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West Coast Poised To Become the Tech Hub of NZ

The nature of New Zealand manufacturing and industry has been evolving since the 1980’s with our traditional manufacturing centres and market focuses. While popular opinion is that industry has disappeared overseas, the Maintenance Engineering Society of NZ (MESNZ) has for some time been reporting that it has in fact relocated to the regions with a new focus on niche markets and necessity driven lean manufacturing. While a big driver of change late last century was the fashionable focus on labour rates, another new factor is emerging that may yet reshape our local industry, connective technology. Nowhere is this no more evident than at Vertigo Technologies in Westport, where a small band of young innovators are carving out a whole new micro machine centre industry. MESNZ took the opportunity to take the Kaeser Compressors Network Evening Series to the West Coast and were buoyed by what they discovered in a converted railway shed in the historic coal focused town of Westport.

Brett Cottle is a 26 year old man with a vision and the attitude to go places. Completing his Unitec certificates in mechanical design and electronics, Cottle, who modestly denies any qualification as an engineer, took to line-haul truck driving dangerous goods to square off his student loan, before settling on the tiny town of Westport to fulfil his dreams. Driven by his passion for drones and the need to build intricate components, Cottle discovered a niche and a knack for desktop light spec CNC controlled machine centers. The kind of machine that is not too big or expensive to fit into a healthy man-cave, yet retains the technology and capacity to create sophisticated accurate and repeatable low volume componentry. Fast forward to 2018 and Vertigo have built 167 machines in 15 months and are now preparing to step up from the local market test bed to the global market.

Technology is available and embraced in the region and the low cost of living reduces the risk for start up companies. With similar local success in gaming technology in the region, the concept of the West Coast becoming the next globally competitive connected technology centre of the country is poised to become a reality, a potential that has not escaped the region, with a Think Tank hosted in Greymouth in April.

Cottles approach mirrors that of Kiwi world beater Bill Buckley, surrounding himself with young enthusiastic staff, some local, but others keen to combine the West Coast life style with the opportunity to chase dreams. While this friendly bunch punch well above their weight, Cottle echoes the concerns raised by other digital machining and emerging technology operators; a lack of support and capability from the technical training industry. With the modern focus on funded unit study based training, the industry has failed to keep up with industry developments and needs to step up to the plate if New Zealand is to grasp its competitive advantage.

The MESNZ Kaeser Compressors Network Evenings are hosted to showcase local operations and provide networking opportunities for engineers across all regions of New Zealand. The evenings offer the opportunity to take a look at the host operation and discuss common issues and solutions in a relaxed after work environment. Open to interested members of the public, the nights are well patronised. There is no cost to attend and non-MESNZ can attend up to 2 meetings. Evenings are constantly being planned, with the current schedule showing Auckland, Napier, Christchurch and Masterton. Readers can find the latest schedule by going to http://www.mesnz.org.nz/activities/network-evenings/

MESNZ’s whistle stop visit to the West Coast has unearthed a fantastic depth of local industry and engineering and armed with the improved local knowledge, the society is vowing to return to the region to foster further development and growth of the engineering network.

The Maintenance Engineering Society is active across New Zealand, providing opportunities for maintenance engineers and manufacturing operations to network and share innovations and experiences; both at a national level at their annual national conference or at these regional events. The 2018 National Maintenance Engineering Conference will be held at the Energy Events Centre, Rotorua on November 13-15

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