When visiting the textile industry in New Zealand, the common lament is for the decline of the industry and what it once was. The number of companies operating at each point in the value chain (spinners, yarn makers, dyers, weavers) has declined such that there may now be only one operator at each stage.
The companies still doing well in traditional manufacturing are either luxury niche - such as high-end rugs - or are leveraging a competitive materials advantage, like superfine merino. Even so companies such as Icebreaker manufacture offshore.
However, in the non-traditional textile space, New Zealand is now host to some very innovative companies that are achieving success through strong applied science. Examples include Texus Fibre, who produce world-leading filters from an ‘active’ wool fibre matrix; and Revolution Fibres, who use a unique processing method to create nanoscale fibre mats for applications ranging from filtration to strengthening agents.
What if we could revitalise other players in the NZ textile industry through the convergence of smart science with a globally recognised technology trend?
A talk at a recent conference, AMN8, got me thinking about how we could apply a much-hyped (maybe over-hyped!) new material to the NZ textile industry. It was a presentation on an industrially-based processing technique to attach a thin layer of graphene to the outside of a non-woven textile.
Graphene has been getting a lot of press over the last several years as the next wonder material along with a fair degree of scepticism about its commercial potential right now. Products marketed as ‘graphene’ are on the market already, for example some sporting products, however many, if not all, will likely incorporate a limited quantity of graphene.
A limited amount is all you need sometimes though. The work of Gordon Wallace and colleagues at the University of Wollongong has shown that through a relatively simple dip-coating method, they can produce fabrics that are more conductive than equivalent conducting polymer-coated fabrics, using the addition of just 4-6% by weight of graphene to the textile. Furthermore, their coated material maintained good conductivity after both bending and abrasion tests.
Although their work was with polyester, could it be applied to wool? And if so, what could you do with a conductive wool fibre?
There are all sorts of possible applications, but the convergence of I was thinking about was whether they would make good smart textiles for the wearables sector. This is an exciting area where there is a future opportunity for a forward-facing New Zealand textile industry, and also an area that Callaghan Innovation will explore through 2017’s edition of the C-Prize.
Graphene may not be the answer here – there are still a lot of concerns about safety and manufacturability – but a switch into smart textiles might just be the shot in the arm that the traditional New Zealand textile industry needs.
Welcome to 2017, and what a start it’s been - Does anyone else feel like the expected "slow start to the year" turned out to be a hectic whirlwind of activity leaving us wondering why there are already hot cross buns in the shops..?
Here is the Start-up Team’s bi-monthly newsletter of updates, recent events and upcoming activities to keep you sprightly!
Take a moment, grab a cuppa and enjoy :)
Microsoft AgTech Hackathon
In collaboration with Microsoft, BCC, Sprout, Massey University, CEDA, Manawatu-Rangitikei Federated Farmers, Accelerate 25, Future Institutes and NZ Agrifood Investment Week - The AgTech Hackathon Launched on 24th February with Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, Ranveer Chandra talking about Microsoft's move into digital farming.
Teams will begin to work on solutions to every day on-farm opportunities from March 11th. Teams will continue to work on their solution during the New Zealand AgriFood Investment Week with final pitches to be held at Central Districts Field Days on March 17th.
Successful solutions will lead to business opportunities and the products could ultimately end up in market helping to make farmers work more efficiently all around the world. AgTech Hackathon is designed to not only help solve problems, but also enable a connection and conversation between our rural and urban communities.
This event represents a collaborative approach to addressing and innovating on everyday opportunities in one of our biggest industries, with potential to take these solutions global.
2017 has already been a really exciting year on the accelerator front, with three scheduled, Callaghan Innovation funded Accelerators kicking things off in style!
Lightning Lab Electric - One of two fresh accelerator programmes under the Lightning Lab banner and hosted by Creative HQ Launched on 31 January at Genesis Energy in Ellerslie, Auckland, with guest speakers including Hemi Rolleston.
o Beginning with The Lightning Lab Electric Innovation Challenge is New Zealand’s first ever open call for innovation in the electricity sector.
o This has included the release of 30min power prices data for the public to use for innovation
o The Ideas competition is currently open, seeking the best ideas in the categories of Consumer Solutions, Network Solutions and Grid Solutions, and a total prize pool of $40,000.
o The Accelerator programme will officially kick off in May 2017.
The Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator kicked off with a "Meet the Teams" evening on Tuesday 7th February in Wellington. It had impressive pitches from the cohort on day one, and was opened by guests Science & Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith, Xero's Rod Drury, our CFO Richard Perry, and Kiwibank's Peter Fletcher-Dobson and Mark Stephen.
Flux Accelerator has officially started, with six reportedly outstanding companies starting the programme on Monday 20th February.
Sprout Agritech Accelerator held their “best block course to date” in Hamilton on 27th & 28th January, with guest speakers Victoria Ransom, Paul Burmester and Larry Ellison talking about their entrepreneurial journeys, and sharing tips on how reverse engineering your business plan based on your exit strategy can really help to give you direction in the go-to-market phase.
Technology Incubators demystify some of the unknowns about transitioning into the commercial world
Representatives from Astrolab, WNT Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures and The MacDiarmid Institute made an expedition to beautiful Queenstown to host a session at the AMN8 [Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology] Conference on 14th February.
Press coverage of the conference overall was exceptional, and the Callaghan Innovation funded Technology Incubator programme even got its very own mention over on The Spinoff
From this has come the observation that there is a common thread to the questions researchers across various institutions are asking. On this basis, the Start-up Team will work with our R&D stakeholders to develop a FAQ type document which will help demystify the process, and hopefully encourage New Zealand researchers to engage proactively with the technology incubator and repayable loan schemes as a commercialisation pathway.
Accelerator and Founder Incubator Procurement for June 2017 - June 2019
Responses to the RfP, which closed in earlu February, were outstanding, receiving an incredible range of high quality responses.
We received a high number of responses to the Founder Incubator RfP, General Accelerator and Maori Accelerator programmes. Some of the concepts and partnership models we have seen are incredibly encouraging and represent the high calibre of service we expect to drive the next generation of growth.
Panel meetings wrap up this week, with negotiations expected to commence by the end of March.
Expect to hear more in the next couple of months, and we’re looking forward to an exciting two years ahead with these initiatives!
16 March 2017 NZTE Agribusiness Investment Showcase
3 April Callaghan Connect Customer Day
4 April The Atlassian Effect: Dominic Price on How to Scale a Culture of Innovation
4-5 April Phil McKinney - “7 Immutable Laws of Innovation”
21 April Sprout Company Showcase
13-16 March NZ Agrifood Investment Week
6-14 May Tech-week
12 May Hi-tech Awards Gala
Is your event missing from the list? Leave a comment to get it added in the next issue
Manufacturing has an image problem. The world is changing, a digital revolution has already taken place, technologies are shifting and businesses are innovating not just to win, but to stay relevant.
The NZ manufacturing landscape has changed, even in the last 20 years since I studied Manufacturing at University. Back then, New Zealand made appliances and cars. We now find ourselves better at short run manufacturing and better poised to meet ‘niche’ customer need. This makes us reactive, where we can customise at a fair cost with good quality. But is it attractive manufacturing?
I’ve just come back from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where the best, brightest and most innovative hot new consumer technologies are showcased. An example is Amazon Alexa who have teamed up with Intel to deliver a true voice activated smart home. I came away knowing that this Internet of Things can put ‘sexy’ back into the manufacturing industry.
Youth (millennials) are flocking to digital careers but are yet to fully appreciate its convergence into manufacturing, or better put ‘The Industrial Internet of Things’. We can hardly blame them. A software developer for a gaming, music or camera developing company (all of which thrive in NZ) has a lot more appeal than a traditional PLC or CNC programmer in a factory.
Tech Futures Lab is running IoT courses in Auckland that showed me that $120 can get me a latest edition Raspberry Pi (a cheap computer), a breadboard (prototype your circuit board), free software and an ability to personally create an IoT device in minutes. OK, that sounds unbelievably simple, but it’s not far from the truth.
Whether its Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Google or Microsoft, Apple or an Android smart phone, it’s very accessible and simple to prototype a connected sensor (IoT) for initial testing and validation. This could be to create smart consumer based products or to make a factory IoT connected, but either way the pathway is incredibly simple now. Even for those of us that don’t write code, (Learning C wasn’t part of my curriculum) you can borrow code from GitHub and various other sites by simply googling it. At this point it doesn’t really matter as you are simply prototyping to test, validate and ‘fail fast’ should that be the outcome. The real work begins post validation in ensuring your architecture is sound, IP is considered and that dreaded word ‘security’ is taken care of now we work in the cyber world. Investments that can then be made with greater confidence.
Collaborative Robotics are opening up a whole new world of possibility for advanced manufacturing. These are humanoid style robotics and are inherently safe so don’t need to be locked up in a cage and are trained by moving their arms and end effectors (hands), as opposed to programming them. Callaghan Innovation has two of these robots available for NZ businesses to trial including Baxter. Proving how simple it is to use, a local 14-year-old had Baxter up and running in minutes and performing simple but detail specific tasks. These intuitive and quick to learn robotics have quick pay-back periods and are, quite literally, bringing the Jetsons to the factory floor.
Additive manufacturing is particularly fast moving and well represented in NZ. We have great metal printing capability and can now make low-run injection mould tooling from polymer plastic. CES this year featured a 3D printer that can print circuit boards. The Dragonfly 2020 is a dual material printer of both a polymer and silver to lay down up to 20 layers of tracks making it possible to build and test your electronics gizmo over a weekend.
And what will Virtual Reality start to do for advanced manufacturing? The DAQRI smart helmet now allows factory workers to get work instructions through their glasses. This means a paperless shop floor with detailed assembly instructions overlaid while your eyes stay on the task at hand.
This is just a taste of what we expect to see at the Hannover Fair in Germany in April. New Zealand businesses will get to visit the birthplace of Industry 4.0. This has become the German term for the Industrial Internet of Things and is a key strategy pillar for many multinational manufacturers. This is where the IoT will take hold in their factories and I believe is the digital convergence that is bringing sexy back into Manufacturing.
Reuse, recycle, upcycle – these are words which have either been part of our conversations for a long time, or in the case of ‘upcycle’, have come to prominence relatively recently through a variety of pinterest accounts, blogs, and other forms of social media.
Recycling refers to reprocessing a waste product into something useful, generally of a very similar nature but of a lower value, for example recycled office paper being turned into toilet paper. By comparison, upcycling is often used to refer to crafting old products into something with more value, for example, turning scrap wood into a side table.
Upcycling is moving beyond its craft emphasis though with some awesome examples of industrial-scale materials waste-stream upcycling happening.
A good case in point is the Ford Motor Company, which has partnered with Novomer to produce polymer foams for seat cushions in their cars. Novomer has developed a process where carbon dioxide captured from industrial plants is converted into higher value polymers – this not only adds value to a waste stream but also helps lock a greenhouse gas into a solid form.
We’re doing this in New Zealand too. Aduro Biopolymers have produced two new products from New Zealand agricultural waste streams. Novatein® is a bioplastic made from bloodmeal, a coproduct of the red meat industry that would usually be used as a fertiliser. Feathersorb™ is an environmentally-friendly cost-effective industrial absorbent product range made from poultry feathers, large volumes of which would normally be incinerated or disposed of in a landfill. A clever start up company, CarbonScape, is converting low value biomass waste stream, such as sawdust from the wood industry, into high value products like activated carbon by using microwave technologies.
More work is afoot at various New Zealand R&D institutions, such as Scion and Otago University, to develop the science that could lead to valuable waste stream upcycling. This research includes, among others, the development of the prototype Zespri biospife, a spoon-knife combo that is made from bioplastics and contains waste kiwifruit biomass; a gel that improves surgical outcomes and is made from chitosan, an extract from crab shells and squid pens; and a process for turning cattle bone into a new bone regeneration graft material to fight osteoporosis.
There are some fantastic local stories here, but I would raise the question – what other ‘waste’ or ‘low value’ material streams are currently being ignored which could be resources for innovative New Zealand companies to generate high value products? And how much is already being done in our R&D community that our companies could invest in or use? Time to get our thinking caps on!
The five best
Buddy the Robot – Bluefrogrobotics
Back at CES for a second year after more development. There are so many robots here with interesting uses - educational, assisted living, elder care, medical, security - but most don't seem to get the human connection right. You’ve got to want to have these guys around. Buddy is just someone you want to invite into your life.
Hypervsn – kino-mo
The Hypervsn spinning holograms at the kino-mo stand in Eureka Park were the stand out, with crowds six-deep for the whole four days You couldn't take your eyes off them. They were mesmerizing, and awesome for promoting anything. Yes, it’s existing technology, but put to use in a way I've never seen before. And they were great with music.
RadEQ - AYKOW
A French company that uses radon detection to (it claims) provide alerts for an earthquake up to 10 days in advance. The science is not exactly settled on whether radon detection is a useful alert mechanism for major quakes, but if the likes of AYKOW aren’t trying to create forecasting mechanisms, we’ll never get there.
MyEye - OrCam
Israeli firm OrCam have come up with a device to help the nearly blind. The MyEye device is a small camera mounted in reading glasses reads any printed text, on any surface, including newspapers, books, computer screens, restaurant menus, labels on supermarket products, and street signs, instantly relaying it to the user through a built-in mini speaker.
OrCam MyEye also recognizes stored faces of individuals and identifies consumer products.
ICAROS - ICAROS
Part VR game, part assistive technology, part workout, ICAROS’ mission statement is “we work on making you fly every day”. The user straps into an apparatus which allows them to simulate flying while working their core muscles. More complicated than your average gym class, but a hell of a lot more fun, too.
Smart or smart-arse?
The prefix “smart” is rapidly becoming overused to describe anything vaguely Internet of Things-enabled. So here are a few examples of smart-apparel that may or may not be genuinely smart – you decide.
Studies suggest close proximity of mobile phones to men’s, er, most valuable assets can harm fertility. Spartan have added 35 percent silver thread to cotton boxer shorts to create a fabric that acts as an electromagnetic shield.
Under Armour has created a range of “connected footwear” sports shoes which takes the MapMyRun concept a bit further, with the shoes ‘talking’ to MapMyRun, recording cadence, pace, and the mileage lifetime of the shoe. It can also measure the wearer’s muscular fatigue level before he or she even gets started.
Another Under Armour creation. Bioceramic sleepwear that emits far infrared light, reducing inflammation, allowing athletes to recover faster through sleep. At least, so says their spokes-athlete Tom Brady, of the New England Patriots and under-inflated balls fame.
Laundroid is the world’s first laundry-folding robot. Using complex image recognition and folding capability, it currently takes the Japanese invention five to 10 minutes to fold a shirt. Handy if you have lots of time and money to throw at your irrational phobia of folding clothes.
The Sprucebot provides free wifi to customers at cafes and bars, and allows the staff to record information about the small talk they engage in during their visit. When the customer returns, the shop staff get an alert prompting them on where their conversation left-off. Making those nice moments of interaction less genuine and more accurate, just like you wanted.
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