Boeing’s research unit expands scope to capitalise on wider innovation push

Boeing’s Phantom Works International research division is dramatically ramping up its operational scope, aiming to seize on additional opportunities as part of a broader industry-wide focus on innovation and emerging technology.

Speaking to Defence Connect, Shane Arnott, director of Phantom Works International, said top-notch engineering hinged on the ability to aggregate existing technologies and distil any latent possibilities in order to create brand new outcomes.

"Boeing is a prime, we don't want to invent everything – we can't," Arnott said. "A lot of it is looking around … [like at Avalon Airshow’s trade hall] today, and there's all sorts of cool stuff, so we will work with those guys."

Specifically, though, Arnott said his firm’s drive in terms of defining a clear research focus now included ensuring it formed part of an innovation cycle, where much of the innovation actually takes place outside of the defence brief proper.

"More and more we're working with companies that are non-traditional partners in order to sort of bring in their technology and then adapt it for defence purposes," Arnott said.

"We spend a lot of time doing … technology scanning, more than scanning actually; getting it [and] playing with it, smashing it into our existing products and seeing if it works or not."

Arnott was confident Boeing could keep luring switched-on engineers from academia and post-PhD pathways, and subsequently nurture this talent.

"We don't have problems attracting people; we have lots of cool stuff," he said, noting that he had addressed this very issue at a range of STEM locations. "Australians sort of have a capacity challenge, we don't have a quality issue – our unis are pumping out great engineers."

Finally, Arnott cited the limited size of the Australian defence industry impacting the depth of its engineering talent pool as a major challenge for the company.

"We work with a lot of the unis, [but] there's just not enough," he said, adding that "the ADF definitely drives a lot of high-end needs".

"They're a defence force that punches above their weight, so they won a lot of great stuff, but we honestly don't have enough people," Arnott emphasised.

"There's just not enough, I think is the message," he continued. "For instance, Boeing on the defence side is being centered in Brisbane and Queensland for the most part. We just recently have opened an Adelaide office, so for people out there who are from Adelaide, look at our job ads."

He also said it was imperative for Boeing’s research unit to diversify its presence to attract more talent.

"We're making moves like that as we grow and my Phantom Works guys are in Brisbane and Adelaide at the moment," he said.

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