Spinning their way to exporting success

Revolution Fibres

What do air filters, fishing rods, skincare products, pillow liners and office furniture have in common?  Inside Revolution Fibres’ Henderson factory are nanofibres, the not-so-secret-ingredient used in all of these products to make them more durable, stronger, lighter, cleaner and more effective.

Started in 2009, Revolution Fibres has quickly become a global leader in one of the world's newest manufacturing frontiers – nano technology.

Founders Iain Hosie, Simon Feasey and Michael Perrett saw nanofibres being produced at a laboratory. They quickly realised the potential applications and versatility of nanofibres, and saw a market gap in commercial manufacturing of the technology.

Iain Hosie – Revolution Fibres’ Technical Director – and Simon Feasey went on to develop an industrial-scale electrospinning machine nicknamed ‘the Komodo’. It is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

The machine can produce up to a 100m roll of nanofibre in just 15 minutes. Minute strands of fibre are electrically extracted (or electrospun) from a range of materials including polymers and in some cases natural sources such as collagen from hoki fish skins. The electrically extracted fibres are deposited as a dense, non-woven mat up to 2m wide and rolled up.

The Komodo produces fibres 1000 times thinner than human hair, which means the eventual matting has an incredibly high surface area.  This is ideal for products like air filters where fine particles such as bacteria can be captured.

The company's polymer-based nanofibre is already being used in a variety of products and there is great potential for many other applications, including cosmetics, wound dressings and other bio-medical uses, facemasks, acoustic devices, and electronic parts.

Iain Hosie says the company’s ongoing growth and innovation has been made possible through the support of research and development (R&D) specialists at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED).

They have helped the company successfully apply for three R&D grants from government agency Callaghan Innovation to help it grow capability and develop its products. The company has also recently been able to invest in a Masters student at Waikato University to test and prove the performance of nanofibre in composites as a result of further government funding.

Iain has high praise for ATEED West R&D specialist Grant Hemmings: “Grant has been very supportive and working with him has been fantastic.“

Revolution Fibres’ most recent R&D project grant led to the development of a new product range – Nanodream Pillow Liners. The filtration system, similar to that used in the next generation HRV filter systems, has now been applied to pillow liners.

Iain says New Zealand homes have the highest dust mite populations, and the second highest asthma rate, in the world. Revolution Fibres has been able to apply its technology to create a natural barrier from dust mites and allergens in pillows, and has put manuka extracts in the fibres, creating a natural antibacterial layer without using chemicals – an ideal situation for allergy sufferers.

The team is passionate about this new product for its functionality as a high-tech innovation in a low-tech application. “It is yet another example of the versatility and market potential of nanofibre in many sectors,” says Iain.

The funding Revolution Fibres has received has meant that the company is still privately owned, which is unique – many high-tech start-ups have to sell equity to seed investment firms to get going.

Iain Hosie explains: “Receiving funding was the catalyst for Revolution Fibres and we definitely would not have got to where are today without the funding.”

Revolution Fibres is now working on global opportunities and partnerships. ``The potential is huge,’’ say Iain. ``A lot of people want to use nanofibre but they don’t have the expertise or machinery, and we have a head start in the production of commercial nanofibre.’’

Revolution Fibres has now established an office in the UK and has created new partnerships with nanotechnology companies in Spain and Mexico. Iain says his company is working with clients in the UK, US, China, Australia and New Zealand to develop specific nanofibre products. ``Our business model is in customising our nanofibre technology for specific commercial applications. We have a good mix of engineers and scientists who can manipulate and customise our technology to quite diverse sectors.’’

Revolution Fibres credits ATEED for helping it to grow its client base and create partnerships through introductions.
“Having Grant as a local R&D specialist who is able to support the business, whether there is a current funding project in the works or not, has proven to be valuable business support.

“We do appreciate what ATEED is doing. With the local government amalgamation, ATEED has made it a lot easier to work with Auckland council as a whole. I think it is great from an R&D perspective, and makes Auckland a great city to innovate in,” says Iain.

 

Top Photo: Electrospinning revolution at Henderson

Bottom Photo: Revolution Fibres founders Iain Hosie, left, and Simon Feasey, far right