Industry Tiki Tours, November 2014

Industry Tiki Tours, November 2014
 Auckland – story by Dr Geoff Willmott

A handful of curious MacDiarmid Institute students from Auckland and Canterbury participated in the inaugural MESA and MacDiarmid “Industry Tiki Tour”. This involved site visits to three exporting manufacturers in Auckland, in addition to a presentation from Rocket Lab. First stop was Buckley Systems, so we jumped on to a grey mini-bus in Princes St and headed down the Southern motorway to Mt Wellington. Buckley Systems manufactures large electromagnets which control such things as ion beams and synchrotron storage rings. Many of their electromagnets are used in the Australian synchrotron which is heavily used by MacDiarmid researchers. Buckley might be the biggest machine stop in New Zealand – full of large machinery that carves out metallic structures as big as a table, with geometric precision down to tens of microns. They are increasingly trying to understand the control of ion beams themselves, and are definitely keen to develop local scientific collaboration.

 
Photo: Chris Philpott (CTO, Buckley Systems) explaining operations in the copper coiling room.

Photo: Chris Philpott (CTO, Buckley Systems) explaining operations in the copper coiling room.

Second stop was Fisher and Paykel Healthcare in East Tamaki, who immediately won us over with their impressively spacious campus, and by providing lunch and jelly beans. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare employ ~400 R&D staff in New Zealand, and like all of the manufacturers we visited, more than 90% of sales are exports. Following presentations from product development staff, we were taken on a tour of the labs. The line-up of six or seven 3D printers used for prototyping was particularly impressive, as was the massive clean area used for manufacturing their respiratory humidifier products.

 

Next up was Adept, a company of about 85 people based in a warehouse located not too far from Eden Park in Sandringham. Adept specializes in injection moulded polymer parts. Their Managing Director Murray Fenton showed us around the factory floor, which consisted of an array of injection moulding machines with robotic arms, programmed to produce parts 24/7 as efficiently as possible. Adept designs and makes their own customised moulds for specific applications, ranging from parts used in Fisher and Paykel’s respiratory equipment to various clips and plugs used with animal carcasses. One particularly cool product was a specialist carbon-fibre support used to position a patient’s arm during surgery.

 
Finally it was back to University where we had a visit from Dr Sandy Tirtey of Rocket Labs. Sandy impressed us with tales of a passionate work environment: testing big ideas with ridiculously fast turnarounds, valuing ingenuity, plans to double in size (to 60 people) over the next year, and the CEO still doing some of his own welding. Of course Rocket Lab’s overall vision of a space industry in New Zealand is pretty inspiring and far-sighted, so it was exciting to hear what is happening from the horse’s mouth.
 
Thanks to Wendy Reynolds and Desi Ramoo for organising our day out, and get well soon.
 

Wellington – story by Chun Y. Cheah

It is certainly not every day that you get a guided tour inside working companies. The MacDiarmid Emerging Scientists Association recently organized an Industry Tiki Tour on Oct 24 in the greater Wellington region.

Around 15 of us (the attendees varied slightly between the morning and afternoon sessions) started our tour, very ably hosted by Fangrong Zong, at Opus Research in Petone. Jeremy of Opus explained in depth about bitumen research in consultation with the NZTA and showed us around the lab. The highlight was a large wind tunnel in which a model of Auckland CBD was placed; this was to fulfill developers’ requirements to certify that their buildings posed no hazard to pedestrians under strong wind conditions.

Then we headed to Nuenz in Lower Hutt where we were shown silicon nitride nanofibers, and treated to an insight into the naming and branding of the company (“We needed a nonsense name that was not region-specific – yet still hinting of being from NZ – so that it’s easily registered worldwide.”). Nuenz, we learn, is a spin-off from the research of Prof John Spencer at VUW.

After a break for lunch in the Wellington CBD, we visited Volpara (also known as Matakina) which specializes in mammography image processing. Several newly-hired employees with newly-minted PhDs espoused to us the advantage of working in industry over academia. My view is that industry and academia are becoming increasingly complementary

We finished by dropping by at Publons. Daniel Johnston, the co-founder of Publons, embarrassingly kept calling me out as one of the earliest users of Publons (and I felt guilty for not being a very active user). He’s looking to hire a developer as the company expands its collaboration with major platforms.

Overall, this Tiki tour gave us a great insight to the inner workings of actual companies; a valuable exposure especially for the emerging scientists of the MacDiarmid Institute. Kudos must go to Brendan Darby and Wendy Reynolds for organizing the logistics of the day.