“The year 2020 will become decisive for SkyWay Group of Companies. Not determinative, but decisive. Right in this year we really plan to enter the world transport market with our innovative technology, more exactly not only with the technology, but with a complex of technologies. We are creating a transport and infrastructure sector. It is not simply some technology, but a sector, which is not inferior by potential to such transport sectors as aviation, railways and motor-road transportation,” says SkyWay General Designer Anatoli Unitsky in the first interview this year.
The author of string transport once again emphasizes that it is not just a new type of a car, locomotive, plane or ship, but a complex set of systems and subsystems. In addition to rolling stock, it includes many components, each of which, in turn, is unique: a pre-stressed overpass, stations, terminals and depots of the “second level”, safety systems, intelligent control with technical vision not only over traffic flows, but also over the complex as a whole, power supply and communication systems, and so on. No one in the world has ever done anything like this before. After all, you need to comprise everything and at once. Simultaneous work in a variety of areas, using the most versatile resources. At the same time, it is necessary to carry out designing, research and pilot production work. To design and build six test and demonstration routes with all the needed infrastructure, not only in Belarus, but also in the United Arab Emirates, yet in tropical version. And, of course, the most important thing in all this is the people who do it. United by a common system of values, organized in a certain structure, pursuing a single goal.
Personnel core and personnel shortage
Presently, the core of SkyWay personnel can be considered mostly formed. The organizational structure of Unitsky String Technologies Co., which occupies a сentral position in the Group of Companies and is its “brain”, looks like in such a way that it is almost impossible to make out the details in the scale of the illustration to the article.
Organizational structure of Unitsky String Technologies Co.
Unitsky String Technologies Co. has more than one hundred structural elements in its composition – like in the Mendeleev’s table. About sixty design Bureaus and Departments are engaged in research and development in a variety of areas: urban, cargo and high-speed complexes with the corresponding rolling stock – mounted and suspended, lightweight, medium and heavy classes, monorail, double-rail and quadro-rail, transport overpasses of fundamentally different types (flexible, semi-flexible, rigid, semi-rigid), electric motor drives, estimates of transport overpasses and building structures, strength analysis, dynamics of systems, body, layout, chassis, electrical equipment, on-board intelligent control systems, functional and systematic analysis, tooling and test equipment, turn-out switches and infrastructure equipment, utilities, power supply, automation, communication and a lot of other things. We should also mention the pilot production facility, which is already prepared to produce rolling stock and track structure elements in small series.
Currently the number of employees, including those of the satellite organizations, exceeds 1,000 people. But, given the variety of tasks facing the team and the scale of the claimed ambitions, this is still not enough, even very few. The Company continues to grow, experiencing personnel shortage. We have been looking for engineers for a long time now, including the countries outside of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
There are no analogues, but parallels are possible
If we are talking about the fact that SkyWay is creating a sector of industry, then it will be reasonable to determine its definition in the continuation of considering the issue. In Wikipedia, it is interpreted as “a set of enterprises that extract, produce or supply homogeneous (with similar properties) or specific products using the same type of technologies”. That is, the automotive industry, for example, is a set of companies that produce cars and components for them, aviation – aircraft, and so on. All cars are similar to each other, as well as all aircraft. The technology of their production is also similar, and SkyWay creates its own technology so that in the future various enterprises around the world would be able to build string transport systems. Millions of jobs, huge information flows and volumes of commodity exchange are what Anatoli Unitsky said (in Russian) in one of his early addresses to investors – “the largest business in the history of civilization”. According to the announced plans, in the current year 2020, the preparatory stage will be completed and the Group of Companies will pass over to decisive actions, starting its path in the field of demands and offers. Everything necessary to count on success was implemented in just a few years, thanks to the efforts of a team of 1,000 people at its peak. Although there are no analogues, but we can still try to outline some parallels.
Rapidly burst into the market, Tesla Motors company, associated with the personality of Elon Musk, has spent on the creation of its first commercial electric car at least five years from 2003 to 2008, investing, according to CNBC TV channel, more than $ 105 million. At the time of doing IPO in 2010, Tesla employed 650 people. It would seem that the figures are comparable to those that we see in the case of Anatoli Unitsky’s SkyWay, if not for too many “buts”.
Elon Musk’s company did not need to build test tracks for its first car, did not design and build roads and road infrastructure, and so on. And the electric car itself was invented in 1841. By 1899, a car running on the same principles as Tesla was already accelerating to 100 km/h. Moreover, Musk’s engineers were developing their car in accordance with the policy pursued by the state of California, where the creators of Tesla worked. This part of the United States is the most polluted. Therefore, here in 1996, long before the product created by Tesla Motors, the first commercial electric cars appeared, not much inferior to the brainchild of an American billionaire in its features. Accordingly, there was support from the government. As a result, the difference between what SkyWay does and what a very successful automaker implemented at the stage of creating the first product and entering the market is striking.
SkyWay is a 100% innovation that at the time of the idea’s inception had nothing behind it but the experience of manufacturers and developers of other, fundamentally different modes of transport, infrastructure and so on. And if the creators of Tesla could borrow a lot from other cars, including electric cars, for which electric motors, transmission, chargers, inverters and so on were already created, then the developers of SkyWay had to do almost everything “from scratch”, or fundamentally rework the solutions available at that time. In this case, it was not only and not so much about rolling stock, but about routes and everything else included in transport complexes. This is done without any support from the authorities, despite the attacks of the media, under the influence of which many experts refused to work in SkyWay, for less money ($75 million on the day of writing the article), in a comparable time frame and a number of people only slightly more than the staff that developed a single Tesla Roadster car.
While Elon Musk’s company has created only one car at the time of entering the market, SkyWay designed and manufactured 12 more complex vehicles – cargo and passenger, urban and intercity, speedy and high-speed, suspended and mounted, with a capacity of 2 to 200 passengers and a load capacity of 2 to 35 tons. Another 4 models, including the tropical version, are currently in progress. And this is only one of the components of the complex.
Special consideration should be given to the activities of Unitsky String Technologies Co. on designing and construction of string overpasses. Here, as in the case with rolling stock, there is a uniqueness of the work performed and a variety of implemented solutions. Each element of the overpass structure – anchor and intermediate supports, pre-stressed track structure – was developed for the first time in the world. Moreover, different types of string-rail track structure were implemented. They have their own specifications and applications: mounted, suspended, monorail, double-rail and quadro-rail, four fundamentally different types: flexible, semi-flexible, rigid and semi-rigid. This is like in bridges: they can be girder, suspended, cable-stayed, in the form of trusses and so on. The process of creating documentation and building these structures can be compared to the activities of organizations that design bridges, elevated roads and overpasses. Usually the staff in such companies is hundreds, and sometimes thousands of people.
For example, the company Foster and Partners, which designed a relatively small but famous Millennium Bridge in London (only 325 meters long with a maximum span of 144 meters), employs more than 1,300 people. With such resources, the preparation of project documentation for this facility took two years from 1996 to 1998. Two more years were needed for construction. The opening of the bridge took place in 2000, but the next day access to it was limited, and later stopped altogether due to swaying of the structure. Completion and modification of the bridge took another two years – until 2002, when the attraction of the capital of Foggy Albion started working in normal mode. About $ 24 million was spent. In less time and with less funds, Anatoli Unitsky’s project organization has built six transport infrastructure complexes and their constituent string-rail overpasses with the total length of about 3.5 km, in which rolling stock automatically transports passengers and goods, where there are stations and depots, U-turn circles and so on. What if the designers of the Millennium Bridge needed to create all of the above in addition to the bridge? Who knows what time frame and what budgets would be required for this? By the way, SkyWay developers also offered their own version of the bridge.
Another important component of the transport systems created by String Technologies Co. is infrastructure of the second level: stations, terminals, depots, freight terminals, turnouts, U-turn circles, equipment and utilities – power lines, contact network, water pipeline, sewerage, communications. This work can be compared to the activities of project institutes of a similar profile. The number of employees here is usually much more than in architectural offices, the experience of one of which we have discussed above. For example, Bilfinger company, that in a consortium with two other major European companies performed similar functions as part of designing and building a 14-kilometer tram line in Edinburgh, employs about 36,000 employees. Despite this, the preparation of documentation and construction of this complex lasted from 2008 to 2014, in violation of the terms of the contract for three years, and cost of more than a billion dollars – above twice more expensive than originally planned. And, although it is clear that this project was not the only one for the company, nevertheless, the figures allow to get an idea of the resources involved in its implementation. Due to the innovative nature of the designed complexes, the complexity of the tasks solved by SkyWay is comparable to what was done by Bilfinger in the described case, the volume is not much less. At the same time, SkyWay project management Department currently has only 83 professionals.
Intelligent control systems under development by SkyWay specialists are another reason for pride. Like everything else, they are created for less time and funds compared to competitors, with the use of a minimum of employees. We are talking about a compound complex that includes an adaptive system of route jobs, a positioning system, machine vision and on-board intelligent control system, a control system for functional equipment and many other components. The product produced by SkyWay in these areas is superior in many respects to the systems used in modern railway transport. Let us compare the resources spent on development in this sphere.
The French company Thales, which participated in the creation of control, alarm, safety and other systems for railway and metro lines in the UK, UAE, India, Singapore, Vietnam and Turkey, employs more than 80 thousand experts. Siemens, which also operates in the market of autonomous control systems, has more than 366 thousand employees in its ranks. About 34 thousand people are engaged in transport here. And, although the exact number of engineers involved in the development of intelligent systems could not be found, it is known that the company spent more than 20 billion us dollars for related purposes in 2016-2018, even more amounts are planned to be invested in the development of this sphere in the period from 2020 to 2022. The company employs more than 45,000 employees in research and development work, and in 2019 alone, almost $ 6.3 billion were channeled here. In particular, thanks to contributions to intellectual capital and human resources, the capitalization of Siemens reached recently $ 95 billion.
The way to evaluate intellectual capital and human resource assets
To evaluate intellectual capital, which is based on human resources, they often use a coefficient, representing in the most general sense the ratio of the company’s market value to the cost of its assets (buildings, structures, equipment, and so on – everything that can be formally estimated). The market cost can be determined on the basis of data on its capitalization, based on stock market estimates, however, the final value of the firm becomes clear only when it is purchased by another market participant.
In 1988, Philip Morris company bought Kraft firm for $ 12.9 billion. The cost of the buildings, structures and inventory owned by Kraft was only $ 1.3 billion, and the rest of the money ($11.6 billion) was the cost of the brand, contacts, marketing possibilities, and – most importantly – the qualifications of 51,000 employees. Thus, the intangible part of the company’s value was 90%, and the mentioned coefficient was 9.9. The more knowledge-intensive the business is, the greater value this indicator can reach. It is called after the author’s name – Tobin’s q ratio. In 1960-1970 its average value was equal to 1-2. From the beginning of 1980s, it began to grow rapidly, so that by the beginning of 2000s it reached 6-7.
For some companies in the field of software production and Internet technologies, Tobin’s q ratio can reach several hundred. This means that when assessing the market value of such firms, tangible assets are almost not taken into account. The main factor is the intellectual capital.
To date, the three most expensive companies in the world are Apple (capitalization – 961.3 billion US dollars), Microsoft (capitalization – 946.5 billion US dollars), Amazon.com (capitalization – 916.1 billion US dollars). All of them work in the sphere of producing computer equipment, software and Internet technologies. Apple’s tangible and intangible assets are estimated at $338 billion, almost three times less than the notional market value. Microsoft’s assets are $ 286.6 billion. Amazon’s assets are $ 199 billion. The latter has the highest conditional Tobin’s q ratio of the top three. Once again, we emphasize that the above asset evaluation includes not only material, but also non-material components (patents, trademark rights, franchises, etc., as well as rights to use software, etc.). But, even with this in mind, the main part of the cost of these companies is determined by forecasts of market development and their intellectual capital, i.e. personnel.
Intellectual capital and human resources play a much greater role in evaluating startups than in the case of giant corporations. Here, material factors may often not be taken into account at all due to their insignificant volume or role. Roughly speaking, a startup can be a small team of professionals who have generated some commercially promising idea and have the necessary knowledge and experience to implement it. Tangible assets can be limited to computers and some unassuming premise, such as a garage where people work. Sometimes these companies are sold and bought for a lot of money.
In 2018, Red Hat (a software developer) was purchased for $ 33 billion, and CA Technologies (anti-virus software and Internet security) – for $ 18.9 billion. In 2019, Honey company (a developer of browser extensions) was bought for $ 4 billion, a buyer estimated a startup called Scout, a cloud service to help with corporate purchases, at $ 540 million. All of these companies have no production facilities, no mineral deposits – or anything like that. An office and office appliances are almost all tangible assets. So, the main value in the modern world is increasingly represented by qualified personnel, know-how and intellectual property created and developed by them, which is the basis of a product with a high added value. It is in these assets that SkyWay invests today, constantly increasing and optimizing its staff, attracting the best professionals and providing all the needed conditions for their further growth and self-realization (acquisition of modern software and office equipment, purchase and outfitting of comfortable premises for work, implementation of relevant methodologies and training programs). At the same time, the creators of string transport gain success “not by number, but by skill”.
The secret of SkyWay successful development
Even from the small number of comparisons presented in the article, one can see how unique SkyWay experience is and how much the developers and General designer Anatoli Unitsky managed to do with a minimum of spent resources: timed, financial, and human ones. Despite the complexity and variety of tasks SkyWay Group of Companies is facing, the results achieved indicate their feasibility. SkyWay transport and infrastructure complexes are a reality. Moreover, they are available in various configurations and specifications. Even more important, there is a team that is already able to design, build and update future transportation systems anywhere in the world, adapting to the most diverse and stringent requirements from the customer. These are the facts. What is the secret of such a successful development?
A quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Give me 6 hours to cut down a tree, and I will spend 4 hours to sharpen an axe.” What has been achieved by SkyWay Group of Companies today would not have been possible without an extensive scientific base built by the author and General designer of innovative transport complexes Anatoli Unitsky for many decades, starting from 1977. We are talking about full-fledged scientific and engineering schools, the formation of which can be divided into four conditional stages:
The team being set up by Anatoli Unitsky is the bearer of unique knowledge and experience, a detailed system of scientific and engineering views and methods that serve as the basis for SkyWay technology and the sector of the economy that will be formed as a result of bringing the Group of Companies’ products to the market. This asset is certainly the most valuable thing that SkyWay has today, since without it, no machines and other equipment would provide construction of string transport complexes. This is what Anatoli Unitsky says about it.
“We have created the brains and muscles of SkyWay technology in Belarus. Its scientific, engineering, manufacturing demonstration/certification components […] I can proudly say that for a very short period of time I have managed to create the most powerful engineering school in Belarus from scratch […]
I have to point out here that while working abroad, we understood, I understood primarily, what the main thing is for those who take decisions on targeted orders. The most important is the staff potential, staff asset […], which I evaluate in above 2 billion dollars’ asset.”
Unitsky String Technologies Co. is the heart of Unitsky’s scientific and engineering school. However, the work is carried out also independently from the Company by a number of other organizations and scientists-enthusiasts. The Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Belarusian National Technical University and Belarusian National University of transport, Russian University of transport (MIIT), with which an agreement on comprehensive cooperation was signed in 2017, Nizhny Novgorod University of architecture and construction and Ural Federal University (UrFU), Slovak University of Technology (SUT), British Wessex Institute of Technology have already joined the work. The list is far from complete.
One of the main research centers is SkyWay Innovation Center in the UAE, which became part of Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP). It is planned to create a SkyWay Institute there in the future. Prominent scientists contribute to the development of Unitsky’s ideas. In some cases, this engineer’s developments and experience become the basis for research in the areas not directly related to transport. In 2019, SkyWay became one of the experts in the UN sustainable development program.
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