Southern Stories - Advanced Manufacturing

Southern Stories is a series of interviews with designers from the South Island about what it is like to be a creative or run a design-led business there.

In this iteration we talk to Derek Manson Advanced Manufacturing Manager at FI Innovations. FI Innovations are one of New Zealand’s leading fibreglass, flooring, flexible urethane and 3D additive manufacturing specialists.

Q: Were you born and raised in Southland?
Yes, born and bred, left for a bit to study but returned and have been based here ever since.

What would you say is one of the biggest benefits of working in Invercargill?
Derek: There is a certain kind of freedom. We have so much space and you can move around with such ease. To live rurally but only be seven minutes from work is a bit of a luxury. Also, it’s not just what’s in Invercargill but what immediately surrounds it that makes it such a great place to live, Catlins, Stewart Island, Fiordland and Central Otago are all close by. 

Oh, and... did I mention house prices?!

Professionally, it’s great because there are some awesome businesses based here and because everyone knows each other there is a level of integrity that you need in order to survive. It also means there is a lot more cross-industry collaboration than what may occur in larger centres. We are still well connected to the rest of the country as we are well serviced with direct flights to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch so it’s the best of both worlds.

What is the creative community like there?
Derek: Recently, there have been some fantastic initiatives set up to foster the creative and innovation industries, and in particular Coin South which has done a fantastic job injecting some energy into the local innovation scene. I don’t feel there is a local design form as such but you can’t help but be influenced by the rugged, natural beauty of the area.

How would you describe your clientele, what is your bread and butter?
Derek: There are three main parts to the business: industrial resin flooring, predominantly servicing the large primary industry manufacturing sites in the region. Then there is composite manufacturing, repair and design and the 3D Scanning and Additive Manufacturing 3D printing facility. On the 3D printing side, we more often work alongside companies and designers rather than fully design ourselves to assist with the nuances of DFAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing). Our focus is on manufacturing rather than prototyping (although we still do a lot of prototyping) so our bread and butter work is from manufacturing customers from a range of industries that have developed products that really exploit the properties of AM. 

You have also worked on projects that range from an aerodynamic cowling through to a street sculpture of an oyster! Any other out of the ordinary projects come to mind?
It’s always a bit sensitive what you can and can’t talk about, but I can tell you first hand that there are some exciting things happening in New Zealand especially in the aerospace, medical, tech and high performance industries.

What is one thing, idea or person from the South Island you think has been under-represented and should, by now, be considered an icon?
Derek: It’s tinged with sadness to say but Pat Maguire is someone who has done a hell of a lot for the design scene in the South. He was the force that established the product design programme at Otago Poly and I, like many other people, have him to thank for where we all are today. When I first knew him I was just a young fitter/welder apprentice and didn’t really know what product design was or that it was even a career path. Now, I look around at the roles that people I studied with and those that came after are now in and his influence is everywhere. That plus the work he did later with his own products and business which now lives on with his son Mike shows he also walked the walk. You say icon, I say legend.

What do you think is one area where design can contribute the most to your region?
Derek: One of the best examples of what design could do for our local companies is with the likes of Stabicraft. They have a great innovative culture and a strong design team as well as an amazing understanding of their customer. There are many other companies that, like Stabi, have a highly skilled workforce but it’s often completely consumed as a service industry. Integration of design into these businesses would help diversify their offerings and would go a long way to alleviate some of the threats they face currently. It would also allow diversity into different industries and markets that would offer further resilience.

DINZ Interviews

When the opportunity arises, DINZ interviews leading designers from here and overseas. These interviews seek to dig beneath the surface to address the common and uncommon challenges, problems and opportunities the design community faces.