«2020 will be crucial for the SkyWay Group of Companies. Not defining, but crucial. It is this year that we plan, and these plans are real, to enter the world transport market with our innovative technology. To be more precise: not just technology, but a complex of technologies. We are creating a transport and infrastructure industry with the same potential as aviation, rail, road and railway industries», says SkyWay General Designer Anatoli Unitsky in his first interview this year.
The author of the string transport once again highlights: it’s not just a new type of car, locomotive, plane or ship, but a sophisticated complex of systems and subsystems, which, in addition to the rolling stock, includes many components, each of which, in its turn, is unique: pre-stressed flyover, stations, terminals and depots of the «second level», security systems, intelligent control with technical vision not only for the traffic flows, but also the complex as a whole; power supply and communication systems, etc. No one in the world has ever done anything like this before. After all, it is necessary to cover everything at once, to work simultaneously on multiple fronts, using a wide range of resources.
In parallel, design, research and development work should be carried out; to design and build six test and demonstration tracks with all necessary infrastructure, not only in Belarus, but also in the United Arab Emirates, only in a tropical version. And, of course, people who do it, have been the most important ones in all this. These are the people, who are united by a common system of values, organized in a certain structure, pursuing a common goal.
The personnel core and staff shortage
Today, the SkyWay personnel core can mainly be considered formed. The organizational structure of Unitsky String Technologies Co., which occupies a central 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.
Unitsky String Technologies Co. has more than one hundred structural elements like in the Mendeleyev’s table. About sixty design bureaux and departments are engaged in research and development in various fields: urban, freight and high-speed complexes with corresponding rolling stock – mounted and suspended, light, medium and heavy classes, monorail, double-rail and quadro- rails; transport flyovers of fundamentally different types (flexible, semi-rigid, rigid, semi-rigid); electric motor drives, 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 the rolling stock and track structure elements in small series.
At present time, the number of employees, including satellite organizations, exceeds 1000 people. But, given the diversity of the team’s tasks and the scale of ambition, this is still not enough, it’s even few. The company continues to grow, experiencing personnel shortage. Engineers have long been sought outside Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
There are no analogues, but parallels are possible
If SkyWay is creating an industry, it’s a good idea to define the concept. In Wikipedia it is defined as «a set of enterprises extracting, producing or supplying homogeneous (with similar properties) or specific products with the same type of technology.» That is, the automobile industry, for example, is a lot of companies producing cars and components for them, aviation: aircraft, and so on. All cars are alike each other, as well as all aircraft. Their production technology is similar, and SkyWay is creating its own technology so that in the future, various enterprises around the world could build string transport systems.
Millions of jobs, huge information flows and volumes of commodity exchange, which is what Anatoli Unitsky said in one of his early appeals 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 take decisive action, starting its way in the sphere of demand and offer. Everything necessary to expect success was realized in just a few years, through the efforts of the team of 1000 people at its peak. Although there are no analogues, you can still try to draw some parallels.
Tesla Motors, a rapidly having entered the market company, associated with the personality of Elon Musk, spent at least five years from 2003 to 2008 to create its first serial electric car, spending according to the CNBC channel, more than $ 105 million. At the time of the IPO in 2010, Tesla employed 650 people. It would seem that the figures are comparable to those, seen in the case of Anatoli Unitsky’s SkyWay, if not too many «buts».
Elon Musk’s Company did not need to build test routes for its first car, was not designing and building roads and road infrastructure and so on. And the electric car itself was invented back in 1841. By 1899, the car, working on the same principles as Tesla, had already been accelerated to 100 km/h. At the same time, 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 US is the most gas polluted. That’s why back in 1996, long before the product, created by Tesla Motors, there appeared the first serial electric cars, which were not inferior to many of the American billionaire’s product characteristics. Accordingly, there was support from the state. In summary, the difference between what SkyWay is doing and what a very successful car maker has realized in the first product and market entry phase is striking.
SkyWay is 100% innovation, at the time of the idea’s inception, it had nothing but the experience of manufacturers and developers of other fundamentally different modes of transport, infrastructure and so on. And if founders of Tesla could adopt much from other cars, including electric cars, for which electric motors, transmission, chargers, inverters and other things have already been created, the developers of SkyWay had to do practically everything from scratch or fundamentally to rework the solutions available by that time. It was not only and not so much about the rolling stock as about the roads and everything else included in the transport complexes. This is being done without any support from the authorities; despite the media attacks, under the influence of which many professionals refuse to go to work for SkyWay; for less money ($75 million at the day of writing); in comparable time and number of people (only slightly more than the staff, who were developing the only Tesla Roadster’s car).
While Elon Musk’s company had created only one car by the time it entered the market, SkyWay has designed and manufactured 12 more sophisticated vehicles: cargo and passenger, urban and intercity, speed and high-speed, mounted and suspended ones, with capacity from 2 to 200 passengers and load capacity from 2 to 35 tons. The other 4 models, including the tropical versions, are now in progress. And that’s just one part of the complex.
The activities on design and construction of string flyovers at Unitsky String Technologies Co. deserves a special review. Here, as well as in the case of the rolling stock, the uniqueness of the work being performed and the variety of solutions implemented are evident. Every element of the flyover structures: anchor and intermediate supports, pre-stressed track structure, have been developed for the first time in the world. Moreover, different types of the string-rail track structures with their own specifications and application areas have been implemented: mounted, suspended, monorail, double-rail and quadro-rail; four fundamentally different types of them: flexible, semi-rigid, rigid and semi-rigid ones. It’s like in bridges: they can be beam, suspended, cable-stayed, in the form of trusses and so on. The process of creation of the documentation and building of these constructions is possible to compare with activity of the organisations designing bridges, overpasses and flyovers. Usually, the staff at such companies is hundreds and sometimes thousands of people.
For example, the company Foster and Partners, which designed a relatively small (only 325 meters long with a maximum span of 144 meters), but famous Millennium Bridge in London, employs more than 1300 people. With such resources, the preparation of the project documentation for this object took two years from 1996 to 1998. It took another two years to build. The bridge was opened in 2000, but already the next day, the access to the bridge was restricted and later stopped because it was swinging. Refinement and modification of the bridge took another two years – up to 2002, when the landmark of the capital of Foggy Albion became operational in normal mode. About $24 million has been spent. In less time and money Anatoli Unitsky’s project organization has erected six transport and infrastructure complexes and their components: string-rail flyovers with a total length of about 3.5 km, on which the rolling stock transports passengers and freight in automatic mode, and where there are also stations and depots, reversing rings and so on. What if the designers of the Millennium Bridge had to create all the above besides the bridge? Who knows what time frame and what budgets it would have taken? By the way, the SkyWay developers also offered their version of the bridge.
One other important component of Unitsky String Technologies Co. transport complexes is the 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 with the activities of design institutes of the same profile. The number of staff here is usually much more than in the architectural bureaux, the experience of one of which was described above.
For example, Bilfinger company, which in a consortium with two other major European companies that were performing similar functions in the design and construction of a 14-kilometre tramway line in Edinburgh, employs around 36,000 people. Despite this, the preparation of documentation and construction of the mentioned complex lasted from 2008 to 2014, in violation of the terms of the contract for three years, and cost more than a billion dollars – more than twice as expensive as originally planned. And, though it is clear that the given project was not the only one for the company, nevertheless, figures allow to have an idea of resources involved in its implementation. For the reason of innovativeness of designed complexes, complexity of problems solved by SkyWay is comparable to what was made by Bilfinger in the described case, the volume is not many less. At the same time, the SkyWay’s Project Management department currently consists of only 83 specialists.
The intelligent control systems, developed by the SkyWay specialists is another reason to be proud of. Like everything else, they are created in less time and money than competitors have, using minimum of employees. We are talking about a sophisticated complex, which includes an adaptive system of route tasks, a positioning system, machine vision and on-board intelligent control system, functional equipment control system and many other components. The products, manufactured by SkyWay in these areas, are in many ways superior to systems used in modern rail transport. Let’s compare the resources spent on development in this direction.
Thales, a French company involved in the development of control, signalling, security and other systems for railway and subway lines in the UK, UAE, India, Singapore, Vietnam and Turkey, employs over 80,000 people. The company Siemens, also working on the market of autonomous control systems, has more than 366 thousand employees. There are about 34 thousand people engaged in transport here. And, although it was impossible to find the exact number of engineers involved in the development of intelligent systems, it is known that in 2016–2018 the company spent more than 20 billion U.S. dollars for this purposes; even larger amounts are planned to invest in the development of this area in the period from 2020 to 2022. Research and development work in the company employs more than 45 thousand employees, and only in 2019, almost 6.3 billion dollars was spent here. Thanks also to investments in intellectual capital and human resources assets, Siemens capitalization recently reached $ 95 billion.
The estimation of intellectual capital and human resources
In the estimation of intellectual capital, the basis of which is personnel, there often is applies a coefficient, which in the most general sense is the ratio of the market value of the company to the price of its assets (buildings, constructions, equipment and so on – everything that can be formally evaluated). The market price can be determined on the basis of its capitalization data based on stock market valuations, however, the final value of the firm becomes clear only when purchased by another market participant.
In 1988, Philip Morris bought the company Kraft for $12.9 billion. The price of Kraft owned buildings, facilities and inventory was only $1.3 billion, and the rest of the money (11.6 billion) was the price of the brand, connections, marketing opportunities, and – the main thing – the qualifications of 51,000 workers. Thus, the non-material part in the value of the company was 90%, and the mentioned ratio – was 9.9. The more science-intensive a business is, the greater can be the value of the given indicator, named after the author’s name – Tobin ratio. In 1960–1970, its average value was 1–2. Since the early 1980s, it has been growing dramatically, so that by the early 2000s it had reached 6–7.
Tobin ratio can reach several hundred for some software companies and Internet technologies. This means that when assessing the market value of such firms, tangible assets are practically not taken into account. The main factor is intellectual capital.
Today, the world’s three most expensive companies are Apple (with capitalization of $961.3 billion), Microsoft ( with capitalization of $946.5 billion), Amazon.com ( with capitalization of $916.1 billion). They all work in the field of computer hardware, software and Internet technologies. Tangible and intangible assetes of Apple are estimated at 338 billion, almost three times less the notional market value. Microsoft assets – 286,6 billion. Amazon assets – 199 billion. The latter has the highest relative Tobin ratio of the top three. We would like to highlight once again that the above valuation of assets includes not only tangible but also intangible components (patents, trademark rights, franchises, etc., as well as rights to use software, etc.). But even with this in mind, most of the value of these firms is determined by market development forecasts and their intellectual capital – i.e. the staff.
A much greater importance than in the case of giant corporations is given to intellectual capital and human resources assets when evaluating startups. Here, material factors may often not be taken into account at all due to the insignificance of their 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 may be limited to computers and some unpretentious premises, such as a garage where people work. Sometimes, such companies are sold and bought for a lot of money.
In 2018, Red Hat company (software developer) was acquired for $33 billion; CA Technologies (anti-virus software and Internet security) – for $18.9 billion. In 2019, for 4 billion, there was bought a company Honey (developer of browser extensions); a buyer valued a startup called Scout – a cloud service to assist in corporate purchasing, at a 540 million. All these companies have neither production shops nor mineral deposits &ndash nothing like that. Office and office equipment were practically all their tangible assets. The main value in today’s world is increasingly represented by qualified personnel; the know-how,created and developed by them; and the intellectual property underlying at the basis of a high value-added product. It is in these assets that SkyWay invests today, constantly increasing and optimizing its staff, attracting the best professionals and providing all the necessary conditions for their further growth and self-realization (purchase of modern software and office equipment, purchase and equipping comfortable premises for work, the introduction of current methodologies and training programs). At the same time, the creators of the string transport are gaining success not by number, but by skills.
The secret to the Skyway’s successful development
You can also see from even a small number of comparisons, presented in the article, how unique the experience of SkyWay is, and how much the developers and General Designer Anatoli Unitsky have managed to do with the minimal time, financial, human resources spent. While the challenges facing the SkyWay Group are complex and diverse, the results show that they are feasible. Transport infrastructure complexes SkyWay are a reality. Moreover, they are presented in various configurations and specifications. More importantly, there is a team that are already capable of designing, building and improving future transportation systems anywhere in the world, adapting to the most diverse and strict requirements of the customer. These are facts. What is the secret of such successful development?
Below is a quote, attributed to Abraham Lincoln: «Give me 6 hours to cut down a tree, and I’ll spend 4 hours sharpening an axe».
What has been achieved by the SkyWay Group of Companies to date, would not have been possible without the extensive scientific base, built by the author and General Designer of the 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 relative stages:
- conceptualization and definition of fundamental principles of the string transport systems functioning (1977 – 1989);
- development of the research program, theoretical study of the main components of the transport complexes, analysis of their structural variants, research of dynamic and static aspects of systems functioning by mathematical methods (1989 – 2000);
- creation of a full-scale model and experimental confirmation of the string transport operability, further engineering study and improvement of first, second and third generation of the string transport complexes; substantiation of economic and social advantages, connected with their mass introduction (2000 – 2014);
- development of the commercial product (from 2014 to present).
The team, whish is being formed by Anatoli Unitsky, is a carrier of unique knowledge and experience, of the detailed system of scientific and engineering views and methods that are the basis of the SkyWay technology and the industry, that will be formed as a result of bringing the Group of Companies’ products to market. This asset is certainly the most valuable thing that SkyWay has to date, as without it, no machines and other equipment will allow to build the complexes of the string transport vehicles.
That’s what Anatoli Unitsky says about it:
«The brain and main muscles of the SkyWay technology have been created in Belarus: its scientific, industrial, engineering and demonstration-certification components […] I can proudly say that in a very short time, from scratch, I have managed to create the most powerful engineering school in Belarus […]
I must mention that when working abroad, we understood, I understood, what is most important first of all for those who make decisions about targered orders. What matters most is human resources capacity, personnel asset […], which I estimate at more than 2 billion dollars».
Unitsky String Technologies Co. is a heart of Unitsky’s scientific and engineering school. However, the work is being carried out independently of the company by a number of other organizations and enthusiastic scientists. To varying degrees, the following organizations and institutions have already joined the work: 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. The list is far from being complete.
One of the main research centres is the SkyWay Innovation Centre in the UAE, which is part of Sharjah Technology Research Park (SRTIP). The SkyWay Institute is planned to be established here in the future. Prominent scientists are contributing to the development of Unitsky’s ideas, in some cases, the development and experience of the engineer becomes the basis for research in areas not directly related to transport.