Fisher and Paykel thinks big with $4b goal

FISHER & Paykel Appliances has unveiled plans for a state-of-the-art new research and development hub at its East Tamaki headquarters that will allow the company to take on 160 additional Auckland-based engineers.

The almost 80-year-old whiteware maker, which was acquired by Chinese home goods giant Haier in 2012, has set a lofty goal of boosting annual revenue from around $1 billion to $4 billion over the next decade as it pushes to become the "world's leading premium appliance maker".

Haier appears to be keeping promises made during the takeover, when the Qingdao-based firm said it would beef up the New Zealand company's R&D capabilities.

But F&P Appliances' Auckland manufacturing staff are facing a less than certain future, with chief executive Stuart Broadhurst saying production at the East Tamaki factory - which employs around 180 workers - is expected to fall and the facility will be closed "at some point".

The appliance maker has employed 80 new engineers in Dunedin and Auckland since February 2013 and last week announced a $2.5 million expansion of its South Island R&D facility. Broadhurst said the firm was looking to recruit another 50 engineering staff in the two cities over the next two years. The fit out of the research hub, in an existing 5000sq m building, will cost $5.5 million, and it is expected to be up and running by the middle of this year.

Vice-president of product development and marketing Dan Witten-Hannah said F&P Appliances wanted to increase its East Tamaki R&D team from 240 to 400 - the capacity of the new facility. But it was not clear how long that might take as securing suitable talent was a challenge.

"We're growing our key brands in the USA and we're starting to expand into other markets," Witten-Hannah said. "Those markets drive the need for new products and new products drive the need for investment in engineering."

F&P Appliances released 70 new products last year and new markets such as China and India are introducing fresh challenges for the design team. Broadhurst said Chinese consumers had very specific kitchen requirements - such as powerful gas burners for wok cooking - and "adapted" appliances would be released in China this year.

He said the Auckland plant produced "legacy products" such as bar fridges and cheap chest freezers. Production would decrease as the company focused on the premium end of the market.

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