Exporting from Dannevirke to the world. The word “pivot” comes naturally to Metalform.

Metalform has turned every perceived disadvantage of being a manufacturer in provincial New Zealand into export strengths. This high-tech exporter has an enviable portfolio of products it either owns or develops and manufactures on behalf of customers the world over. This includes the seemingly impossible; contract manufacturing fire pumps exported to China.

So, when COVID-19 struck, Metalform was able to pivot from producing wheelchairs and agricultural ground spreaders to 30,000 face shields every week for front line medical staff. “Our marketing manager saw an item on the news on Sunday that a lot of frontline nurses and doctors lacked face shields,” says Managing Director Campbell Easton. “The following week we arranged a meeting with the Ministry of Health where we presented prototypes and a completely New Zealand based supply chain that we delivered.”

Metalform’s strong DNA for innovation goes back to its formation in 1961. Today, the company employs 90 staff and exports up to 70 percent of everything it produces. Metalform is also a company where the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA) has helped on its journey. “We’ve had a bit to do with CEDA over the years, attending a lot of their training courses,” Campbell adds.

“We appreciate the close involvement of CEDA Research and Development Business Growth Advisor, Peter Ellingham on various projects. Peter has been instrumental in connecting us to Callaghan Innovation and its LEAN programme. LEAN forced us to look at our processes and it has changed the way we manage. So much so, that when we instituted our new enterprise resource planning system, we made sure that it was set up to promote LEAN management behaviors. This is about giving vision, focus and direction along with good relationship building skills. LEAN represents a commitment to continuous development and improvement but with strong customer focus and value systems.”

This explains why Metalform is as much a design company as it is a manufacturer with half of all production coming from manufacturing as a service. Something the company labels ‘Concept to Reality’ involving design, prototyping, manufacturing, international procurement, final assembly and even shipping on behalf of its customers.

“Our business model is to take the painful bit away from the customer’s initial sketch on a piece of paper right through to a fully commercialised product,” Campbell adds. “Concept to Reality service customers get to focus on the marketing and other key aspects of their business.”

Metalform points to its award-winning adjustable height wheelchairs that came about because a friend of Campbell had identified the need for one.

“These are three-quarters produced in New Zealand with the final quarter being assembled overseas and customised to the end user’s needs,” Campbell says. “We also manufacture all the point of sale kiosks for KFC in both Australia and New Zealand and we are now in the midst of developing next-level technology for that range.”

There is one success story that Metalform is especially proud of. That is a full-service solution for Vortex involving portable firefighting pumps carried by firefighters into austere settings that are being sold the world over.

“We are selling these Kiwi-designed and made pumps into China, Bangladesh and Singapore. It’s remarkable that a New Zealand made pump is being sold into Asia but with the lives of firefighters on the line, firefighters want to know they have the best and that best is made in Dannevirke.”

While Metalform’s involvement with Vortex goes back 20-years, in January 2020, it took over full prototyping design, manufacturing and distribution, with Vortex staff relocating to a dedicated line in Dannevirke. This has freed up Vortex to focus on marketing and the customer experience and the feedback has been glowing, with the owners telling Campbell Easton that it was one of their best business decisions since forming the company.

What seems to be behind Metalform’s success is a commitment to research and development. Here, one of its major product ranges, Tow and Fert, has benefited from CEDA input. Several years ago, CEDA assisted Metalform with a Callaghan Innovation fellowship that saw a master’s student from Massey University investigate variable rate spray control without impacting application spray width.

“Tow and Fert takes granular fertiliser, dissolves it and then spreads it to pasture allowing farmers to apply only half the nitrogen to achieve the same dry matter growth response. That’s as good for the bottom line as it is for the environment. The work the student did for us has laid the foundation for product improvement because the market is asking for it.”

Metalform is determined to exit the current economic downturn with a strong product range. As such, the company is boosting its research and development efforts and that is something CEDA can work with companies on.

“I can’t disclose what we are working on next, but the board is committed to Research and Development investment. We want Metalform to emerge from any downturn with new products that will see us secure a global competitive advantage,” Campbell Easton finished by saying.

For more information about Metalform, visit their website.

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