It may be the era of the high-tech billionaire, however, engineers are being encouraged not to overlook the innovation opportunities in traditional industries.
University of Auckland Business School Research Fellow Dr Paul Woodfield, who along with Professor Kenneth Husted, launched the Innovation in New Zealand’s Traditional Industries (INZTI) programme in 2013.
Traditional industries include low and medium-tech industries that extensively use advanced knowledge and high-tech solutions, including primary, manufacturing, engineering and service industries.
Dr Woodfield’s research aims to provide the foundation for future systematic studies and contribute to education, cross-disciplinary research collaboration, and improved dialogue with representatives from traditional industries.
“Research now being done has revealed that traditional industries extensively use advanced knowledge and high-tech solutions developed both within their sectors and externally,” Dr Woodfield says.
“For people in the engineering and manufacturing industries this illustrates the innovation potential in and around traditional industries.”
General manager New Zealand Trade and Enterprise David Downs spoke as part of a Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship (MCE) Panel Discussion ‘Emerging trends in Innovation, Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship in New Zealand’ last year.
Mr Downs finds “it strange” that in particular, tech entrepreneurs, are a little shy about using New Zealand’s traditional strengths in the agricultural industry and building on them.
“If was going to have my time again, I would be building products and services and companies around using technology and agriculture and technology and farming because that’s where our real strength is.”
Dr Woodfield points to Compac Sorting Equipment as an example of a company that developed from traditional industry knowledge.
“Compac Sorting Equipment began with a prototype built in the garage of a student flat over 30 years ago. The innovator and managing director, Hamish Kennedy, completed a Master’s degree in electrical engineering and after observing the operations of his family’s kiwifruit orchard, he recognised the gap in the rapidly expanding kiwifruit market,” Dr Woodfield says.
“What he observed was that the kiwifruit industry needed an efficient way of sorting fruit, in-particular a fruit sorting machine that combined mechanical, electrical, and optical technologies. The need was for a fast and accurate sorting machine that performed better than conventional fruit grading equipment.
“Hamish went about building his own automated sorting machine in the basement of his father’s house and went on to revolutionise high-speed sorting machines that were both accurate and well-engineered.”
Compac has grown from a small company supplying the New Zealand kiwifruit market to a global company of more than 670 staff, a $100 million turnover, growing at 35 percent per year. In 2013 Compac was named New Zealand’s 19th largest technology company with a global group. Fieldmaster, established in the 1950s, is another example of an innovative company building from existing traditional knowledge.
Fieldmaster produce agricultural machinery such as mowers, slashers and grinders to mention a few. Established in the 1950s, they are a leading producer of agricultural machinery that has steadily grown over time while adhering to their core competencies.
“What makes Fieldmaster stand out from other lawn mowing equipment companies is its innovation around mowing solutions,” Dr Woodfield says.
For example, Fieldmaster developed what has become known as the Airport Express mower that could meet the demands of the airport and mow 700,000 square metres around the runway in three hours per week.
In early-2014 the Bay of Plenty Regional Council put out a tender to interested parties for someone to come-up with a solution for mangrove maintenance while preserving the snail, shellfish and crab population without excessively disturbing the bird wildlife.
Most tenderers proposed a tracked vehicle, however this did not work given criteria around the mangroves surface life. Fieldmaster proposed a hovercraft that could cut at a rate of 15 km/hr.
“Fieldmaster are an example of a New Zealand company that has taken functional products and refined them to provide their clientele with products that are specific to their needs. In doing so they are testing products locally for a global market,” Dr Woodfield says.