This article was published on 18 May 2021
Callaghan Innovation is proud to sponsor once again the NZ Hi-Tech Kamupene Māori o te Tau – Māori Company of the Year award. Ahead of the awards announcements on 28 May, we’re checking in with the five finalists – AgriSea, Jobloads, NZ Trade Group, MB Century and Weirdly – to find out how they’re making their mark as Māori innovators.
Kiwis have long been pioneers in harnessing the immense power, in the form of geothermal energy, that lies beneath our feet.
But that power needs to be harnessed with care. When steam escaped the well casing of a geothermal drilling rig in Wairākei in the 1960s, for example, it blew a volatile crater that destroyed the rig and ultimately grew so large it became a tourist attraction.
Keeping geothermal wells in good nick, therefore, is essential to ensure people’s safety, and security of assets.
Figuring out how to accurately assess the condition of the narrow pipes, drilled kilometres into the earth and operating in temperatures above 200 degrees celsius, however, is an innovation challenge – but one that MB Century is successfully tackling.
The Taupō-based business – which provides geothermal drilling engineering, and engineering maintenance services to the power-generation sector – is now pursuing global business opportunities with its Multi-Finger High Temperature Casing Calliper (HTCC).
The tool combines hardware and software to inspect wells in a way that provides significantly more data on their condition than incumbent solutions. The technology was developed with support from multiple partners including Callaghan Innovation, which provided a Project Grant in 2015, as well as the Product Development Management Association and the Institute of Professional Engineers NZ.
MB Century is now providing the HTCC as a service to geothermal well owners, with initial deployments to Indonesia and the Philippines. Commanding a minimum service fee of $20,000, and with 8,000 geothermal wells globally, the firm’s $2 million investment in developing the technology shows significant promise of returns.
Path to success
The innovation also caught the eyes of this year’s Hi-Tech Awards judges, who named MB Century a finalist in the Hi-Tech Kamupene Māori o Te Tau category.
MB Century Chief Executive Greg Thompsonsays it’s phenomenal recognition – not only for the technology, but also for the business’ owner, Tuaropaki Trust, which since forming in 1952 has expanded into everything from geothermal power generation, to food and nutraceuticals, to communications.
“It’s an honour for MB Century to represent the Tuaropaki Trust and the amazing, innovative organisation it is. This really is recognition of the people who have gone before us and laid the path to success.”
It is people
MB Century’s board comprises the trust’s CEO and some of its trustees, who provide the company’s strategic direction.
“The trust’s innovation approach is to start small and scale fast,” says Thompson. “For us, that’s created a mindset of making the complex simple, and the simple interesting, which radically advances our capability to take on innovative projects. The board has always supported our R&D and the development of our people.”
Tuaropaki Trust’s focus on investing in innovative businesses helps it provide high-value employment opportunities, with MB Century offering apprenticeship, internship and graduate programmes to trust shareholders and their whānau.
While COVID-19 severely impacted the business’ pipeline of work in 2020, as many power generators deferred maintenance and capital investment, it took the opportunity to further train and develop its people.
“Fortunately we’ve seen a number of large energy sector projects announced in 2021, which has so far been a boomer of a year for us. We’re fortunate we were able to hold onto our people through those tough times because we knew having that having those unique skill sets that make us a centre of excellence would pay dividends in the future.”