Engineering firm marks 50 years

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 09:21 17/11/2012
Patience & Nicholson
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ

DOUBLE ANNIVERSARY: Patience & Nicholson celebrates 50 years on the Dale St factory site this month. This year is also a milestone for employee Neville Wyatt, who joined as an apprentice before the factory opened in 1962.

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Kaiapoi-based Patience & Nicholson turns 50 years old this month, looking to adapt to the future with plans to upgrade its quake-damaged plant and grow export orders.

Patience & Nicholson general manager Kevin Donovan says the company was even thinking of using its engineering expertise to make drill bit manufacturing units to sell to competitors.

Such a move was not as contentious as it sounded, given that competitors were already sourcing drill bit manufacturing machines on the world market.

There was now discussion with parent company Sutton Tools' board about selling the manufacturing machines.

"We would like to be producing machines for resale outside of the group, down the track," Donovan said.

Australian-owned Patience & Nicholson employs a 120-strong mainly Kaiapoi and Rangiora-based workforce, including a strong engineering team. The company was inviting guests to a 50th birthday party held this week.

Employee Neville Wyatt joined as an apprentice before the factory opened in November 1962. He has held various positions, including being in charge of offseason freezing workers from nearby processing plants and getting them into the more intricate work of drill bit making.

Wyatt agreed it was amazing he had stayed in one workplace for 50 years. He had also recovered from a couple of bouts with cancer.

"But as I've said to the workers out there, no-one forces you to stay. I enjoy the job and a lot of us face different challenges during the day." He had long been an EPMU union member and now regularly sat on wage conciliation talks with management.

Donovan said Patience & Nicholson had a dedicated engineering team that had built top quality machinery in its Dale St factory to enable the manufacture of bits, typically sold in hardware stores. The bits included cobalt-based pieces for the building trade.

Despite the global downturn the plant now produced more than 60,000 drill bits every day. Its brands - Evacut, P&N and Sutton - were supplied to New Zealand, Australia, South Pacific and several South East Asian markets.

The downturn had been balanced by higher demand from countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. "A recent order from Thailand was worth half a million dollars, and I'll place those types of orders multiple times a year," Donovan said.

Annual revenues totalled about $30 million, back to pre- global financial crisis levels after bottoming at $27m mid- crisis.

To complement sales of bits to the large hardware stores, Patience & Nicholson was also a distributor in New Zealand of other imported brands of engineering files, safety gloves, handtools, torches and hacksaw blades.

Donovan said significant growth had occurred since 1994, when the company was purchased by Australia's Sutton Tools.

Plans for a modern, new plant were also being considered after earthquake damage but a decision still had to be made with insurers about whether to repair or proceed with a yet uncosted fuller rebuild.

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- The Press

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