Tauranga's Jon Mayson, chairman of Jetpack company Martin Aircraft, has led a delegation including the company's chief executive and top officials from its cornerstone Chinese investor on a visit to the city's leading edge titanium 3D manufacturing facilities.
The goal, said Mr Mayson, was to explore potential areas of future collaboration for both Martin Aircraft and for Hong Kong-listed Kuang-Chi Science (KCS), a mainland Chinese investment group focused on developing disruptive technologies.
"It's actually about growing the economy of New Zealand and developing high-value niche markets as opposed to our heavy reliance on commodity trade," said Mr Mayson, a former chairman of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and former chief executive of Port of Tauranga, who took up the chairmanship of Martin Aircraft a year ago.
"The future for New Zealand lies in collaborative investment," he said. "It's about recognising that while we have huge expertise in this country, and entrepreneurial skills and technology, when we want to go out into the world we have to achieve scale."
Mr Mayson said Martin Aircraft aimed to be a global company with its flagship product, the Martin Jetpack, developed by Christchurch entrepreneur Glenn Martin. The company successfully listed on the ASX in February after securing pre-IPO funding from KCS.
The delegation last week was made up of KCS founder and chairman Dr Ruopeng Liu, who has a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Duke University in the US, where he was mentored by Professor David Smith, a leading authority in the development of metamaterials. Metamaterials are engineered to have properties that have not yet been found in nature, made from multiple elements fashioned from conventional materials such as metals or plastics.
The delegation also included KCS co-founder Weizi Huang, who is Dr Liu's wife, and investment manager Henry Zhang, as well as Martin Aircraft's chief executive Peter Coker.
The Bay of Plenty Times interviewed members of the delegation at a lunch that also included Andrew Coker of Priority One, which helped host the visit, Tauranga City Council chief executive Garry Poole, and Ian Macrae, managing director of Page Macrae, and a major financial backer of the titanium 3D development.
Dr Liu said he was surprised at the rapid rate of development of the titanium 3D technology in Tauranga.
"In terms of applications, there is a new era of building things," he said. "Manufacturing used to be about chopping away, but the technology here is all about adding - it's a type of metamaterial. I think it's the trend for industry. We can see the potential that people can print almost anything."
Ian Macrae noted TiDA was still in its infancy.
"We've still got a huge amount to grow and to take advantage of opportunities globally. We're negotiating with major international companies around the world now."
Martin Aircraft signs deal with Chinese backer
Martin Aircraft secured pre-IPO funding of A$27 million ($27.32 million) from Kuang-Chi Science (KCS) ahead of its listing on the ASX in February.
KCS will invest a further A$23 million to A$29 million within 30 months of Martin Aircraft's listing date and will form a Hong Kong joint venture, 51 per cent controlled by KCS.
The investment came about after KCS chairman Dr Liu Ruopeng was introduced to the company when he accompanied Chinese president Xi Jinping on a visit to New Zealand last November. The deal was signed a month later. Chairman Jon Mason described the meeting as serendipitous. "We couldn't have asked for a better cornerstone investor," he said.
Executives from both companies said there were synergies in their collaboration as one of the key areas KCS is working on was products for use in near space, which lies from 20km to 100km above sea level, including vehicles for transport and balloons for communications systems.
Dr Liu said the investment group wanted to build a joint platform of companies working on near-space products, which could share technology ideas and marketing resources across the different locations and the Jetpack fitted in to that.
"We will be able to provide disruptive transportation, communication, internet, and search and rescue, in one package," he said.
Martin Aircraft chief executive Peter Coker said a reason for bringing the KCS executives to visit Tauranga's TiDA facility was to demonstrate they were keen to help its cornerstone investor look at potential opportunities to grow its own business with new partnerships.
"And this also allows us to come and look at the technology environments that we don't often see," he said. "You often work with your own particular suppliers and forget to look at the bigger picture. We're in a stage now where we're moving to design of the final product and there is an opportunity to embrace another type of thinking."