Offshore sales now account for two-thirds of Automation & Electronics' business, says managing director Brian Smith, who co-founded the Bay of Plenty business with Tony Cable in 1986.

A&E was a finalist in the top category for the second year in a row at the recent Bay of Plenty export awards. Last year it also won the innovation category for revolutionising log processing using the latest camera and laser technology.

In 2015, the company was praised for its success in developing its export business after suffering from the effects of the global financial crisis. This year, staff numbers in Tauranga have risen by five to 17 including three based in the US, and export sales have achieved the company's projections.

"We're seeing a consistent level of business in New Zealand, but we don't see the opportunity for growth here," said Mr Smith, adding that he was confident about A&E's prospects for 2016-17.


Exports are focused predominantly in Australia and the US. Export success has come from focusing on specific market tiers, particularly in the US, he said.

An opportunity had developed because some of the bigger companies it competes with were working with the very high production, high speed processing plants in North America, creating an opening to target smaller but still medium-to-large scale, mostly family-owned business. That had created a niche for A&E because some of those businesses were no longer being targeted by its bigger competitors.

"But we also work in some of the larger companies, particularly on the kiln drying controls."

The US had seen a big push into continuous kiln drying machines which operate 24/7 on a continuous line, rather than the traditional system of drying individual charges of lumber.

"We've got advanced drying technology which was developed around radiata pine and is now being applied into yellow pine and some of the American pine species."

The other side of the company focuses on controls for saw positioning and scanning with lasers to get optimised recovery for boards.

After entering the awards for two years running, A&E was unlikely to participate for the next couple of years, he said.

"But the judging process is quite good in that you've got people looking into your business from a different perspective. What it did last year was highlighted some areas where we needed to have a bit of a rethink and we addressed those areas over the last year. You get all sorts of people looking at [the business] from all angles and that's a good part of the process."

Angela Cooke, a director of KPMG and one of the judges at this year's awards, cited the company's export growth into new areas.

"They have key relationships with suppliers of equipment that their technology is used with. And they really set themselves apart with technology that they continue to advance and develop, preventing others from getting into their market easily."

Automation & Electronics NZ's record at the Bay of Plenty ExportNZ Awards includes:
Finalist - Sharp Tudhope Lawyers Exporter of the Year Award (2016)
Winner - Page Macrae Engineering Innovation in Export Award (2015)
Finalist - Sharp Tudhope Lawyers Exporter of the Year Award (2015)