Elevated view of HELLA New Zealand's moulding machine park.
If you’ve ever watched the documentary series Megafactories, you’ll instantly recognise HELLA as being in that category.
HELLA New Zealand design and manufacture innovative lighting products for the commercial transport and automotive industries in a 5200 m² state-of-the-art factory in Pakuranga, Auckland. Managing director Andrew Mills says the company philosophy is to design and build innovative ultra-durable lighting products they are proud of.
“Our products are not the cheapest in the market but they are high quality and we will always support our customers; we never turn a warranty down. Our primary aim in that is to learn. How did someone manage to damage it? Is it something that went wrong in a production sense, or has it been out there in use for 15 years? We want to know how and why it failed.”
Every product that leaves HELLA New Zealand’s factory is individually tested, and every order line gets a QA inspection. They have onsite testing facilities, allowing them to see how lights perform under extremes of temperature, intense UV light, exposure to chemicals, and in humid and salt-laden conditions.
Each individual lamp is functionally tested.
“We have a lot of the gear in-house, so as we are developing new designs we can test them before any external testing is done. We can do the first product development and get a better product at the end as we run through the design process.”
Andrew says they select materials that will stand the test of time such as optical nylon, which has greater strength and durability than other plastics.
“It’s a sister material to Kevlar, extremely strong, UV resistant, impact resistant, chemical resistant – the best of the best.”
The factory’s moulds and machines are all custom-built and Andrew says extra investment is also put into tools when they are made.
“This means we have high quality and a low rejection rate. Our moulding tolerances can be as precise as plus or minus .02mm, which can make a huge difference between a compliant and a non-compliant product. We have one machine with a 1.8mm needle going into a 2mm hole that gets laser aligned every time it leaves the hole. We are the only ones doing it; everyone else needs a 3mm hole.”
Andrew Mills presenting moulding samples used
Andrew says they can react quickly to market demand as they hold large stocks of raw materials.
“We can manufacture within days of receiving an order. Our customers are global but they need to feel like we’re just down the road.”
The Auckland factory is environmentally controlled and uses 100% renewable energy. About 95% of rejected product gets recycled and used in packing trays, glue tubes, and for purging machines between different types of plastics.
Andrew says one of HELLA’s original drivers was road safety and that will become even more important in the future with autonomous vehicles. He says vehicles will sense each other and may not need headlights to see where they are going, but making them visible to pedestrians would become increasingly important.
“We’re looking at about 30 to 40 years and there will be a huge transition before the fleet is autonomous. It will be different, there’s no doubt about that. Lighting will pretty much set the scene, because if you are not driving, you will be working in your vehicle.”
Andrew says he loves being part of HELLA New Zealand for a number of reasons, one of which is the passion and depth of knowledge of the staff.
“There is care and attention to detail in everything we do. Some of the design team have worked here for 30-plus years. We focus on continuous improvement – if we’re doing a design iteration, we ask if there is anything we can improve at the same time. Everything we build is a safety device and our commitment is always to the product quality and to safety.”
The parent company of HELLA was founded in 1899 in Germany and today it has more than 34,000 employees worldwide, including 6000 in research and development. It is one of the 100 largest German industrial companies and one of the top 50 automotive suppliers in the world.
HELLA New Zealand was established in 1973 to provide a substitute for imported products that were constrained by industry protection, import licences, quotas and high import tariffs. They have been on their current site, which is also home to the global headquarters for HELLA Marine, since 1980.
In the early 1980s a free trade agreement with Australia allowed duty free access, and HELLA New Zealand began exporting low volume aftermarket products that were incompatible with HELLA Australia’s high volume OE manufacturing.
Precision gluing is used to fix components and hermetically seal lamps.
When the local car manufacturing industry closed in the 1990s, HELLA New Zealand expanded its design capabilities to develop specialist products, becoming pioneers in LED lighting. HELLA’s design and manufacturing plant in Auckland has 166 staff and an electronics assembly plant in Waihi has 36.
The Waihi plant places 65,000 LEDs daily onto circuit boards – equating to about 1.3 million LEDs per month – and volume is planned to increase to more than 100,000 LEDs per day. About 85% of HELLA New Zealand’s production is exported.
Today HELLA’s ultra durable and energy efficient LED marker / signal lamps are viewed as the ‘fit and forget’ choice in the Australasian transport market as a result of HELLA New Zealand’s innovative design and use of cutting edge materials and technology.