AWARD-WINNING Whangarei company Fabric Structure Systems is crowding out "sister" Palmer Canvas & Synthetics of Lower Dent St and will take its growing international fabrication work across the river to the hill-top building which used to house a money factory.
Space was just too tight to accommodate growth at the Lower Dent St site so the company went looking for premises big enough to lay out the vast swathes of material used in big architectural structures.
The former currency manufacturing hall at the defunct money factory was well away from the central business area but otherwise right on the money.
FSS is a design and build company making architectural tensioned membrane structures and large air-supported structures like the Rugby World Cup centre The Cloud and the giant rugby ball (a publicity gimmick used in the four-year run-up to the 2011 RWC).
The company has also been doing PVC fabrication work for Universal Fabric Structures of Australia.
FSS director and co-owner Warwick Bell says other overseas design companies in Australia, the United States and Europe are increasingly looking for quality fabrication services, which the FSS has seen as a development opportunity.
"These structures are pretty high profile and any structural failures are likely to be embarrassing and disastrous to a firm's reputation as well for their clients.
"These design companies are very keen to work with people who deliver quality work and stand by their warranties. The price has to be right but they are more than happy to pay a bit more to get what they want and the comfort of a company that will stand by its product. We feel we are in a prime position to provide this service," he said.
The solution has been to create a new company called Textile Fabrication Services; lease space in the money factory and expand capacity by buying several hundred thousand dollars worth of machines which can fabricate - weld together - PVC-like materials PTFE and ETFE, as well as standard PVC.
Specialised machines are needed for each textile.
PTFE and ETFE are now often preferred because they last longer and have greater translucency.
The new company already has two clients, Fabric Structure Systems and its long-time Australian client, Universal Fabric Structures.
The plan is for Fabric Structure Systems to focus on its bespoke designs and design development, with project management and delivery. This includes work like The Cloud and the Sydney Wildlife Centre and the five aviaries at the Auckland Zoo.
Meanwhile, the 20 x 50 sq m hall at the money factory has been covered with particle board and is currently being given five coats of sealant. The PTFE machine arrives next month and the machine for ETFE will be bought second-hand from a Welsh design and fabrication company, Architen Landrel, in August.
A senior staff member will go to Wales within the next few months to learn how to operate the ETFE machine, which will be the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. The cutter/plotter machine will be moved up from Lower Dent St at the end of March.
Mr Bell says two new employees will be needed, bringing the total staff at both sites to about 30.
He says the cost of lighting will be negligible because of the "fantastic natural light" from the saw-tooth roof. No particular use has been allocated to the explosion-proof, walk-in safe (the 30cm thick iron door is now open) and the mirror-glassed surveillance windows on three sides of the hall at first-floor level are of no concern because the area is not tenanted.
The building is owned by Whangarei businessman Minjae Kim, formerly of Korea, who bought it from the Whangarei District Council in 2000. The council had bought the property when the money factory closed with a view to securing it as a manufacturing base for the city but failed to attract any interest. Mr Kim has mostly achieved full tenancy. There are about five tenants, including the Ministry of Education's Special Education Services.
The money factory was developed by UK currency manufacturer Bradbury Wilkinson and later sold to Thomas de la Rue. Work began on the site in 1978 and the first notes were printed in May 1980. Notes were printed for New Zealand andother countries. The operation closed in 1990 when printing became cheaper in Singapore.