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Hot Stuff Research Says ' We Can Do It'

Phil Prior spends his business life getting people into hot water. The seven person Palmerston North company is one of New Zealand's smallest manufacturers of hot water cylinders but early research results could see an innovative new product hit the market.

Funding from Technology New Zealand, part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, has enabled the company to undertake its first ever research project. Working alongside Massey University, the company is developing the technology required to make New Zealand's first stainless steel long life hotwater cylinders.

Phil Prior, Hotwater Company General Manager, says one of the major hurdles has been trying to get the economies of scale needed to be economically viable. "It's a difficult material to work with, but we knew that they were making them in Australia. But when we looked at theirs we thought - 'we can do better than that'.

"Essentially using stainless steel is a simple process, but it's a premium price material and the manufacturing techniques used elsewhere are too labour intensive for us to contemplate."

Mr Prior says developing the revolutionary new bonding technology was a major breakthrough for the company. The research group is looking at a new bonding technique that does away with time consuming welding and could cut labour costs by up to 80%.

The $19,000 Technology New Zealand funding enabled the company to undertake initial research to test the potential of the technology and early results are very encouraging, according to Mr Prior.

"We've spent a lot of time finding answers to our technical gaps, looking at material specifications and processes and confirming through computer modelling that we could get an elongated lifespan from the cylinders. Our aim is to develop a high quality, longer life cylinder that copes well with New Zealand's mains pressure and is robust enough to extend the guarantee period. Our lab testing indicates it's achievable, so we now need to do some accelerated testing on the bonding techniques."

While the technology is still in the testing phase, Mr Prior says that the understanding gained through the research project has been of immense help to the company.

"We've learned a lot and it's given us a real competitive edge in a better understanding of the materials' performance. Having assistance from Technology New Zealand encouraged us to take on our first ever piece of R&Dand we have developed some good links with Massey University that will be of significant benefit to our on-going business," he says.

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Backgrounder
Technology New Zealand is a set of government-funded business support schemes that provide funding to support R&D projects in business. Around $35 million is available each year to help companies develop new products or processes, build human capital within businesses and provide access to information and expertise .Technology New Zealand is part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

(Supporting story):

PALMERSTON NORTH A HOTHOUSE OF INNOVATION

Businesses in Palmerston North have received more than $1.8m in government funding in the past year through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology's Technology New Zealand scheme.

Funding has ranged from more than $400,000 for a number of research projects carried out by HortResearch, to small amounts of less than $5,000 for university undergraduates to assist companies in research.

The spread of businesses applying for funding is very encouraging, according to Lins Kerr, of Technology New Zealand, who says the Palmerston North area is proving to be a hothouse of ideas.

"We've had excellent applications for funding to help R&D in areas as diverse as road resurfacing, seafood harvesting and processing, printing and engineering, and, of course, a variety of electronics projects."

Technology New Zealand invests around $35 million a year in supporting technology-based projects that help businesses develop new products or processes, build human capital within businesses and provide access to information and expertise. In the past 10 years Technology New Zealand has assisted around 2,000 companies carry out new technology development.

" We have developed a range of options to help businesses become more technologically adept," says Mr Kerr. "Technology for Industry Fellowships fund tertiary students and experienced researchers to carry out scientific research within a company, while matching funding through the Technology for Business Growth scheme, helps companies develop high value, high margin products, processes or services," he says.

Mr Kerr says Technology New Zealand's Grants for Private Sector Research Development scheme (GPSRD), launched just over a year ago, is also proving popular with business. The scheme provides SMEs with grants between $10,000 and $100,000 for up to 1/3 of a business's increased spend on R&D.

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