3-D company has the edge

Invercargill's Fi Innovations advanced manufacturing manager Derek Manson (left) and owner Gareth Dykes.

THEY are one of New Zealand’s leading 3-D additive manufacturing specialists.

But despite all the big wins, nothing compares to creating a product with the potential to change someone’s life.

Nestled in the heart of the deep south, Invercargill’s Fi Innovations is owned and operated by avid Southlander Gareth Dykes.

Not just any 3-D printing company, him and his tight-knit team have earned the title of experts in the genuine manufacturing of parts – so much so, they have taken the industry to the next level.

It started with one customer and one employee nearly 10 years ago.

But in the past five years, the company had taken off.

“We started with a $12,000 machine, something similar to what you can get at the Warehouse,” Mr Dykes said.

Now, they run three high-tech machines, which cost about $850,000 just for the unit, and are a close-to-impossible find in New Zealand.

The technology is so developed, it can download files, fine-tune and then manufacture a product from them within hours – up to 2000 at a time.

What each machine had in common was the function of building a product layer by layer, each with a slightly different technique.

From generating parts for the aerospace, to transport, marine and communications industries, there was not a lot they could not do.

“We are where digital becomes physical.

“There’s a big gap in the capability of the market in Australasia, so that’s really where our focus is.”

Being able to work closely with clients through the process meant they had a higher success rate than if they were selling their services on the other side of the world.

While they were proud to have their name linked to several high-profile jobs, including movie sets and the America’s Cup, it was the jobs with a strong human element which stuck the most.

Advanced manufacturing manager Derek Manson said it was not just about concentrating on the efficiencies of optimising designs, it was about doing it for a bigger purpose.

“Previously we did some medical work and we were printing skulls for people to test if the implants would fit.

“Suddenly it dawned on me, that’s not just a part, that’s actually someone’s bone structure that’s been scanned-out while they’re lying in a hospital somewhere.”

When there was a human connection to a product, it changed the job entirely.

Mr Manson said those jobs would eventually become an even bigger part of their business.

There was no doubt there were challenges along the way, but additive manufacturing and the refinement of parts had a bright future, he said.