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Colin Austin’s story
In the early seventies engineer Colin Austin realized that computers would revolutionize the design process.
He wrote a
piece of software that transformed the international design of
plastics moulds using scientific principles rather than 'gut feel'.
So successful was this software that the company that Colin founded
(Moldflow) became the most successful exporters of technical
Colin became internationally recognized as the leader in his field of computational fluid flow and the company world famous for a series of innovations which sprung from Colin concepts of how to manage research, a process he calls ‘speculative research’ pursuing unconventional approaches on the hunch they may just work out, high risk with many failures but the one success could literally change the world.
He became increasingly concerned about environmental issues, particularly the management of what he sees as the world’s most critical resource fresh water. He examined the research programs around the world, saw they were largely financed by Governments, what he calls ‘competence research’, highly organized and planned but almost over organized, killing of those high risk - high reward creative ideas.
Colin felt that with his expertise in fluid flow simulation and armed with the technique of ‘speculative research’ that he may just be able to change the way we think and manage our water. He sold his multi million dollar company which gave him the resources to set up a research group of some dozen highly talented and creative researchers to tackle those high risk projects which was being ignored by the ever cautious bureaucratic approaches of Governments.
At first his group focused on irrigated agriculture with a number of innovations such as the development of micro flood irrigation which unlike conventional flood irrigation can apply precise quantities of water and replaces the traditional open channels which lead to major losses of water by evaporation and leakage.
He continued his software development with scheduling software which enables precise application of water by calculating plant water usage. While an important technology Colin was getting frustrated by the limited horizons of the bureaucracy who encouraged wasteful usage patterns by making cheap water readily available at highly subsidized prices.
life was about to change when he was invited by World Vision to go
grow where there is an average adequate ran and are then thrown into
despair when the rain fails to materialize. He felt the situation
was just like Australia, no one complains about the lack of rain in
the Simpson Desert, there is no one their to complain. The problems
arise in areas like
He was introduced to the reality of the green drought, when there is enough rain for the crops to start to grow. But a break in the rains, even of a few weeks, but at the critical times when the seed heads should be maturing, means the crop fails completely, resulting in famine.
Realizing the problem was erratic rain, rather than no rain; he developed a system called the wicking bed which is essentially an underground pond. Rain, when it occurs, is channeled into this pond which forms a reservoir which allows the plants to keep on growing to maturity even if the rains fail to materialize.
experienced the realities of living without proper water supply,
seeing people scooping water from feaces infected puddles,
experiencing first hand the inevitable consequence of diarrhea Colin
was in for a second cultural shock on his return to
After his experiences in Africa he found it unbelievable that people use high quality potable water for flushing toilets and watering gardens when the simple techniques he had used in Africa, catching water locally and storing it in tanks or in the underground ponds or wicking beds, provides a simple and cheap substitute for potable water.
stunned not just by the lack of interest from the bureaucracy, but
their obsession in pushing ahead with totally unnecessary projects
that the wicking bed system had another dimension.
Plants absorb some thirty times the total man made emission
Unfortunately most of the carbon simply re-enters the atmosphere
giving little net gain.
However if organic material is decomposed in semi anaerobic
conditions such that decay is fungal rather than bacterial then
carbon is retained in the soil.
A key to the effectiveness of the wicking bed was to fill the water reservoir with waste organic material provides an effective way of capturing carbon.
He now feels that the solution is to get this message out to the public at large.
He has received numerous awards including;-
1980 John Derham Award for Technical Innovation
1982 National Small Business Award
1984 Dept of Trade in Association with Confederation of Australian Industry's Export Award for outstanding achievement.
1985 AITA, Cad software solution of the year award
1988 Australian Bicentennial Export Award, Services Category
1989 Australian British Chamber of Commerce Federal Award for small business export initiative and innovation
1990 Governor of Victoria Export Award to Colin Austin for significant export achievement by an individual
1990 Government of Victoria Export Award Certificate of Commendation, services category
1990 Business Bulletin Small Business Achievement Award
1990 Business Bulletin small business achievement award
1991 The John Hart Technology Award
1991 Rolls Royce/Qantas award together with the Warren Centre award for engineering excellence
1991 Governor of Victoria Export Award, awarded for significant achievement by an export product
1993 AITA Exporter of the year award
1993 ANTEC (USA) best technical paper award for lean plastics manufacture
1994 Southern Cross Award for Excellence awarded by Technology in Government Committee
1997 Fred O.Conley Award for outstanding achievement in plastics engineering &technology
2002 Triannual Plastics Industry Award for contributions to the plastics industry
2002 SPE Environmental Award
2002 SaveWater award winner agricultural section
2003 SaveWater award Regional Sustainability