I have just come back from a study tour to Germany with the theme “Factory of the Future”. This gave me a fantastic insight into what is going on in Germany in future focused research in the metals-based manufacturing industry.

The trip to Germany was sponsored by FRIENZ (Facilitating Research and Innovation co-operation between Europe and New Zealand), which is a joint initiative between the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the European Commission (EC). It showed that innovation in the metals engineering space is booming in Germany and productivity, flexibility of product offering, extension in the metals-based composite material space as well as environmental and social improvements are ensuring the continued competitiveness of this manufacturing sector.

The impact of IT on innovation in the healthcare and general services sectors has been a boon for these industries but economic advisors are now recognising that similarly, IT is delivering innovation to the metals industry; we only have to look at the role of computer modelling and software in everything from project management to see the impact.

I certainly came back from the study tour invigorated and full of ideas which will assist our industry to stay in the running locally against imports and also on the world stage with exports. I will present some of these findings in the HERA session of the Metals Industry Conference on 3 September.

HERA Industry Development General Manager Nick Inskip will also report in the HERA session on his trip to Europe in relation to the renewable energy projects currently pursued by HERA. Although Nick is still overseas while I write this column, I understood he followed up on a bunch of real and very promising opportunities which could provide prospects for many of our member companies to participate in.

The Germany visit highlighted forcible the importance of quality assurance in the context of product compliance e.g. by achieving CE marking. As the German system of CE marking and QA in welded fabrication is based on ISO 3834, most of you will also be interested in the conference contribution of HERA’s NZ Welding Centre General Manager Dr Michail Karpenko on the benefits of AS/NZS/ISO 3834 Certification for Welding Fabrication. His talk includes the successful application of the Standard within the Steel Fabrication Certification (SFC) scheme which has been successfully picked up by the New Zealand steel fabrication industry.

HERA has received many nominations for the two HERA-administered metals industry awards, the Metals Industry Innovator of the Year and Metals Industry Exporter of the Year. It is my job to bring the nominations into a format which allow the comparison of the nominations by the judges.

Having had a look at the entries, especially for the innovation award, I am amazed at what has happened within our industry in the innovation and export space in the last two years. No question the observation that IT is driving our manufacturing innovation is verified.

However also verified appears to be the fact that Intellectual Property (IP) based product and services development seems to be the dominate pathway to business success in even the remotest places of New Zealand .

Using the analytical and communication skills of business and economic commentator Rod Oram, the HERA Executive will be facing the membership in a panel discussion with the theme Heavy Engineering Industry Development – Determining Our Future. This is your chance to hear what opportunities are out there for our industry and more importantly you can put your thoughts relating to your business sector to the HERA Executive.

And then as the culmination of the social side of our Metals Week event, I look forward to celebrate with you, our industry achievers at the Metals Industry Awards Gala Dinner. As said we have fantastic entries for the HERA-administered awards and I am also aware that the awards of our sister associations are well subscribed, so there is plenty to celebrate with your peers.

With such a tailored and beneficial programme for HERA members, don’t delay your registration and also book you room at an assigned conference hotel if from outside Auckland. We understand registration tickets and the reserved hotel rooms are disappearing fast!