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Student research - new revenue streams for Air NZ

Media Release 24 November, 2006

Student research underpins new revenue streams for Air New Zealand

A decade of University of Auckland student research and development has contributed to revenue of around $10 million for Air New Zealand’s design engineering division with more revenue streams in the pipeline.

Since 1996, the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has supported eight student research projects through its Technology for Industry Fellowships (TIFs) scheme which have built capability in sandwich composite structures within the airline’s ANZES Design Engineering group.

This capability played a significant part in the team developing a new, strong and super light storage unit for aircraft interiors. These ‘monuments’, in industry parlance, were supplied to Boeing for use in Air New Zealand’s new 777 aircraft and also installed in Air New Zealand’s upgraded 747 fleet.

ANZES Design Engineering had to go through Boeing’s rigorous certification process before it could become an accredited supplier and, says Senior Engineer – Research and Development, Temoana Southward, it passed with flying colours. This is another feather in the cap for the Design Engineering team - 18 months ago it received the highest possible rating from Boeing after an extensive review of its engineering capability.

The division is now working on marketing and branding its new capability in designing storage units, which hold items like emergency equipment and passenger hand luggage, to other airlines.

The relationship between ANZES Design Engineering and the University of Auckland began more than ten years ago, facilitated by a senior lecturer, Damian Horrigan, and Air New Zealand design engineers Michael Pervan and Richard Leaper. Dr Horrigan has since joined the airline and is now in the position of Manager Engineering within its Technical Operations division, which includes ANZES Design Engineering. Mr Pervan has since become Design Engineering Manager and continues to support the relationship with the University of Auckland.

Temoana Southward carried out a TIF-supported PhD research project at ANZES Design Engineering in the early 2000s, joining the company in his present position in November 2004. Two other students who completed TIF projects with ANZES Design Engineering now also work for the group.

Dr Southward says the work done by student researchers over the years underpins growing expertise in sandwich composite structure at ANZES Design Engineering and has boosted confidence in designing and making its own products. The group’s core work is supplying a design service in modifying aircraft interiors for Air New Zealand and many other international airlines.

“While the concept of sandwich composite structure has been around for about 50 years, it is a complex and relatively poorly understood technology, offering plenty of scope for researchers and a wealth of potential applications,” says Dr Southward.

“Our TIF projects have made significant contributions to the global knowledge base of sandwich structures. We now have a much better understanding of how sandwich structures behave, not only when they are ‘new’, but also once they are damaged,” he says.

“Sandwich structure is strong, stiff and very light and, with today’s rising fuel prices, weight savings in aircraft products are more important than ever. Our research is allowing us to more fully utilise the benefits of sandwich structure and we now want to focus on tailor made solutions to fit customers’ requirements in terms of innovative designs using complex geometric shapes for aircraft interiors.”

Dr Southward says developing the floor-to-ceiling monument storage units for Air New Zealand’s new 777 fleet and the upgraded 747 fleet was a turning point for the design engineering group.

“Air New Zealand had a concept for the storage units they wanted but couldn’t find an external supplier that could complete the job quickly enough, so they asked us to do it. Our initial coup was to come up with a sandwich composite structure that was lighter than that of competitors and to complete the job in the required timeframe.

“Another major coup in this process was our ability to certify the monuments by analysis, where typically the aviation regulators require full-scale testing of prototype units.”

Other commercial opportunities are now being explored within the aircraft interior products market.

Dr Southward says research and development (R&D) has now become a key part of the business approach at ANZES Design Engineering.

“Hosting university students to carry out research projects in the early days was useful, but relatively ad hoc. Now R&D has a dedicated budget, we take a strategic approach to it and there are funds dedicated to researching ongoing advances.”

The design group has a team of 40 engineers which has established a reputation in the airline industry for being nimble and innovative.

“Being relatively small is an advantage,” says Dr Southward. “We can integrate change relatively quickly.”

Dr Southward says the TIF scheme has proved to be an ideal avenue for tapping into fresh young minds and accessing the skill set design engineering requires. “From the company’s point of view we are developing talent locally and building expertise in our field that we can later benefit from by taking the students on as employees.”

Through the Foundation’s TIF scheme students are paid to assist companies with in-house R&D or technology commercialisation, with projects ranging from a couple of months to three years.

Foundation Business Manager Robin Hyde describes the scheme as a ‘win-win’ for everyone. “As well as benefiting from the students’ research, the company has access to their supervisors at the university while students are paid to work on a relevant project which has practical applications in the real world.”

ANZES Design Engineering is continuing to host university students through the TIF scheme. A Masters’ student is due to start work under the guidance of Dr Southward later this year.


Note to Editors:

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology invests over $460 million a year on behalf of the New Zealand Government, in research, science and technology. These investments are made to enhance the wealth and well being of New Zealanders.

Through its Technology New Zealand suite of schemes, the foundation assists companies to undertake research and development projects that result in new, export-focussed products, processes or services. Investment from the foundation is directed at supporting technical risk and the building of technical skills and expertise in companies.

Technology for Industry Fellowships (TIF) pay students to assist with in-house R&D or technology commercialisation. The R&D typically ranges from small projects running for a couple of months to long term projects involving masters or PhD students.

TIF Undergraduate provides $14 per hour for up to 800 hours work per student. Under TIF Masters, $25,000 per student is available (including $5,000 for the university) and through TIF PhD, clients can receive $30,000 per student each year for three years (including $5,000 annually for the university).


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