PARTS: Mobitech

By: David Goeldner


Mobitec and Thoreb are about to launch into new Sydney premises with some fresh product

Bob Barwick is a passionate supporter of the bus industry. A one-time union delegate and sheet metal worker turned company director, he has seen many changes in his three decades working across the heavy vehicle landscape in varied capacities.

But the biggest change, and his brightest achievement, has been working with Swedish company Thoreb to make on-board bus communications through multiplexing the industry standard in Australia.

Barwick runs two businesses out of Peakhurst in Sydney’s south west, both being Australian divisions of European transport supply companies — Mobitec and Thoreb.

Mobitec started in 1995 in Australia with Barwick as the sales representative at that time, charged with establishing electronic destination signs in the public transport market.

"We now have about 80 percent of that market," he says.

While Mobitec signs are visible across the public transport landscape, on buses and trains, less obvious is the work behind Thoreb’s multiplexing.

THOREB – MAKING TRAVEL ATTRACTIVE

Thoreb was founded in Sweden by Thore Brynielsson, based on his 1978 doctoral thesis Step by Step Development towards Attractive Public Transport, which led to multiplexing electronic systems on buses.

The obvious difference a Thoreb multiplexing system made to the bus driver’s routine was the replacement of several, often confusing switches on the driver’s console, with a programmed multiplex system that pretty much does everything electronic on a bus. 

The C90 computer did everything, recently superseded by the ‘C90 plus’.

"It’s a unit that can do a ‘million’ things," says Barwick enthusiastically.

With the Mobitec business established, Barwick added Thoreb to the Australian business portfolio in 1999.

His first project was with Brisbane Transport, progressing with multiplexing through to Volgren, then Bustech and Custom Coaches.

"We were promoting a product for the future to make buses more reliable, and as a company we have done that," Barwick says.

Multiplexing is a telecommunications concept which sends several electronic signals sharing one cable, and in the case of a bus, one or just a few cables are plugged into the multiplexer computer box – the C90.

Instead of running one cable or wire for each command, opening doors, turning on the lights, running the air-conditioning, lighting up the destination board – potentially up to dozens of wires required to do all things on a bus are now controlled through one or a few multiplexed cables.

"We have taken out the hard wiring and put in this programmable multiplex system," Barwick says.

"You don’t hear people talking about the product that much, simply because there are no problems."

Barwick says he prides himself on what has achieved through Thoreb.

As Thoreb Australia Managing Director, Barwick says he has improved the quality of vehicles going into service in Australia.

"And now all chassis are multiplexed, and most bodies are multiplexed, and that’s due mostly to what we’ve done," he says.

"One cable now sends the message from the front of the bus to the back. It’s all solid state, and it reduces the bus weight because you take out several kilometres of loom."

All seems to be in order with the multiplexing side, but it’s in the destination board business where competition is fierce, even though Barwick holds a large slice of the market – offering mainly the electronically controlled, mechanical ‘flip dot’ sign system, as opposed to the alternative LED (Light Emitting Diode) style of destination board.

"Most of [New South Wales] will buy the flip top sign," he says.

"It is better to look at from the perspective of a visually impaired person, who may find it difficult to read an LED sign."

Barwick points to a clear difference in that as more sunlight falls on a flip top sign, the brighter it will appear.

"And it’s been ‘accused’ of being an LED sign because it is so bright," Barwick says.

But Barwick does have some confidence in LED through a sign system soon to be introduced – ‘smart reflect’, offered in white and yellow.

"The boards will be built in a 24 x 160 matrix which means you can write more text to it than you can to other LED signs in Australia," he says.

The new sign is a combination of LED and flip top based, but with a better contrast and designed with the visually impaired in mind.

At this stage, both Thoreb and Mobitec will continue to flourish in Australia, even with the recent announcement of Mobitec’s acquisition by United States-based Luminator Technology Group.

Meanwhile, Barwick is setting about moving to larger premises nearby, with the prospect of an opening day launch coming up by the end of 2012.

And given his popularity and reach across the bus industry, including membership of the Bus Industry Confederation, it could be quite a gathering.

Luminator acquires Mobitec

United States-based Luminator Technology Group acquired Sweden’s Mobitec Group on July 10.

Luminator Technology Group of Global Sales and Marketing Vice President Oliver Wels says Mobitec will continue to exist at the new parent company.

"For our customers, this means we can continue to offer the products from the expanded group of companies and maintain the same high level of service quality," he says.

Wels says the group plans to develop new technologies and a new global service network.

"The merger will help make the Luminator Technology Group even more capable and customer-oriented in the future and will give our customers access to the full range of expertise available in the group."

In the 2011 calendar year, the Luminator Technology Group generated US$186 million in turnover and employed 600 workers.

Wels says Mobitec’s customers include numerous well-known bus manufacturers and transit operators around the world.

"We’re delighted that Mobitec has become part of the Luminator Technology Group."

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