Rotorua District councillors donned their covered shoes and hi-vis vests today to see the progress on Rotorua's "ground-breaking" but delayed Hemo sculpture.

Rotorua Lakes councillors visit Kilwell's 3D printing and fabrication lab. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua Lakes councillors visit Kilwell's 3D printing and fabrication lab. Photo / Stephen Parker

The two helices that form the sculpture will now be flown in by helicopter and installed in two parts in spring, more than two years after originally planned.

This morning, visitors were taken on a tour of the Kilwell Fibretube labs to see the 3429kg, 3D printed sculpture's progress and better understand the construction process.

Kilwell Fibretube chief executive Craig Wilson chauffeured the group, firstly to see the 3D printing and then to see the assembly of the two helix parts.

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A staff member works on the Hemo sculpture in Kilwell's 3D printing and fabrication lab. Photo / Stephen Parker
A staff member works on the Hemo sculpture in Kilwell's 3D printing and fabrication lab. Photo / Stephen Parker

Wilson said the biggest 3D composite structures in the world to date were "quite tiny" compared to the Hemo design - around 1.5m to 2m high as opposed to the 12m sculpture.

He confirmed the installation of the sculpture had been put back again, from June to spring.

In March, documents released to the Rotorua Daily Post under the Local Government Information and Meetings Act revealed the cost of installing and making the sculpture had risen to $743,029, an estimated $204,361 overspend.

Parts of the Hemo roundabout sculpture under construction

Posted by Rotorua Daily Post on Monday, 6 May 2019

The project has required 1700 pieces, 17,300 hours of printing, and more than 252km of biodegradable thermoplastic.

The sculpture was designed by Stacy Gordine, head of the National Stone and Bone Carving School at Te Puia.

It tells the story of two supernatural deities, Te Pupu (heat) and Te Hoata (fire), and their search for Ngatoroirangi, the great chief and priest of the Te Arawa waka.

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

"I think we've been through the worst now, we have laminated and printed everything, and the testing is complete ... We are now at the fun part, putting it all together ... like a giant Jenga," Wilson told the group.

"The team had problems with only 3 to 4 per cent of the parts printed."

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Craig Wilson at Kilwell Fibretube in April 2018. Photo / File
Craig Wilson at Kilwell Fibretube in April 2018. Photo / File

The sculpture will have 96 base plates to keep it attached to a concrete plinth.

At the top it will be 5.5m across, high than the roof of the lab the parts are being assembled in.

Wilson said there were seven full-time staff working on the project but there were now five due to the limited amount of work they could do at one time.

Rotorua Lakes councillors visit Kilwell's 3D printing and fabrication lab. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua Lakes councillors visit Kilwell's 3D printing and fabrication lab. Photo / Stephen Parker

"Sometimes the team have got frustrated or a little bit depressed about it because it is taking so long but we just really want to see it finished ... There are not too many people in the country who know how to do this work."

When asked if the project had been more complicated than first thought, Wilson said "definitely".

"We are used to making nice, straight tubes."

Discovery of part of Rotorua's original water supply delayed the Hemo Rd intersection completion. Photo / Supplied
Discovery of part of Rotorua's original water supply delayed the Hemo Rd intersection completion. Photo / Supplied

He said the team was proud of everything it made.

"We are only as good as the last job we do."

He said a spring installation would work better than the previously scheduled date in June because the weather would be better.

This is a sample of what the final colour of the structure will look like. Photo / Samantha Olley
This is a sample of what the final colour of the structure will look like. Photo / Samantha Olley

"We would have had to use electric blankets around the joins to keep them warm."

Wilson said the delay had not changed the project cost.

Councillor Karen Hunt said public art was an important part of uplifting any city, not only for its appearance but for the moods of its residents.

"This is going to be magnificent."

Craig Wilson at Kilwell Fibretube in April 2018. Photo / File
Craig Wilson at Kilwell Fibretube in April 2018. Photo / File

The Local Government Information and Meetings Act documents released from the Rotorua Lakes Council in March stated that extra layers, extra testing, extra scaffolding and wages due to an extension of time had all driven the cost of the sculpture up.

The council put out a statement on its website following its release of the information to the Rotorua Daily Post.

The council's contribution had risen from $270,000 to $388,000 as a result of the ballooning overall cost, and other project partners had helped with the funding.

Kilwell Fibretube making the 12m sculpture.

The initial cost estimate for the sculpture was $500,000 and this was still the case when the council was questioned in May and November last year.

When asked about the cost in February, the council said it was "still finalising details with the contractors".

The statement said the final stages of construction were under way and "all going well".

The 12m-high sculpture was first intended to be installed in July 2017.

Initially, the sculpture was to be completed after the construction of the Hemo Gorge roundabout at the intersection of State Highway 30 and State Highway 5, but delays due to roadworks and the material being used to build the sculpture set this back.

In the council's March statement, Kilwell Fibretube chief executive Craig Wilson described the project as "ground-breaking" and a blend of engineering, manufacturing, and art but said the project presented significant challenges.

"It's about showing what Rotorua is capable of. This sculpture is something that we, and hopefully the whole community, can be proud of and showcase to everybody that comes to visit here."

The sculpture originally needed to withstand 135 km/h winds but has now been built to withstand 175 km/h winds.

The sculpture's completion was first delayed when it was discovered only a limited number of companies in the world were capable of constructing the complex design, it was then pushed back again when changes had to be made to the laminate being used, and finally testing caused further delays last year.

Alongside the sculpture's delays, the discovery of part of Rotorua's original water supply delayed construction of the roundabout itself, in 2017.

Kilwell Fibretube
Kilwell Fibretube was established in 1968 after Kilwell Sports was first founded in Rotorua in 1933.

Now more than 85 per cent of Kilwell Fibretube's production is exported worldwide, including fishing rod blanks, paddle shafts, rowing oar shafts, masts, booms, prods and spinnaker poles, stern tubes, outriggers, earthsticks, telescopic pole sets.

It also makes movie-set weapons. Star Wars light sabres come from its factory floor, as well as parts for Team New Zealand yachts, and even some Bentley cars have Kilwell's tubing in the bodywork.

The business' research and development in fibre and resin technologies have made it a world leader in design of composite tubing.

It was named the 2018 Rotorua Business Awards winner in the innovation and disruption category, and the Judges Acknowledgement for Excellence Award.