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Com­pos­ite man­u­fac­tur­ing is an in­te­gral part of New Zealand’s glob­ally renowned boat build­ing in­dus­try. But, as Michael Bar­rett writes, these tech­no­log­i­cal pro­cesses are also find­ing other ap­pli­ca­tions in ar­chi­tec­ture, in­fra­struc­ture, en­ter­tain­ment, trans­port and even art. Now 21 high-tech, ice-white ‘is­lands’ milled and routed by Wark­worth-based Core Builders Com­pos­ites are about to get some air­time in Auck­land’s new Ob­jectspace Gallery.

Art gal­leries, ar­chi­tec­ture and the Amer­ica’s Cup may not seem like the most ob­vi­ous of com­bi­na­tions. But there is a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor: Core Builders Com­pos­ites, a com­pany based in an old print ware­house in Wark­worth.

The com­pany, which helped build Or­a­cle Team USA Amer­ica’s Cup yachts, as well as those for Soft­bank Team Ja­pan, parts of the Artemis and Groupama Team France boats and also parts for Team New Zealand, is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with the pre­cise fab­ri­ca­tion re­quired for this new gen­er­a­tion of yachts. But the skill of com­pos­ite man­u­fac­tur­ing is in­creas­ingly ap­pli­ca­ble to other in­dus­tries.

Su­san Lake, Core’s struc­tural en­gi­neer, says the po­ten­tial for dig­i­tal man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques in­te­grated with Com­puter Numer­i­cally Con­trolled (CNC) ma­chine milling is po­ten­tially end­less. So far, the range of work runs from en­ter­tain­ment (gi­ant disco ball; two-me­tre-tall teddy bear for movie in­dus­try) through to in­fra­struc­ture (rail­way over­bridge; huge wa­ter-pipe junc­tions; Makani M600 wind-en­ergy gen­er­a­tor; milk­ing plat­forms) and ve­hi­cles of var­i­ous modes (milling tools for camper­van and su­pery­acht man­u­fac­tur­ing; a full-size replica of a MIG29 jet used as a flight sim­u­la­tor; a so­lar car for Sunswift, which took part in 2015’s Global So­lar Chal­lenge across Aus­tralia; and, as ru­mour has it, “fly­ing cars” for Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero).

And then there’s ar­chi­tec­ture. Its first sig­nif­i­cant ar­chi­tec­ture project was the roof struc­ture of Rore Kāhu, the Mars­den Cross In­ter­pre­tive Cen­tre, up north at Rangi­houa Her­itage Park in the Bay of Is­lands, which was de­signed by Cheshire Ar­chi­tects. Lake says the project man­ager came to Core with a draw­ing just as the Amer­ica’s Cup was wind­ing down in 2014.

“He asked us if we could build the struc­ture and trans­port it. We hap­pened to have a 40m-long AC72 wing sail leav­ing that day, so were able to demon­strate our ex­pe­ri­ence with that level of scale. For us, the ex­cit­ing as­pect of this project is util­is­ing all of the dig­i­tal man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques that we had honed over the pre­vi­ous four years to ef­fi­ciently pro­duce some­thing com­pletely unique that was en­tirely out­side the marine in­dus­try. As there was a clear path from con­cept to struc­tural de­sign to fab­ri­ca­tion to in­stal­la­tion, we saw this project as a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of our work.”

Last year, the com­pany used a series of sim­i­lar pro­cesses to mill and man­u­fac­ture 21 ice-white is­lands for Fu­ture Is­lands, New Zealand’s ex­hi­bi­tion at the 2016 Venice Ar­chi­tec­ture Bi­en­nale.

Like an Amer­ica’s Cup yacht, a ‘fu­ture is­land’ is light­weight, strong and eas­ily trans­portable. The is­lands have cores of ei­ther hon­ey­comb foam, milled with a CNC router, or Polyethy­lene tereph­tha­late (PET), which is then cov­ered with a fi­bre­glass skin and fin­ished with Re­sene paint. The thin­ner is­lands are made of in­fused hemp, while a large black is­land cov­ered with a car­bon-fi­bre skin re­cy­cled from a Boe­ing 787 for added strength, dou­bles as ex­hi­bi­tion seat­ing.

To man­u­fac­ture the is­lands, Core used its 5-axis CNC milling ma­chine, ‘ The Po­sei­don’, which is an 18m long, 6m wide, 3m tall ma­chine that can slice through com­pos­ites, wood, graphite and non-fer­rous met­als with a de­gree of ac­cu­racy to 0.2mm.

The ‘float­ing’ is­lands that pro­vide the plat­form for 55 build­ing mod­els (in­clud­ing the Mars­den Cross In­ter­pre­tive Cen­tre) and as­so­ci­ated au­dio­vi­sual projects have now re­turned to New Zealand and the free ex­hi­bi­tion will run at Ob­jectspace in Auck­land (28 July – 17 Septem­ber) and the Adam Art Gallery in Welling­ton (13 Oc­to­ber – 22 De­cem­ber).

So far, t he range of work runs f rom en­ter­tain­ment t hrough to i nfras­truc­ture and ve­hi­cles of var­i­ous modes.

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