Radio control hobby blossoms into export success

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Radio controlled helicopter

By Iain MacIntyre

A personal hobby flying radio controlled helicopters combined with a passionate vision, has progressively forged an innovative and financially-successful export business for the now full-time chief executive of Photo Higher, Kimberley Attwell.

Mr Attwell candidly admits that in order to fund the expensive repairs inevitably associated with the hobby, he elected to design a camera gimbal, to providing a cost-effective aerial photography service for the real estate market.

“I soon learned that real estate agents were very tight with their money and basically I would never make anything from offering the service,” he laments.

“So I did some research on the Internet and saw that I could manufacture the gimbals instead and sell them around the world. We have never had a market in New Zealand and so right from the start we exported the gimbals into the United States and Europe.”

Having for many years worked on the 2003-founded business primarily in the evenings and weekends, Mr Attwell says Photo Higher began to gain real traction when he gave up his previous job and committed full-time to the venture in September 2010.

“Today we have nine full-time staff and we operate out of a factory in Ngauranga (Wellington). Our sales are increasing monthly and we have already turned over what we did last year and we are only halfway through this financial year.

“The company exports 99 percent of its products into 34 countries and we have around 70 distributors, so we are really proud of our success to date.”

Mr Attwell says Photo Higher’s primary focus is now on the design and development of innovative three-axis camera gimbals or “hot heads” for the film industry and unmanned aircraft.

“Our current two very popular products are the AV130 and AV200 gimbals as well as our Skyline RSGS which is an electronic stabilisation system for the gimbals.

“When we design something we always look outside the square to see what other areas it could be used in and if there is a need. We have a strong development team of electronic and mechanical engineers and we believe there is no such thing as ‘can’t’.”

Mr Attwell says the three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) program, SolidWorks, plays a key role in the development of Photo Higher’s products.

“It comes with a lot of very useful tools to help with the design process and ensure components fit together correctly, and that your staked tolerances etc are correct and there is no interference. It also has a powerful finite analysis tool that allows you to simulate loads and analyse particular parts or assemblies to ensure they are within the design specifications.

“We are able to quickly draw components such as a sheet metal part which we can send to our supplier who then loads it directly into laser-cutting software and the parts are then cut. The same drawing is then run through the folding software which creates the CNC folding program and the parts are then folded.”

With numerous new products in the final stages of development, Mr Attwell says it is an “exciting time” for Photo Higher.

“Our plan is to continue to research and develop products within the UAS [unmanned aircraft systems]industry but we are also looking at how we can help in the development of the public aerospace industry.

“Man has successfully landed the Curiosity on Mars, with the Opportunity which has now been on Mars for about eight years. More recently, Felix Baumgartner breaks the sound barrier with his successful skydive from the Red Bull Stratos.

“Someday I would like to see our company associated with similar breakthrough ventures.”

For further information:

Kimberley Attwell

Tel: 021 222 3388

E-mail: [email protected]

Visit: www.photohigher.co.nz

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