A decade-long partnership between Australia’s largest bus body manufacturer and Monash University’s Faculty of Art Design and Architecture is providing PhD students with much-needed industry engagement and purpose in their quest to advance the future of Australian bus design.

The Volgren PhD Scholarship in partnership with Monash has now produced two PhD students: Dr Ilya Fridman, who graduated in November last year with his research into designing a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) within an Australian context; and Dr Robbie Napper, who led the design of Volgren’s highly successful Optimus route bus in 2013.

Dr Fridman, a former digital sculptor in the design team at General Motors, was introduced to Volgren when working with Dr Napper as a freelance designer on Volgren’s Optimus bus. He credits his PhD to “real industry” input and genuine engagement from Volgren.

“If there wasn’t the level of industry engagement and real-world application I wouldn’t have done my PhD. And if I did, I certainly wouldn’t have finished in four years,” Dr Fridman said.

“Volgren’s scholarship gave purpose to my PhD project. It challenged me to research complex real-world problems and deliver design solutions for local application.”

Dr Fridman had a desk in Volgren’s engineering studio that he visited weekly; Mick Kearney, Volgren’s engineering manager, was his supervisor.

“It was great to be embedded as part of the business. It helped me understand the complexities they dealt with daily. I could walk around the factory floor, observe the construction process, and speak with employees or suppliers to understand their needs. I even went along on driving tests.”

“Having Mick as a supervisor was particularly helpful, as he provided valuable feedback during our fortnightly reviews. The final outcome would not have been as credible without his extensive knowledge and input,” Dr Fridman said.

Dr Fridman’s research focused on the unique functional and operational characteristics of BEV systems and how the development of BEV route bus platform required a greater understanding of battery configuration and operational strategies in an Australian context.

His research addressed this knowledge gap through design-led experimentation that integrated information from vehicle engineering, battery chemistry and public transport.

Volgren CEO Peter Dale said the partnership and academic collaboration with Monash was critical as his company developed the next generation of route buses.

“Monash have been great partners to work with and we’re extremely proud to have two successful PhD students complete their research projects that advance bus body design,”

“Both research projects have contributed world-leading ideas that have either been incorporated into current designs or, in the case of Ilya’s work in battery electric vehicles, will be studied and tested by our engineering and design teams.”

Dale said working with academics and industrial designers at Monash has had a lasting effect on Volgren’s continual performance culture and their ability to compete globally.