Building Better Business - Metals NZ Conference Report

The Metals New Zealand Industry Conference held on the 9th and 10th May at the Classic Flyers Aircraft Museum in Tauranga - has been a very successful contributor to better business for our engineering companies. As the conference feedback demonstrated, all programme items contributed to that success.

On Thursday, there were the industry tours, the Heavy Engineering Research Association (HERA), Steel Construction NZ (SCNZ), and National Association of Steel-framed Housing (NASH) sessions, the main conference with keynote speaker Sir Graham Henry. The day was topped off the Industry Awards Gala Dinner
hosted by Jackie Clark. On the following day, the Competing with Fabricated Metals Product Importsworkshop facilitated by Michelle Boag and a SCNZ workshop on facilitated by Kevin Dawkins created great interest and debate with useful feedback for the next actions by Metals NZ.

The conference had kicked off with two well-attended industry tours: The first to the Titanium Industry Development Associations (TiDA) research facilities followed by a visit to Page Macrae Coatings. The second tour was stainless steel-focused and visited the facilities of NDA Engineering Group in Hamilton and then on to Tauranga-based Lawter (NZ) Ltd.

The SCNZ session covered a range of topics from survival tips for contractors to earthquake-related construction. The Metals NZ session by Dr. Steven R. Schmid, Associate Professor Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering of the University of Notre Dame in Illinois, USA was of particular relevance for R&D-conscious
businesses and research providers. Dr Schmid is part of a White House Taskforce which advises the President how to keep manufacturing in the US and how to repatriate it.

Dr Schmid explained that the strategy that has been followed successfully has been partnerships, both in workforce development and in university/industry relations, often facilitated by government. The technologies that have had a large impact include additive manufacturing, especially the trends of rapid tooling, functionally graded materials and now-consumer 3D printing. The HERA session by speakers Nick Inskip and Dr Boaz Habib focused on renewable energy, with emphasis on geothermal and marine energy. A look at IP and harnessing that as a path to success was also presented.

The main conference session kicked off with the telephone conference with the Minister for Business, Innovation & Employment the Hon Steven Joyce, followed by a welcome from Metals NZ Chairman Noel Davies. Keynote speakers were:
- Australian Steel industry Advocate Dennis ONeill
- Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry and
- Catherine Beard, CEO of Manufacturing NZ and NZ Export

The Friday workshop with the theme Competing with Fabricated Metal Product Importsand facilitated by Metals NZ Communication Strategy Advisor Michelle Boag attracted the attention of the industry leadership. Based on the fact that the public sector is a key customer of our industry, the focus on the government procurement reforms and the new Rules of Sourcing where seen as an opportunity to ensure the local industry receives a fair go.

Following presentations by sector group representatives from TiDA, HERA, NZ Stainless Steel Development Association (NZSSDA) and Casting Technology NZ (CTNZ) on technology advances to improve local industry competitiveness, Government Procurement Senior Advisor Murray Herrick outlined the proverbial shift in the goal post in government procurement with increased emphasis on balanced decision-making.

Dr Ganesh Nana from BERL introduced the HERA-commissioned tender evaluation tool which would allow consideration of all criteria listed in the new procurement rules. And HERA Director Dr Wolfgang Scholz outlined what differentiates our New Zealand offerings from that of the overseas competition, so that procurers have all arguments for choosing the local supply chain as the better deal.

Michelle Boag summarised her research, which included consultation with procurers, in stating that with the new Rules of Government Procurement, the industry has a unique opportunity to capitalise on. New Zealands engineering industry needs to focus now on the real advantages that accrue to New Zealand by using NZ-based expertise, services and products. In order for procurers to follow the Rules and also use the BERL tender evaluation tool the industry needs to engage, educate and build relationships with procurers at both industry and individual company level. Michelles outline of a detailed action agenda caused much discussion and no doubt will lead to a strong continued programme of advocacy and engagement, especially by Metals New Zealand.

Many delegates have expressed positive views on the conference and noted the strong sense of collaborative industry spirit in the event. More information on the conference, including all presentations and industry awards winners, can be found at www.metals.org.nz in the 2013 Conference section.