Got a tough problem?

When people need hard stuff built, tested and trialled, they turn to IRL.
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When people need hard stuff built, tested and trialled, they turn to IRL

In another life you may have dreamt of building robots or creating a wonder drug. Maybe you hoped to become the next Burt Munro or John Britten, making machines that beat the world.

In real life, IRL actually does it.

From pharmaceutical breakthroughs to creating entirely new industries for New Zealand, such as hightemperature superconductivity, the team at IRL has built an international reputation for doing the hard stuff of innovation in chemistry, physics, electronics and engineering. Here are three examples of how IRL adds value through collaboration on the science behind innovative ideas.


In the early 1990s forestry company Carter Holt Harvey faced a billion-dollar problem. Some logs are good for timber, some for pulping. But how do you know? In the past lumberjacks tapped the logs and listened to the reverberations.

A joint project with IRL created the Hitman, a palm-sized tool that assesses the stiffness and fibre properties using sonic probing. The information helps the saw operator determine where the cuts should be made on the stem to maximise the usefulness of each section.

The device saved the forestry company many millions of dollars and won an electronic product Excellence Award at the 1999 Electronic and Software Industry Awards.

The Hitman product range is now being developed by Fibregen Instruments, a Kiwi company with a growing export base.


Testing your car at the local garage is one thing. Testing an army tank is another. When the NZ Army approached IRL to develop a cost-effective way to test tank engines, the scientists created a system of hydraulic pumps that connected to the drive shafts and valves so that large amounts of power could be sucked out of the motor. While the Hydraulic Dynamometer included sophisticated electrical control it was “beautifully simple” to use.

But the army only needed one device. So in 1994 IRL looked around the world for other customers and soon found local entrepreneur Alan Sheridan, who licensed the IP, adapted the technology and founded International Dynamometers, now a multimillion-dollar company selling the Dynapack to high-performance race teams and garage mechanics around the world. Some 95 percent of its sales are exports.

While the Dynapack has been continuously improved over the years, the original IRL innovation remains at the company’s core.

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IRL has built an international reputation for doing the hard stuff of innovation in chemistry, physics, electronics and engineering.


We all know Navman and perhaps even own one of its GPS tools. But a breakthrough in the product was IRL’s development of a robust antenna. Alan Coulson, IRL’s ICT research leader, says Navman’s intention to use the device to track satellites presented particular challenges. “We had to design the antenna to amplify the signals coming from above the horizon and eliminate the background noise coming from below the horizon.”

Navman began manufacturing the patch antennas in 1997, using thick film fabrication equipment provided by one of the IRL team who had bought the equipment when IRL’s predecessor, the DSIR, was disestablished and stored it in his garage.

“Not only did IRL provide the design expertise but we were also able to provide the manufacturing equipment and show Navman how to use it,” says Coulson.

Navman manufactured more than half a million of the patch antennas between 1997 and 2004 and IRL was instrumental in the phenomenal growth the company achieved during those years.

Expert assistance

Since its inception in 1992, IRL has been a research partner for Kiwi companies at the forefront of innovation. Its unique combination of in-house expertise in core science, along with business development and licensing teams means the company is perfectly placed to assist innovators with contract research, licensing IP or simply consulting on gnarly technical problems.

Got a tough problem to solve? IRL can’t wait to fix it.


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