Tauranga's hi-tech metallurgical research and 3D metals printing operation, run out of the Bay of Plenty Polytech's Windermere campus, could soon be the location for both of New Zealand's 3D metals printers.
Titanium Industry Development Association Inc. (TiDA) chief executive Warwick Downing said there are plans to house both machines in the same spot.
This year TiDA's commercial arm, Rapid Advanced Manufacturing (Ram), took delivery of a $1.2 million selective laser melting 3D printer, the largest commercially available machine of its type and a more advanced model than the only other 3D metals printer in New Zealand, owned by Katikati dental company Triodent and TiDA.
"We also operate the machine in Katikati and are currently working with them to buy a majority share of that printer," said Mr Downing.
"Hopefully come Christmas we are going to move it on to this site. Triodent would retain a shareholding and they want to keep on doing work on it, but it would be done by us in Tauranga."
That would mean Tauranga hosting two of the four machines in Australasia, he said, speaking during one of several briefings on local businesses organised by Priority One for the new Tauranga City Council team this week.
TiDA is an incorporated society set up by a number of local companies, with Page Macrae's Ian Macrae playing a significant role.
The objective is to raise the technology level for manufacturing in New Zealand, and in particular to help develop powder metallurgy.
The facility works primarily in titanium, though it can also work in stainless steel.
A core part of TiDA's role includes testing, research and design, and the Windermere facility regularly hosts University of Waikato PhD students.
TiDA has licensed its know how to Ram, which focuses on commercial 3D printing projects. Most visibly the Tauranga facility produced the 300g Victory Knives used by the America's Cup team, but has been involved in an increasing range of products, from titanium heart valves to a titanium jaw bone for a pet boxer dog with cancer.
One key current product line is a range of lightweight suppressors (gun silencers) for Tauranga's Oceania Defence Ltd.
"It's local, it's state of the art, several people have put a lot of money into developing this technology in our area here and I have an application for it that fits real well," said Oceania Defence's managing director Bert Wilson.
Lots of people were still stuck in the old fabrication and machining type of manufacturing, said Mr Wilson.
"This is a very hi-tech piece of equipment, backed up by a whole staff of people who make sure it goes right.
"The processes are followed so you get a quality part out of it.
"But most designers haven't got their heads around the potential."
The selective laser melting machine is, literally, cutting-edge technology.
As Mr Downing noted, the printer's laser beam has much more in common with the laser beams operated by villains in Bond movies than with a laser pointer.
The 3D laser heats up to 5000C in "the blink of an eye" and has a beam that moves at 12km/s.
"This is very advanced technology," said Mr Downing.
In addition, the laser printer can produce a variety of designs and shapes during the same production run.
"We can make titanium parts cheaper than you can produce stainless steel parts," he said.
Mr Downing added that a major Auckland marine company had recently shifted a lot of its stainless steel production to Ram to make titanium parts for its deck fittings, because it was much lighter, stronger and 100 times more corrosion resistant.