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Interview with Lapo Ancillotti: 16 April 2013

Developing innovation and new projects is in the blood.

My first meeting with Lapo Ancillotti was the perfect introduction to someone I later came to see as a latter day renaissance man for New Zealand innovation and advanced project development.

A couple a lattes at the Tugboat family restaurant on Wellington’s Oriental Bay convinced me of his passion, nay, pedigree for the kind of thinking we need in this country.

Yes, we might have just as easily been sipping at Milan’s Bar della Crocetta and Lapo sounds and looks as if he should be sporting a Tag Heur watch and Elation shoes, but it turns out a Citizen watch and casual Caterpillars will do. It’s a reflection of his practical get-up-and-go attitude where he wants to offer his passion and experience to Wellington and New Zealand, but is equally keen not to be seen as a tall poppy “telling you what to do”.

A couple of years’ later and Lapo Ancillotti is working as associate technologist at WelTec, helping to improve the expertise in composite materials for application in the marine, aviation, automotive and construction sectors. See the interview below...

 The Kiwi40 was a sailing project undertaken by Lapo Ancillotti.

 

FC. What brought you to New Zealand?

LA. Primarily, it was my interest in the new applied technologies in the high tech composite racing yachts industry.

Developing new projects and getting more involved in the associated R&D activities, was my original goal, and it still is. My professional involvement with New Zealand takes me back to 1992, before internet and email were common, or even possible. During my first visit as a professional, I had the feeling that New Zealand was very open to new ideas and most of the people in the industry had a positive and creative approach to innovation. I thought that this was my place and I thought that this was a country I wanted to be involved with.

FC. Tell us a bit about your background in Italy, especially influences that gave you an interest in technical innovation?

LA. I cannot recall the first time I started drawing, a mix of a free hand and technical/creative design. I must have been 5 years old maybe. I started sailing when I was 15 and immediately started going to the drawing board with ideas. Together with my yet-to-become brother in law, we built a first 4.4 mt sailing dinghy in the garage off our own design. This led us to create a company involved in boat building, technical support, refitting and products sale agency, which evolved to be quite big, when we were still in our early thirties.

However, we could not afford to be fully dedicated to R&D as at that time in Italy the market was quite limited by traditions. So we sold the company and I started a new career as project coordinator, bringing my EU clients to New Zealand to manufacture their racing yachts. I set up a collaboration with Cookson Boats in 1993 that lasted 18 years, until I relocated my production to Wellington. Those 18 years in top-of-the-range innovative yacht design and construction projects, brought me to be involved with concept design again.

Back in the 1980s, I was drafting ideas on how to build an airplane – I always had interest in airplanes and flying – using the technologies we learnt through racing yachts. So in 2007 I launched a New Zealand project in the aviation sector, which helped evolve me further in the design area.

FC. How do you see New Zealand's chances in the next few years, of creating more traction in science, technology and advanced manufacturing?

LA. Hard to answer, because this is a key question. I would tend to say that it will all depend on available capital. During my New Zealand experience I met some extremely creative, open-minded and motivated people in the area of technology development and science. The country offers a very efficient system, which is fundamental to turning ideas into facts. The government has set up agencies and departments and through different institutions it promotes and assists R&D and export. We don’t have a shortage of smart people or ideas, we have a structural shortage of investment due to the remoteness that doesn’t allow New Zealand to be involved in the day by day production/commercial pulse of the EU and US. We need to attract more capital from overseas. We need more clients coming to New Zealand with projects where New Zealand could represent the point of difference in terms of innovation and cost effectiveness. In my own experience, for instance, overseas clients allowed us to innovate and New Zealand racing yacht industry was always ahead with solution and technologies. Team New Zealand is proving it right now. We are tiny, but in AC we are challenging US and EU on design and technology development.

As long as we secure the required capital, I definitely do see good chance of creating more traction in science, technology and advanced manufacturing.

FC. Tell me about some of the most exciting projects you've ever worked on?

LA. Pretty much all my projects were very exciting. My collaboration with Bruce Farr started in 1980 and it is still on. When you are so lucky to work with such a designer firm, and with a company like Cookson Boats for 18 years, every project is a huge step forward. If I have to score them though, My Song racing maxi yacht with Cookson, my project in Aviation called Furio, and the KIWI 40’ yacht, designed and developed for off shore and round the world racing (in particular Boat #3 that was built in Wellington), were the most exciting, all because of the innovation involved.

FC. Do sailing, aircraft and tramping in the New Zealand bush have anything in common?

LA. In my case, sailing and aviation have lots in common. I am a sailor and a pilot, so I enjoy both boats and airplanes first hand. Furthermore, I have linked the construction technology and methodology from boats to aircraft, and vice versa. Tramping? The right way to relax, to enjoy the beauty of New Zealand and to recharge the batteries!

FC. What are you doing now?

LA. I am working at WelTec as associate technologist. My role consists of helping to up the expertise in composite materials for application in the marine, aviation, automotive and construction sectors. I work at WelTec Centre for Smart Products R&D department. I’m involved as a consultant on specific projects as well.

FC. If New Zealand could offer a great, world-changing project for Lapo Ancillotti to be part of, what would it be?

LA. You said a “world-changing project”…… this is big one !

Burt Rutan (Space Ship One and Two’s designer) said:

“The thing you got to do is to always challenge yourself with something that you don’t think you can do… if you think you can do it, it’s not true research because you can’t be innovative...”

So perhaps coordinating a project for developing an alternative technology aimed to provide propulsion for a very long time, non stop? You could keep UAV aircraft flying for weeks (or months?) for instance.

Once proved, this technology would have immense potential for any sort of application.
It would make composite structural development and associate it with electric/alternative propulsion technology development. It would be great!

Lapo Ancillotti can be contacted at 021 296 3487 or email.

Developing innovation and new projects is in the blood

 
 
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