Media Statement from Robinson Seismic Ltd.
Latest New Zealand innovation for earthquake protection
20 April 2007
An innovative earthquake protection device is being installed in new buildings at Wanganui Hospital in New Zealand, with its inventors also eyeing lucrative overseas contracts for the technology.
Two new single storey buildings to house operating surgeries and emergency services at Wanganui Hospital are the first in the world to be fitted with ‘RoGliders', developed by Robinson Seismic Limited in Wellington. The device effectively puts the buildings on flexible bearings, allowing them to move in a quake and preventing trashing of the interior during shaking. This ensures that the hospital remains 100 percent operational after the disaster.
The RoGlider has been developed by the founder of Robinson Seismic Ltd, Dr Bill Robinson, who also invented the world's first lead rubber bearings (LRBs) 30 years ago, delivering technology that is now standard around the globe to protect buildings during earthquakes. But, says Robinson Seismic Chief Executive Officer Alan Wilson, LRBs are designed for heavy buildings leaving a significant technology gap for smaller, mid sized structures.
"Even small hospitals and other emergency centres need to be operational straight after an earthquake disaster but there was previously no cost effective way of fitting them with seismic isolation technology. We saw the gap in the market both in New Zealand, where building codes related to earthquake protection are getting tougher, and overseas."
A contract to supply 90 of the new RoGliders for Wanganui Hospital prompted Robinson Seismic to accelerate development of the technology, with the government getting on board with investment through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology's Technology for Business Growth (TBG) scheme. Each RoGlider is 600 millimetres in diameter, weighs around 100 kilograms and can support weight of up to 100 tonnes per column.
Dr Peter Johnstone, a Director of Romulus Consulting Group which is in charge of engineering the Wanganui hospital reconstruction, says the RoGliders are providing a much needed means of securing the hospital's acute facilities during an earthquake.
"Making the surgical wing of the hospital earthquake safe was a key requirement of the project. None of the existing technology was suitable for the light, single storey structures being built so we were looking at some kind of one-off, home grown solution when the RoGlider came along.
It provides the ability to safeguard essential facilities inside the surgical and emergency buildings during severe shaking."
Robinson Seismic says while a few competing products exist overseas, there is nothing in the market with the range and capability of the new RoGlider.
"New Zealand's advantage is that we tend to develop and use less complex and lower cost solutions which fit well with construction methods used in developing countries. There is strong interest in our product from both India and Turkey. India has signalled that new hospitals will require base isolation and Turkey is moving towards retrofitting existing multi-level buildings such as apartment blocks," says Mr Wilson.
Robinson Seismic is also pitching its new device to global funding agencies such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank which, says Mr Wilson, are moving toward funding disaster mitigation rather than reconstruction.
Robinson Seismic is likely to license manufacturers overseas to produce its RoGlider and is targeting a global market worth around NZ$50 million per year.
"Having the technology installed at Wanganui's new hospital is an excellent marketing tool as potential clients can see what we provide in action," says Mr Wilson.
The launch of the RoGlider, says Dr Barbara Webster, a Senior Business Manager with the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, is proof of the long term value delivered by government research and development investment.
An estimated $NZ20 million of government money was invested specifically in the development of seismic isolation technology at the now defunct DSIR (Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) between the 1960s and the 1990s. Investment has continued since then with the Foundation providing funds for ongoing research at crown research institutes GNS (Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences) and IRL (Industrial Research Limited) and Robinson Seismic, which was spun-out from IRL in the mid 1990s.
"New Zealand is now recognised internationally for its expertise and knowledge in applying seismic technology and a cluster of engineering earthquake businesses is successfully competing in overseas markets. That is creating jobs and bringing in millions of dollars in foreign exchange earnings.
"It has also delivered intellectual property that will go on delivering returns to the New Zealand economy and is the basis for new innovations like the RoGlider.
"Given the risks involved and the time it has taken to build earthquake engineering expertise this important economic activity would not have developed without the government making R&D investments over a long period," says Dr Webster.
The Foundation has invested $175,000 in the RoGlider project, through its TBG scheme.
For further information:
Alan Wilson, CEO, Robinson Seismic Ltd
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