By PHILIP CHANDLER
A company about to prefabricate timber buildings using world-leading German technology arose from a chance meeting between neighbours at Queenstown’s Jack’s Point.
About three years ago, Tristan Franklin, who has a management/governance background, found out his new neighbour, Stephan Mausli, was a construction professional of 20 years’ experience.
He’d designed offices for Swiss company Hector Egger Holzbau AG, which had 20 years’ experience in offsite manufacture of timber elements and panels – and kept in touch with them.
Eventually, the then-neighbours, after reciprocal visits with the Swiss company and numerous conference calls, set up a joint venture, Hector Egger New Zealand.
It’s now building a 3500 square metre timber prefabrication factory in Cromwell to the same specs as one of the parent company’s factories in Switzerland.
Once completed in October, Hector Egger NZ will commission precision machinery and train staff before starting manufacture in January.
Franklin says the key is the latest German-engineered computer numerically-controlled (CNC) machinery that provides quality assurance.
“We build a 3D model of all projects before we commence manufacture, and that model drives the CNC machines so we get millimetre accuracy.
“We’re bringing to this region some world-leading IP in this particular type of mass-timber, offsite manufacture, and we’re creating 20 to 25 jobs when we’re fully operational as well as helping businesses that will supply us materials and services.”
Recognising those job benefits and its contribution to diversifying the post-Covid-19 economy, the government’s provincial growth fund last month awarded the company a $600,000 loan.
Due to the time spent on designing projects, Franklin says “we’re not trying to be the cheapest option in the market”.
“What we’re aiming to do is deliver a much higher quality of building for a similar price to what people are paying now.”
Shorter construction time saves costs, but the biggest cost benefit comes from projects like apartments or schools, where there are elements of repetition.
Offsite manufacture means a large proportion of work usually undertaken in a “messy, exposed, open-air setting with limited working hours” will take place in a safe, controlled factory setting.
When it comes to sustainability, Franklin cites the example of a building project in Glenorchy that’d normally require hundreds of truck movements on a tricky road now requiring only a handful.
Using timber for all elements also fits with the government’s ‘wood-first’ policy, he says.
“Timber has a lot of environmental benefits over the likes of steel and concrete.”
Franklin says they’ll be able to produce the equivalent of 100 to 150 houses a year. “We’re getting enormous inquiry from people who are looking to build projects in mass timber and want to use offsite manufacturing.”