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For this enterprising band of super-creative Kiwi engineers, the sky’s the limit

farra engineering, the venture magazineIt’s been said that engineers eat problems for breakfast. If that’s the case, the morning bowls at Farra Engineering must be filled with some of the most complex, daunting, and tastiest conundrums to be solved.

Considering that the Dunedin-based firm owns New Zealand’s largest vertical lathe and horizontal borer, the projects they undertake are also enormous in size. “Farra is a diversified engineering company that's been family owned since 1863,” CEO Gareth Evans explained.

“We do everything from heavy engineering, machining, and heavy fabrication through to contract design work, developing custom hoist and lifts, bespoke cranes for the roofs of buildings, and complicated lift equipment. We have a staff of 150 spread across two smart factories.”

The company’s history is marked by ambitious shifts that over time have positioned Farra as an incomparably agile partner across multiple industries, including energy, architecture, automation, rail and transportation, food and beverage, and manufacturing. “As the market has changed the company has reinvented itself over and over again,” he revealed.

When challenges arise where no solution can be found, Farra builds them. From crafting the largest pieces of lifting equipment in the country, to creating high-capacity, custom external building maintenance units, Farra consistently answers the need for high-end, high-value niche machinery anywhere in the world. In just the last three years, Farra has worked on major projects in Australia, the Middle East, China, Hong Kong, Mozambique, and Canada.

Farra also operates a thriving maintenance operation, supporting the equipment they manufacture throughout its life cycle, as well as supporting non-native machinery in diverse industries such as power generation, mining, dairy, meat processing, food and beverage manufacturing, and wastewater treatment.

The firm operates a variety of specialty build and repair shops within 13,000 square metres of manufacturing space in Dunedin. Their end-to-end approach scales from the massive to the tiny essentials, from the design and manufacture of large, heavy components for hydroelectric dams (hence the need for a gargantuan lathe and bore), to sheet metal components, pipes, and fittings, as well as painting and powder coating.

Success is a Façade … and a Frosty at the End of the Day

farra engineering, the venture magazineOne of the most complex puzzles to be solved in high-rise construction is the issue of recladding exteriors. Leave it to Farra to pioneer the world’s first climbing scaffold solution. Evans described it as a “scaffold that climbs up the outside of the building as the replacement is being done, so it's less invasive. It's faster and easier than the traditional scaffolding methods. It's taken a couple of years of R&D, but it's been really, really good to see that this is our next big innovation, and something that's working really well in the market.”

Created for a 23-story residential building, the 7.8 tonne unit can lift a payload of workers and equipment of one tonne, or 125 kg per person. The two-storey platform wraps around the building, which is suspended from the building’s roof by a combination of cables and a specialty wedging system that locks on to the wire cables. Building residents don’t sacrifice their view as the façade is recladded, and building workers are safe and secure.

Farra’s strict health and safety mandates are reviewed biannually by independent experts. “That covers everything from mandatory drug and alcohol testing through to making sure that people take enough time off and making sure we have fatigue management policies in place,” Evans said. An anonymous employee assistance program ensures that the mental wellness of Farra’s workforce is also a top priority.

That workforce is quite distinctive, setting Farra apart from other players in the space. Said Evans, “we’ve got breadth of capability, and that's really important because we can take on anything. We've got the skills in house. One of the big things that sets us apart is our people. ... We've got a whole team of tradespeople who are lead staff, and lots of people have been here for 40 years.”

“From the shop floor to the folks that are working on an erection site to those that are installing equipment over in Africa and wherever we ship, everyone is just 100 per cent Farra. It's that culture that comes across to the customers, and that's what really keeps them coming back.”

As the engineers behind Emerson’s commercial brewing operation, the Farra crew can quench the thirst for more than just innovation. The brewing bug bit them in the ’80s when Farra worked on maintenance projects for a local brewer. “We’ve been in the space for nearly 30 years, and it gave us a reputation as being the guys that made alcohol,” Evans laughed. “Many of the distilleries and breweries in New Zealand are built by Farra now, which evolved from the initial range of brewery equipment we developed.”

Not that they’ll ever need it, but we’re happy to know Farra has a brilliant fallback.