Historically, Tauranga’s economy has been centred around horticulture and shipping. That’s changing quickly, but that industrial heritage has led to a booming maker culture.
Whether it’s finding a solution to heat damaged hair, intricately printed 3D metal boat components, or mulch-coated horticultural grounds, Tauranga is a breeding ground for great ideas.
Locus Research is a company helping to bring many of the Bay’s best ideas to life. It’s worked with companies all along the spectrum, from startups to multi-million dollar enterprises, to research and develop new products and services.
“The way that you find us described is a product development and innovation agency, but what that means is we care very deeply about creating things – a product or a service or a new way of thinking about what someone’s working on – that have real tangible outcomes for people. It’s about getting things through to reality,” CEO Dan Faris says.
Faris says the research process is hugely important to unlock the right information. A crossfunctional team whose expertise ranges from science, to design, to tech, each bring a different lens to look at the challenges a company is facing. And he says there’s never a cookie-cutter approach.
“Innovation for innovation’s sake is meaningless to a certain degree. You’ve got to look at what’s going to move the wheel for a company and you’ve got to be thinking about a broad set of variables – what’s sustainable, dynamic? A lot of this lands on the user side of the spectrum, trends of the consumer industry,” Faris says.
Some of the products Locus Research has worked on include Inverse, the world’s first ice conditioning tool for hair that resembles a straightener, but moisturises, rather than damages, the hair follicles.
Hair stylist David Roe approached Locus to help him develop an ice-moisturising product, as his wife had found rinsing her curly hair with icecold water made her curls more defined, as well as smooth and shiny to touch.
Locus partnered with AgResearch, conducting hair fibre studies and science trials before creating Inverse, which picked up a Best Design Award in 2015 and an Australian Good Design Award in 2016.
Locus is based out of Priority One’s Ignition co-working space in the CBD. And Faris says the team feels privileged to be a part of Tauranga’s ecosystem.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for people around the block, doing the hard yards to make their big audacious dreams a reality and we feel we’re right alongside them. We’re not in an isolated little hole, we’re part of a larger ecosystem. There’s a bit of buzz down here,” he says.
Build it and they will come
Over in Tauriko, a buzz-before-you-enter facility is home to Rapid Advanced Manufacturing (RAM3D), a company that prints 3D metals. The security system is due to some of the work it’s doing for classified international clients.
Chief executive Warwick Downing says RAM3D is one of only a few companies in the world working in this space commercially, and it’s currently the largest operating in Australia and New Zealand.
“The real difference with this technology compared to traditional manufacturing is that with traditional manufacturing you start with a solid block and remove as little as possible to end up with an end product. With this technology you start with an empty space and add only the material you want.” Downing says. "It is about being design-led, with a focus on designing better product outcomes that can be achieved."
Narrowing down just what RAM3D makes is hard – arguably, it’s whatever a company dreams of creating. It has built aerospace components, firearms silencers, medical devices and even custom bicycles. Some of the America's Cup boats also have the handiwork of RAM3D on board.
“3D printing of metals is not commonly done globally, it’s still relatively new,” Downing says. “Our quality control we’ve managed to put in place is one unique to us. We’re very particular about quality and we monitor it very carefully. We also have deep understanding of the technology, as some of the things we’ve managed to do with the machines we’ve been told it’s not possible to do by the manufacturer, but we’ve adjusted them to make it work.”
An example of this is the delicately made metal chainmail it has produced, and its silencers are considered a world first.
But for now, RAM3D’s focus is on expanding and educating people on what the machines are capable of.
Downing says he wants to grow from four printing machines to about 20 by the end of 2020. At about NZ$800,000 to $1 million each, the machines are very capital-intensive.
“When I go to tradeshows, one of the big things is people don’t know you can 3D print metal – people know about plastic, but not metal. That education is a big focus we have to work on, knowing what you can do with these machines, and that it’s so much more than just traditional manufacturing allows,” Downing says.
A cut above
The seed for Trimax Mowers was planted all the way back in the 1970s when kiwifruit production became a key part of the Bay of Plenty’s DNA. Farmers discovered they needed a machine that could mow and mulch to suit the specific needs of orchards, so part-owner Bob Sievwright thought outside the box and designed mowers that specialised in just that.
“That formed a deeper understanding of the customers’ needs through working really closely with them in terms of mowing grass and mulching,” Trimax head of design and innovation Jason Low says. “Since then, we’ve grown from horticulture into finer turf areas like golf ranges and council areas.”
Trimax prides itself on its customer-centric approach, Low says, and includes customers in every area of development, from research through to design.
“Everyone at Trimax is really part of the innovation process. Anyone can be challenged and we’re not scared of failure in our testing,” he says. “We embrace that and we learn from the failures, which means we’re able to create products so much more effectively.”
Trimax is also big on design-led thinking, with innovation team members given a certain percentage of time at work to dig into projects that aren’t part of the existing products, but are related to the overall priorities of Trimax.
“We’re trying to foster a culture of innovation by giving our people a creative outlet and allowing them to do that.”
Some of the products that have arisen from Trimax’s creative culture include Snake, a mower designed for a golf course and fine turf applications, as it follows the contours and takes the form of the ground being mowed.
Low says that particular product has taken off in the US golf market, while its other creations are being shipped out to the US, Europe and Australia.
As for what’s next, Low says Trimax believes smart mowers are the future.
“We’ve got some exciting but top-secret projects happening at the moment. We’re very aware of emerging technologies, and we’re finding ways to adapt and change. To my knowledge, no one is publicly playing with the things we are.”
Being based in Tauranga, Low says there’s a real buzz about innovation out in the community.
“A lot of businesses are keen to collaborate and we’re seeing that happening through networking events like Design Thinking Meet Up,” he says.