Posted on Tuesday July 13, 2021
“Lighter than aluminium, stronger than steel” – this was the intriguing sign that we saw on arrival at Pultron.
Sir Paul Callaghan said in 2011 that New Zealand’s strength lies in the weird stuff. Weird stuff are products and services that fly below the radar of large economies and large companies. Often the weird stuff originates in backyard inventions, where a curious person has used whatever resources were available locally to them to solve practical problems. This has proven to be true across many NZ tech success stories, and Pultron fits the mould. Another local example would be Rocket Lab and, nationwide, perhaps most famously F&P Healthcare’s humidifying respirators.
It’s fair to say that none of us, or hardly any of us, had ever heard of Pultron Composites before we saw the itinerary for the Friends Gisborne/Turanganui-a-Kiwa trip, but discovering hidden treasures is part of the Friends’ DNA.
In the early 1980s Dame Bronwen and Dr Peter Holdsworth were farming at Te Karaka. Annoyingly, cattle persisted in pushing fences over and they were stumped. Why not make posts out of fibreglass? Pulton Composites was born in Peter’s farm shed.
Pultron now exports to 20 countries with two manufacturing plants outside Gisborne – in Saudi Arabia and the USA. Its product range has expanded massively beyond fence posts to now include, pins for retaining walls on hillsides along highways, rock bolts for wall and roof supports in mines, tunnels and retaining walls. It also makes reinforcing bars, used as a concrete reinforcement in harsh environments where corrosion can greatly limit the lifespan of steel. The latter application has generated tremendous opportunities in the Middle East, where salt infusion compromises the life of steel reinforced concrete.
Pultron created the “SpringFree” trampoline, which has markedly reduced childhood injuries, and it manufactured the Pacific Grass Wind sculpture near Wellington airport.
The tour of the factory was extensive and fascinating. It was obvious that the process (“pultrusion” – fibres of glass and resin injected through a mould) was complicated. Key to the company’s success are R&D and total quality management. The commitment of staff to the mission and to Gisborne was tangible. The Holdsworth family are major donors to their local community, including through a family endowment fund with Sunrise Foundation, the community foundation of the Gisborne area.