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Big Business In Blowing Up Boats

Big Business In Blowing Up Boats

John Booth is buoyant about business and its not surprising considering that his 12 year old Taihape company is one of the country’s leading makers of inflatable boats. It is also one of the busiest, with half the factory capacity dedicated to producing inflatable rescue boats for the US market.

The landlocked town is home to Incept Marine, whose inflatable rafts, river kayaks and rescue craft are big business. The latest project for the innovative company, is a New Zealand first – a portable inflatable sea kayak costing under $3,000, light enough to be carried in a backpack, but tough enough to withstand long expedition sea voyages.

It is also possibly one of the most remarkable pieces of collaboration in New Zealand business. It drew on the company’s core competency, R&D skills of a Massey University graduate student, assistance from Technology New Zealand, and the at-sea experiences of an 80 year old American long distance solo sea kayak expert.

Small enough to fit into an average backpack, and inflated by a foot pump, the sea kayak is the next step on from Incept’s success in designing and building river kayaks. “We knew the kayak shape would always be a problem, as inflatables tend towards rounded surfaces while streamlined kayaks extend to knife edges,” says Incept manager, John Booth. “We also had to make a product that would be acceptable to the market.

Massey University Liz Ussher is a keen whitewater kayaker, so the opportunity to work with the company on a Technology for Industry Fellowship awarded through Technology New Zealand, was a marriage made in heaven. While completing her Masters in Manufacturing and Industrial Technology, Liz’s research skills helped the company take the project from concept to production.

John Booth explains: “What we needed was someone who could devote time to the project. Liz’ input helped us confirmed that we should develop an expedition sea kayak capable of covering long distances over an extended period.”

Low drag is also a big factor in the development, and Liz tested the various designs in fast-flowing rivers to compare the drag. “Although I learnt plenty about kayak parameters and design, I think the most valuable thing I learned was about teamwork and communication, “ she says. “I also learned how things never go quite your way in industry.”

Incept Marine was also helped in the design and prototype stage by Audrey Sutherland, an 80 year old American solo sea kayaker. “She is always on the lookout for a faster boat, so she brought her favourite European inflatable kayak to New Zealand and spent a week with us,” says John Booth. “Her input and experience was useful in helping us refine the design for the highly specific needs of sea kayakers.”

The company is a quiet success story: running at capacity, plenty of on-going orders, a strong presence in international markets and looking for more people and space to expand. However, Technology New Zealand’s assistance allowed Incept the luxury of taking time to add new technology into the business and open up a new market.
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