The Innovations Issue.

July 2024 Newsletter

Innovation pushes at the boundaries. It challenges rules, looks at what’s not up to snuff, and asks what’s working well and what could be better. 

As we said in the last update, innovation is what we do. It’s why we’ve pioneered the XBEAM, continue to challenge the market, and work with good sorts across the country to discover new ways of doing things.

Let’s take a look at bridges. Historically, steel and reinforced concrete have dominated the market. But what would an aluminium bridge look like? How could we design it? And what would it mean for transport? Well, as we look at creating and analysing larger extrusions, we learn more about what’s possible, and start to close the gap between imagination and reality.

If an aluminium bridge sounds confronting, then we’re not surprised. Our aluminium code is outdated, and some outdated views about aluminium still dominate the market. But that’s why we work so hard to engineer and prove our work: because there’s so much more to be done.

Survey the market, and you’ll get a good sense that things are getting tighter. (That could be a self-fulfilling prophecy though.) What that invariably means are challenges – to efficiency, to performance, and to innovation. It’s an opportunity to rethink how we do things. We’re taking further steps to improve our internal libraries, optimise our products and factory, and keep costs down. You deserve everything better – and better you will get.

So with that in mind, take a dive into our Innovations Issue. We talk with Monkeytoe design leader Logan Klenner, look at the power and promise of finite element analysis, head down to Christchurch to look at a new stadium then take a look at some of the big similarities and differences between Australia and New Zealand’s building standards.

Check it out…

Bolstering the Innovations Team.

Last time we spoke with Logan Klenner, he was very busy, overseeing four of our departments. Today, the ‘father of the XBEAM’ is leading the Innovations Team, pushing us to develop further, stronger, faster. This update, he’s sharing a few thoughts about what we’re up to – and how we innovate well here at Monkeytoe.

I’ve spoken before in these updates about innovation, and what makes us different. In the last year or so, we’ve made some changes to how we operate here at Monkeytoe, and for the better, introducing new divisions that will help us do more. It’s meant I’ve taken a less hands-on role – a bit of a challenge for someone like me! – but also means that we’re able to scale up.

I’m often asked what makes a good innovation team, and it’s good people. You want people to be naturally creative and curious, and who are thirsty to continue learning. That also means that you often have to leave your ego at the door. If you’re willing to listen, and accept that you’re not always right – but that you can always contribute – then you can be a part of an awesome team.

Monkeytoe’s Innovations Team used to be quite small, with just two full-time people and a handful of others contributing. With some recent restructures, we’ve added four more – effectively tripling the size of our team. And that’s in addition to the Design and Automation team of four. Ben Halliday is now leading the Research and Development team. As for myself, my role is less hands-on, but more overseeing and providing some more support to our newest teams.

One of the recent additions has been a Design to Product (D2P) division, that will help us serve other companies at scale. I’m a huge fan of D2P and solving problems for others – especially when you know that what you’re coming up with is exactly what the client wants. When someone comes to us, it’s usually to help with a one-off project. But there are also opportunities where we can work with companies to help them develop a solution to a specific need, and scale it. These kinds of partnerships mean that they get the advantage of all our design skills and know-how, while we get to provide something that solves an immediate challenge and can be deployed over and over.

All that works because of our good people. No matter how much experience they have, there’s a willingness to learn and try new things, work with clients, and discover something new. It also relies on having some great clients across the country who are ready to go beyond business as usual and try something new – and we need a lot more of that if we’re going to stay competitive as a country of big thinkers and problem solvers.

All About FEA.

Have you ever wondered how we trust the products we make before we build them?

The answer, of course, is engineering know-how: understanding the tensile strength of material, or the torsional effects on an I-beam, or any number of calculations. One avenue that we’ve been able to dive into more is finite element analysis (FEA) calculated by increasingly powerful computers and simulations.

FEA is applied maths that’s used to model what happens to beams, pillars, members and so on. In essence, FEA divides the shape up into a mesh of smaller, simpler parts called ‘finite elements’ – basically points on the mesh. Once we have those elements, we can then ask the computer to run countless calculations on how those points will behave under stress, torsion, movement, vibration etc. If you’ve seen a computer model of a deforming beam – with red showing high stress, and blue or green showing low/no stress – then you’ll know what it looks like.

There are a few different approaches to FEA, depending on whether you’re analysing static, dynamic, or modal (vibrational) loads. But it all boils down to the same basic idea: a stick diagram of the part(s) you’re looking at, and how it’ll react on site. 

We’ve been doing structural analysis on our components for a long time at Monkeytoe, because it’s a clear way of knowing a product is refined well, surpasses its safety requirements, and how it’s going to operate in the real world.

Why all this interest in FEA? Well, what we’re working with isn’t just flat-cut members or solid shapes with relatively simple formulas for calculating stresses. We have complex extrusions, connection details and integrating brackets that make for complicated calculations that aren’t easy to run. An FEA analysis gives you a clear, accurate visual representation of what you’re looking at, the hot spots that need to be refined, and a better understanding of how stresses might work in the real world. Plus it gives us an extra level of confidence that our products are refined, they efficiently use materials and space, and that they’re going to be safe no matter what gets thrown at them.

It’s not just a matter of plugging in some values and letting the computer run its course, however. A good engineer uses computing tools to support their engineering, not do it for them. So while anyone can have a crack at FEA, if you don’t have an idea of what the result should be, then you could get it very wrong and not know. And you need to be able to interpret the results, too, which is more than looking at the colours.

Computing power is precious, and structures are complicated. Mapping out an entire bridge, for instance, is too cumbersome to run a solid FEA on – it could take weeks to calculate, and that’s downtime you can’t really afford. So you have to break it down creatively into smaller parts and simulate those with clever constraints and limits, taking advantage of symmetry to cut down the number of calculations without sacrificing the accuracy of your solution. A final design still needs highly accurate analyses, but for understanding a structure or member, FEA is an incredible asset.

The more time we put into design, the more refined we can make our products. If you’ve got concerns about cost, use of material, safety, or any other aspect over the lifecycle of a solution, then investing in the design time means you can be sure of the impact. 

Te Kaha Christchurch


In our last update, we teased this massive project with some cheeky pictures. Well now we can talk about it too! Te Kaha is one of the newest features of central Christchurch, and promises to be the city’s premier venue – and one of the most accessible, inclusive, sustainable and flexible venues in the region. Whether hosting rugby union, football, rugby league, Esports, concerts, motorsports, tennis, boxing, exhibitions or business events, Te Kaha will inject life into this re-emerging city.

We had a great opportunity to be involved in this exciting project – and found ourselves able to deliver an exceptional solution for this new stadium space that’s replacing Lancaster Park, which was damaged in the 2011 earthquake.

A consortium of businesses came together to tender this project, including Australia’s BESIX Watpac, Christchurch-based construction companies Southbase Construction and Fulton Hogan, local seismic engineering specialists Lewis Bradford, Christchurch architects Warren and Mahoney, and global stadium design experts Populous and Mott MacDonald. We were able to speak to the local contingents, catching the attention of the construction manager, who wanted a lightweight gantry system. 

Of course, a steel solution was considered, but the weight of this would have been prohibitive and meant additional structural work would be required. But aluminium can match the performance of steel at a third of the weight – opening up the door for different solutions.

Together we developed a lot of early stage concept engineering ideas, delivering some images of what we could provide. It developed from there, and we could give them exactly what they wanted: 32x truss bridges forming a ~400m service route and lighting support structure for the stadium. 

In our conversations, we also got to talking about the scoreboard system, and the construction team asked if this was something we could help with. So we spoke with our R&D and engineering team, and they came back with a resounding ‘yes’. 

When you’re watching a big event at Te Kaha Stadium, and look up to see the score of the big game, then know that we provided the two frames, each 18m wide, 9m high, and 2m deep, hanging from the trusses.

It’s a little different from the accessways, ladders and platforms we normally offer, yet Te Kaha Christchurch has been a great chance to showcase how we can help when brought in early to the design process.

Australia vs NZ: Why is there such a big difference in building practices? 

Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. We’re neighbours. We have friendly rivalries. We’ve got a lot in common, like our love of sport and the outdoors, our exchange of musicians, and our stunning holiday spots.

We ask a lot of our buildings on both sides of the Tasman, throwing at them extreme weather, ocean spray and gusts, earthquakes and cyclones. And when people cut corners, then we all pay the price. 

So why is there apparently such a difference in our approaches to producer statements, health and safety, sign-offs and consultants?

We take our processes and safety seriously

We can thank our history. Both countries have taken their share of hits, and with each one, we’ve adjusted our approaches to prevent damage and loss of life. In NZ, in the aftermath of the Napier earthquake in 1931, the building codes were revised, adding in rules to prevent a similar loss of life and property again. Our view of code has been tested time and again. Think of how we reacted in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010-2011, or in the wake of Cyclones Bola (1988) and Gabrielle (2023), and you get the impression that we were once burned, twice shy. We’ve also got harsh marine conditions dominating huge swathes of the country, and that puts a special strain on our hardware too. 

Natural disasters have challenged Australia’s building codes, too. Cyclones, floods, bushfires, and extreme weather have led to changes in the National Construction Code (NCC) to ensure buildings can better withstand these hazards. After Cyclone Tracy in 1974, the principle of “life safety” was introduced, meaning that inhabitants should be able to survive inside their homes during extreme weather events.

The result is a series of multi-layered approaches that asks that buildings and projects are checked for the likes of compliance, durability, and buildability. But there’s a hitch.

Battling a quality crisis

Australia has been facing something of a building quality crisis. Australian Broker reported that Engineers Australia have pushed for significant modifications to the National Construction Code (NCC) to tackle the issue of water leaks – something that accounts for 80-90 percent of all building defects and costs around $3 billion annually. 

It’s something that’s burned NZ’s building industry in the past. When the Building Act 1991 softened standards – with the expectation that market forces would assure quality and competition – NZ saw short-cuts in construction that eventually gave rise to the leaky homes crisis. Some estimates say that it has affected 89,000 buildings, with a cost of $23 billion to resolve.

Australia’s building and construction industries have struggled lately, thanks to a wide spread of factors. Demand has outstripped supply; logistical challenges have made it harder to get products, well after Covid; labour shortages are making it harder to get staff, due to low wages, job insecurity and unrealistic work expectations; the global economy is tumultuous. Recently ABC Business reported that the number of new building approvals has reached decade lows, exacerbating the country’s worsening housing crisis. NZ isn’t clear of any of these factors, but it seems we have a different approach to the rules.

Devil in the details

Based on our experience, Australia and NZ have very different approaches to consents, regulations, and sign-offs. 

In NZ, we’re cautious, with checks and re-checks for compliance and so on long before a project is consented. Consultants also have to get their ducks lined up before it’s approved to be built, and get consent for amendments throughout; chartered professional engineers need to get producer statements for structural elements. There’s a lot of rigmarole involved in getting a project off the ground. That can be a real pain.

In Australia, consents aren’t approved based on completed designs, but on outlines. The specific elements (like accessways or platforms) don’t need full analyses. Projects are tendered, consented and approved based on theory. Often this is through a design-and-construct arrangement, where the team has designers and sometimes architects within their capabilities. This means that projects get completed more quickly. But, based on what we’ve heard, it also tends to drive some project managers to cut corners. 

Each Australian state has different engineering requirements, it’s true. Not all will require an engineering statement. And even then, in our experience, and speaking with our industry colleagues, you often won’t be required to produce an engineering statement at all – at least, not one with calculations that prove the safety and reliability of a component. The result is a tricky situation where there isn’t always the accountability from subcontractors or installers, and quotes are produced on similar-looking but not similarly-performing products. What’s interesting is that our building codes are more or less the same. When it comes to calculating wind loads or earthquakes, we use the same AS70 code. 

Let’s be fair (dinkum)

Australia does some incredible building work. A greater flexibility in design and construction during a project means that Australia tends to see more innovation. They’re more prepared to challenge tradition, because there’s more room to move. They’re not as strictly bound by what an architect or consultant says they can do.

Australia also takes greater advantage of the speed and efficiency of modular components, for example, meaning a service rise could be dropped into a site fully kitted out. On NZ’s side of the Tasman, that wouldn’t happen quickly, since each consultant tends to follow the existing rules more closely.

With this in mind, we really admire what Australia’s construction and building industry can and has done. They’re embodying the innovative spirit, and that often involves pushing the boundaries, and testing rules. And we hope to see more accountability and investment in quality over in Oz.

Investing in the future

The question is this: How can we both adhere to rules that are in our best interests, while also pushing the limits beyond what’s in place now? 

This is the engineer’s challenge – and one we hope to continue to rise to at Monkeytoe. We’re constantly looking at how other countries are innovating, and whether those solutions can be applied here too.

In addition, early-stage consulting means we can help our clients discover new solutions that they might not have thought about before. We need to ask important questions about what we want and need a solution to provide, and then ask what’s going to solve the problem, not just tick a box. We know that what we’re producing/designing will work, and are using the tools at our disposal to back it up.

But it’s also a relationship, and one that depends on the receptiveness of the people we’re working with. We want to work with those who are ready to push the innovation banner, and open up their minds as to what could make a project more efficient, reach further, do better, and last longer. We do this daily.