February 17, 2010

Tait Electronics

I read an interesting article in the Listener a while back about Tait Electronics, the Christchurch, New Zealand based designer and manufacturer of radio communications systems who this year turned 40.

The story of Tait Communications, and Sir Angus Tait in particular, is quite a remarkable one. Sir Angus was bought up by his mother in Oamaru, and when his father died in the 1918 flu epidemic, he began working in the local radio shop before going on to become an RAF radio operator in WWII. He came home from the war, set up a company...and went broke. He paid off his creditors, then tried again 2 years later.

Tait Electronics was the result, and today it records annual sales of $190 Million in 160 countries worldwide. They invest 12% of revenue in R&D, which is rare for NZ companies, and as a result have a revenue of $300,000 per employee, making them one of NZ's most knowledge-based companies.

Sadly, Sir Angus passed away 2 years ago, aged 88. I wasn't lucky enough to ever meet Sir Angus, but I think we can all learn a lesson from him. He wasn't afraid to give it a go, in fact he failed the first time he did, but he learned, and he came back to create something so wildly successful. I think there is a tendency in NZ to avoid trying anything for fear of failing. But we must, and we must learn from our mistakes. If NZ has another 50 companies like Tait Electronics, we wouldn't be worrying about Taskforce 2025.

"Technology is our sword; we must keep it sharp and bright."

- Sir Angus Tait

February 10, 2010

Phitek Systems

You may have heard of noise cancellation headphones that dramatically reduce ambient sound sources to create a more enjoyable listening experience. They are rather expensive, but if you have ever used a pair, you will know what I mean when I say they are absolutely incredible!

These headphones work by sampling the ambient sounds sources, converting these into a digital signal which is then processed to create destructive interference, thus cancelling the ambient sound.

What may be suprising to you, is that along with the audio giants like Bose and Logitech that manufacturer these headphones, NZ has a successful noise cancellation headphone company too, Phitek Systems. They have offices throughout the world, including Auckland, Shenzen and Hong Kong, and are due to open one in Switzerland soon. What I think is really promising is that Phitek invest 30% of their revenue in R&D and recognise that the downstream benefits of this may take some time to flow on. I guess this is because they are from an R&D background, having been spun out of Industrial Research Ltd., whereas other companies are unaware and more demanding in this respect. As talked about here, I think business investment is R&D is critical, and I believe we need many more companies with the attitude of Phitek.

As well as manufacturing noise cancellation headphones, they also supply headphone jacks to airlines and have recently won a contract with Virgin Blue in Australia. According to Phitek, they now supply over 50 airlines worldwide, including Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Malaysian, Air New Zealand and Qantas. So next time you're jet-setting around the globe, take a look down at your seat - you might not be so far from home after all.

February 3, 2010


Rakon is one of the success stories for NZ technology based firms. The company based in Auckland, New Zealand, is one of the world's leading manufacturers of frequency timing solutions (primarily quartz crystals and temperature compensated crystal oscillators) for the GPS industry. It claims to supply over 50% of all the frequency control products in this area, which is quite staggering since the world GPS market was estimated at US$30 Billion in 2008, with worldwide shipments of handheld devices numbering approximately 30 million in 2008.

GPS units work by locating four or more satelites, calulating the distance between the unit and each satelite, and then using this information to calculate its own position by a process called trilateration. This is done by timing how long a signal takes to travel between two points, which needs to be known very accurately. This is where Rakon comes in with their quartz crystal oscillators.

When a quartz crystal is cut and mounted properly, the silicon and oxygen atoms that make up that quartz crystal can be made to distort when an electric field is applied. When the electric field is removed, the quartz crystal will return to its normal shape and generate an electric field.
The result is an electric circuit with a precise resonant frequency, to which time can be measured. This is known as piezoelectricity. Such crystals are used in digital watches, cellphones and computers - Rakon sell theirs to GPS equipment manufactuers so that they can measure the time taken for signals travelling between two points and thus figure out where in the world you are.

With the explosion of handheld GPS devices (CAGR 18%) and the inclusion of GPS technology in many mobile phones such as the iPhone, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that if Rakon stay ahead of the game, they will have a very big future indeed. This will only be achieved by having the right science and technology minds behind them - not only imperative to Rakon of course, but to New Zealand.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner