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Kate de Lautour


Innovation is the subject of the next Chamber of Commerce Export NZ Westpac event, taking place at Church Road Winery next month. Speakers include the CEO of Callaghan Innovation (formerly MSI) Mary Quin and the team behind innovative mobile frost protection technology, Tow and Blow, Kim McAulay and Janice Atkinson.


Kate de Lautour met Janice Atkinson and started by asking her how they came up with the Tow and Blow concept?


Two and BlowKim had been involved in the wind machine industry for about 20 years. He was the first person to manufacture wind machines in the Southern Hemisphere. During all of those years Kim faced the inadequacies of the standard fixed installation/tower wind machines. He dreamt of over-coming those inadequacies. After selling Hawke’s Bay Wind Machines in 2006, Kim semi-retired. He had a five year restraint and never thought he would go back into the frost protection business. 


For the next five years he watched the wind machine industry develop. Apart from improving the noise emissions with new blade types, really no development happened. So Kim started working on some ideas to make a portable, flexible, small machine that would suit the smaller grower.


Because of his years of experience with standard tower machines, he knew that he wanted a fan that could be mounted into a bell mouthed shroud. It is common knowledge that open style fans are extremely inefficient and noisy. Kim knew that if he could design a system that incorporated the fan into a shroud, he would pull far more air and reduce the noise. He eventually came up with a very rough prototype machine. We then took this out into the paddock in frost conditions and trialled it.


What we didn’t expect was just how much air this thing would move. Usually a wind machine is started well before the frost settles, and is used to stop the frost from settling. We were starting this prototype up on a frozen paddock and the machine was actually thawing the paddock! And to boot, it was protecting a much bigger area than we had anticipated.


From there DSK Engineering became very interested in the project and with help from Jenny Brown and funding from Callaghan Innovation, we were able to use DSK's services to develop a machine that could be commercialised for production. The grant enabled prototype testing to take place and assisted with ensuring we had no legal barriers manufacturing the machine. Without the testing, the problems would never have been ironed out before we went to production. And there were plenty of problems that we hadn’t anticipated.


Why do you think your machine is better than what is on the market? What makes it different?



Tow and Blow's fans are set to oscillate in the same direction as the air drift meaning all energy from the machine and nature works together to increase the area protected.  No energy is lost pushing into the drift or into the air from another machine. Machines are synchronised to work together, meaning less machines are needed.      


Tow and Blow can be moved to work with the natural air drift, meaning the machine is always giving best result.


Tow and Blow's fan head can be angled if the property has hills or valleys or low points where cold air pools; rotation or oscillation is time variable; it’s very quiet and no installation is necessary. There is no external service cost required and no specialty parts.


It can be leased out for other uses during off-season such as a ventilator and evaporative cooler with livestock (comes with water misting option); for cooling in pack houses; for drying fruit such as cherries and kiwifruit.


And finally, it is the most cost effective wind machine in the world, using six litres of regular fuel per hour.


What’s been the feedback from customers? 


Heaps of feedback- customers love every aspect. The machine exceeds their expectations. We have several return customers who bought fewer machines than they needed first time, because they wanted to check the machine and us out first, now they are returning to buy more. That is the best testimonial you can ever get.


What did Callaghan funding enable you to do?


In a nutshell, it enabled us to take what was a very rough prototype of a machine to a world class production model. The initial rough machine had no trials, and we had no idea of what the “issues” would be with the machine. The funding enabled us to work with the right people with the right expertise to develop this prototype, iron out the problems and discover the true capabilities. It basically enabled us to commercialise the entire idea.


 How did you find the Callaghan process? What areas of your business did you have consider?


To be honest, without Jenny Brown helping us it would have been difficult to get the whole application and reporting together. It is a big job, but she gave us good direction, so that we didn’t waste time on areas that didn’t count, and we focussed on what did.


How are sales tracking? Tell us about your markets and typical customers. 


We have exported 30 machines, giving us just under $900,000 of export revenue so far.We have sold 50 in NZ, giving us over $1.6M in domestic market sales. Most of these sales have been for frost protection of nearly every fruit and vegetable type you can think of.

Our goal in the first year had been $1.75 M on the domestic market, and nil on export, so with the two added together, we have exceeded our forecasts. The goal for year two also looks like it will be exceeded.

An unanticipated market was livestock cooling on the huge cattle feedlots in the USA. Our first four are about to arrive in Nebraska, for trialling on two huge feedlots. We have fitted the standard machine with fine water misters which sit in front of the fan. The fan blows through this fine water misting, evaporating the water and dropping the air temperature by about 8 degrees C, plus adding the cooling effect of the air movement. Worldwide, this market could be bigger than frost protection.

We are trialling the machine for aircraft de-icing. As soon as the frosts return, we are straight back into trialling. We have had a 95% success rate, but need to lift this to 100%, which we believe we can.

We have now appointed agents in seven major trading countries, and this is growing.

Chamber of Commerce Export NZ with Westpac event, Church Road Winery, June 11th, 10.30am start. Register at www.hawkesbaychamber.co.nz


PICTURED: From left, Janice Atkinson and Kim McAulay with Jenny Brown, Callaghan Innovation Regional Business Partner