Pukekohe manufacturer at the cutting edge


Pukekohe machinery manufacturer, Fieldmaster, is poised to mow down competitors in the huge global airport maintenance market - thanks to a revolutionary lightweight, all-terrain machine capable of cutting at more than 20km per hour.

Auckland Airport – which has 200ha of grass to mow – purchased the first tractor-mounted Airport Express mowing machine which Fieldmaster believes is the world’s fastest and has the ability to conquer terrain others cannot.

ATEED South Area Office’s research and development specialist Paul Robinson worked with Fieldmaster to help the company gain a research and development (R&D) project grant of nearly $50,000 from government agency Callaghan Innovation.

He also connected Fieldmaster with South Auckland company Airecut, which developed a hand mower that generates lift from the mowing blade to reduce its weight.

Aspects of that concept formed part of the cutting design development – technology which, along with the space age materials used, means the mower only exerts the same force on the ground as a person walking. This offers considerable benefits for mowing wet ground.

The grant in 2013 enabled Fieldmaster to fast-track development of the ultra-lightweight mower capable of cutting nearly 7ha of grass an hour. The mower’s blades make five cuts over each area even at top speed, and then threshing grass fine enough for clippings to be left behind year round.

Fieldmaster director Paul Ayers says: “We are focused on significant growth, using our long-term expertise in agricultural machinery to identify opportunities. We will develop and introduce innovative new technology which can forge our expansion into export markets.”

“It was superb to connect with an ATEED specialist of Paul Robinson’s level of R&D expertise and industry contacts. He made the whole process easy to understand, and his passion for our potential shone through as he guided our application through to a successful grant that has been crucial.”

Paul Ayers says habitat management poses a number of issues for airport companies, and the environment airports are built in typically create a number of technical challenges for mowing:

Airports are mostly low lying and subject to poor drainage, creating conditions during times of heavy rain when grassed areas are often impassable for traditional tractors. In addition, vehicles on runway areas must be able to move at high speed in case of an aircraft emergency.

Paul Ayers says grass control at airports is crucial to reduce the incidence of bird strikes, which are highly dangerous for aircraft. In New Zealand alone, there are about 1000 incidents reported each year.

“Birds become a problem if grass is too long, too short, or the ground is gouged bare by machinery.”

“The Airport Express is designed to meet the diverse challenges and requirements head on. It can cut in any conditions, right through the wettest times of the year, meaning uninterrupted mowing which provides great efficiencies and savings for airports,” says Paul Ayers.

The Airport Express is based on a four-wheel 70hp tractor chassis built in Austria for alpine use. Its hydraulic cutting decks are made from carbon-fibre interwoven with kevlar. Fieldmaster has applied for a patent for the mower’s ground-following system which instantly adjusts to fluctuations in the ground being mowed.

The mower drivers have a range of technology at their fingertips including digital monitoring of the revolutions per minute and input pressures of each hydraulic cutting head, enabling optimisation of cutting speed to the conditions – essential in the dark, when most critical cutting by the runway is done.

Fieldmaster director Myles Cooper says: “Our initial target market is airports in New Zealand, Australia and Asia, but there is significant export potential for municipal bodies, schools and sports clubs which have large grounds to maintain.”

Fieldmaster is owned by the New Zealand-based investment syndicate Challenge Partners, whose private backers support New Zealand industry and have a healthy desire for innovation. Fieldmaster’s sister company LEP Engineering plastics recently unveiled a leading 3D scanner for its machining and prototyping solutions.