case of the rapid dismantling of the superbly efficient Queensland Public Service.

Queensland only became a self-governing colony in 1857, yet its governments led the nation in many spheres. Public servants’ super was fully funded from the start. Debt-free public hospitals provided free means-tested care long before Medicare. From its earliest days Queensland put engineers in charge of a majority of state departments in a lean and efficient public service nurtured by Labor, from 1915 to 1957 (apart for 3 years) and passed on to the National/Liberals who left it unchanged in governance till 1987.

That year Wayne Goss became Premier allowing Kevin Rudd BA and his friend Peter Coaldrake BA, lecturer at QIT, both political ex-staffers, to set about dismantling the public service. That service built up caringly over more than 100 years had just seen Queensland, the only state to come through the 1987 stock market crash with flying colours. Till then engineers occupied the leadership roles in all the infrastructure departments, including Coordinator-General of Public Works, Main Roads, Railways, Irrigation and Water Supply, Electric Power, Mines, Harbours and Marine and Local Government engineering. Soon they were all gone, replaced by federal look-alike and greatly expanded departments, said by Coaldrake to be a required cultural (wow!) reform, but judged by astute observers to be a text book driven frolic. Goss in retirement apologised for this wanton vandalism. The new managerial class, now entrenched, knows nothing of the skills required for pre-planning within government to achieve efficient infrastructure, delivered at economic cost or of planning for operation, maintenance and future upgrading. Everything is ad hoc. The results have been disastrous. I rest my case.

Now governments’ work goes to Australian engineering consultancies, admittedly offering services of the highest order of skill and competence, but they do not provide long-term planning which is the job of government. Margaret Thatcher visiting Japan to witness their economic miracle post-war, noted that engineers were in charge at all levels of government and industry. No doubt that is largely true of powerhouses like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China today. Those who like to categorise engineers as unlettered nerds, unsuited to lead a bureaucracy, might dwell on the words of René Descartes, the 17th century philosopher: ‘Mathematics is a more powerful instrument of knowledge than any other bequeathed to us by human agency.’

Australia’s current malaise (especially the energy fiasco) could be remedied if we had leaders of the class of Ben Chifley and his minister Nelson Lemmon, in the Commonwealth and the states, to seek applicants to transform the public services into far-sighted and constructive organisations. They would wisely choose engineers experienced in design and construction to do that job.

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