Polyurethane foam products maker Acma, based in Upper Hutt, is close to licensing the technology for its fire-resistant train seat fillers to an American public transport company.
The specialist products manufacturer and designer has been exporting about 10,000 of its flame-retardant seats to China every month for use in trains being made for several Australian states.
Scientists at Gracefield Crown research institute Industrial Research have been studying how the foam disintegrates when exposed to heat to ensure the seats meet strict American safety standards.
"Regulation is your enemy until you've passed all the tests, then it is your friend because that makes it harder for other people to do what you've done. The really strict fire tests are quite hard to pass," Acma director John Bowmar said.
"We are just about there. I'm hopeful we'll be done the next month or so."
Acma first got in touch with the Michigan company, which now buys its foam inners from another Michigan business, when he visited North America and Canada on a New Zealand Trade & Enterprise mission.
"At the moment there is only one supplier in the United States. We could get quite a large chunk of that market."
Acma, which has turnover typically between $7 million-$9m a year, also makes shock-absorbent floor tiles aimed at protecting elderly people from breaking bones during falls. Acma recently started distributing them in Sweden and Norway after clinical trials.
Bowmar said the patented tiles, called Kradal, were likely to be marketed in wealthier countries such as Germany, Scandanavia, the United Kingdom, US and Australia. "They cost three or four times the cost of normal tiles. That's a barrier in New Zealand."
Bowmar's father Alan, who is still heavily involved in the business, started Acma in 1978 to supply seating foam to car companies, which then manufactured in New Zealand. In the 1990s it diversified briefly into office seating before becoming known as expert in rail seat foam manufacturing. It recently fitted out KiwiRail's scenic TranzAlpine trains. The company also makes components used in Fisher & Paykel Healthcare masks, and props for films.
Across all its products, Acma makes 140,000 units a month and employs 75 at its factory, which operates 24 hours a day on weekdays. It is currently operating at about 80 per cent of its capacity but can increase capacity further in its current factory space. Licensing its technology is likely to be its main route of expansion in future.
"The first big step is to get past the highest level in British and American safety standards then we'd like to be supplying foam to companies based outside of Australia, supplying into China for projects in Europe or wherever else."
- © Fairfax NZ News