A Rotorua firm has put its hand up to make the controversial $500,000 Hemo Gorge sculpture using 3D printing technology.

The 12m southern entrance sculpture will be manufactured by local firm Kilwell Fibretube and will take almost 16,500 hours to print on-site at the firm's Rotorua factory.

The sculpture for the intersection of State Highway 5 and SH30, designed by an artist from the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute/Te Puia, was originally scheduled to be installed by July this year.

It was delayed after it was discovered only a limited number of companies in the world were capable of constructing the complex design.


It was originally intended to be made of stainless steel, but this was found to be problematic and alternatives were being investigated.

The local innovators approached Rotorua Lakes Council after the issues with the sculpture came to light.

"Kilwell approached us so we've been working with them, alongside Te Puia/New Zealand Arts and Crafts Institute and Victoria University's digital design lecturer Derek Kawiti," council art and culture director Stewart Brown said.

An artist's impression of the sculpture. Photo/supplied
An artist's impression of the sculpture. Photo/supplied

"It's a fantastic result – this is going to be very innovative and the fact it will be done locally is really great. The work will also create a few new jobs so that's an added bonus."

Kilwell will have 3D printers running 21 hours per day, seven days a week for 79 days, with carbon fibre then layered over the top.

If there are no unexpected delays, the sculpture should be ready for instalment by about late August 2018.

Kilwell Fibretube chief executive Craig Wilson said the company took pride in being a "world leader" in innovative design and manufactured a diverse range of complex products.

"It's fantastic to be able to showcase the work we do to our local community and be part of the sculpture that will welcome visitors to our city from the south."

The 3D printers will use more than 63km of PLA filament in the sculpture's construction, Wilson said.

Weighing just 800kg, compared with the original 12 tonne estimate, the sculpture can be easily lifted into place once completed.

New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute tumu (head) of Te Takapu o Rotowhio (National Stone and Bone Carving School) Stacy Gordine said the design hadn't been compromised as a result.

"The finished product will look exactly like the model thanks to the precision of 3D technology."

Inspired by the Te Arawa history of tohunga (high priest) Ngatoro-i-rangi, who was responsible for the safe passage of his people to Aotearoa, the sculpture will form part of the southern gateway into Rotorua.

"The design is derived from customary whakairo rakau (wood carving) elements, yet is interpreted in a contemporary way," Gordine said.

Te Puia chief executive Tim Cossar said it was great to be able to fabricate the sculpture locally.

"We always wanted to involve local business and to be able to do this is a fantastic result. It is set to be a stunning piece of art for Rotorua."

The details
- The 3D printers will run on average for 21 hours per day, seven days a week for 79 days
- Almost 16,500 hours of 3D printing time in total
- The 3D printers will use more than 63km of PLA filament
- The sculpture will weigh 800kg and stand 12m high
- Four new jobs created during the six-month construction period