Christchurch firm's 3D imaging technology wins international clients

Christchurch firm ARANZ Geo really does have the golden touch.

Its 3D geological modelling software, Leapfrog, is helping the world's biggest gold-mining companies strike it lucky.

It was almost an accidental find when, more than a decade ago, the company was approached by international firm SRK Consulting, asking if ARANZ could get its 3D visualisation software to work in the mining industry.

Until then ARANZ was at the forefront of medical imaging and also played a part in crafting the beasts that appeared in the Lord of the Rings movies.


ARANZ Geo chief executive Shaun Maloney says SRK Consulting was after an innovative way to shortcut the long-winded process of generating geological plans for mines, and wanted to run geological data through the software to see what came out. "The first image, instead of a human body, it was a geological body."

The speed and accuracy with which Leapfrog produced results, and its "bleeding edge" technology, meant it was viewed with suspicion, says Maloney. But a loyal client base championed its use and in 2010, after eight years of research and development, ARANZ Geo was spun out from its medical imaging parent.

Since then it has been focusing on an aggressive three-year plan, kicking off just weeks before the first of the Christchurch earthquakes, Maloney says.

It has tripled its staff, taking on customer service, marketing, sales and financial-control specialists, none of which it had before, bringing the workforce to 55 Christchurch-based roles and another 35 around the world.

Maloney says competitors that once rubbished the product are now joining the gold rush with their own versions.

"But of course we're already two, if not three, generations of software ahead of them.

"So now that there is a bust in the market so to speak, or a correction depending on which side of the fence you're talking from, the customers that really do need the product attributes of speed, ease of use, accuracy, ability to update it (essentially in minutes as opposed to months) with new data as it comes in - they're all the value propositions or product features that are really coming into their own now that there is tightening of belts financially, globally within the mining industry."

With nearly 100 per cent of its software sold overseas, the gold-plated client list is a who's who of the mining industry.

Maloney says consistency is key for these global mining giants, which want to be able to compare geological models from around the world.

"The reason they need those models to be built the same way is when they're comparing 'where are we going to spend our next billion dollars?' then they've got an apples-to-apples comparison."

The result for ARANZ Geo has been a revenue boost from $2.5 million in 2010 to about $14 million this year, all while delivering a profitable bottom line.

The company, mostly owned by its founders, has caught the eye of the TIN100 New Zealand technology survey, which this year ranked ARANZ Geo number one on its list of 10 hot emerging companies. And at the recent NZTE International Business Awards it took the "under $10 million" category and received a special commendation after narrowly missing the overall award.

"We have had pretty aggressive growth if you look at it from a numbers point of view, and I can't see any reason why we don't continue to do that because we're chasing a market and it's there," says Maloney.

"It's not mature for us by any means and we have not yet looked really for other opportunities for our imaging software, and there could well be other opportunities to use that software in other industries and sectors."