Graduating with an honours degree in mechanical engineering in the late 1960’s, Cliff has had a career-long interest in engineering. His earlier work experience covered industries such as glass making, oil exploration and oil refining, wood panel manufacture and building construction. He worked in various roles in various countries and Cliff had a broad background of engineering experience to draw on when he started his first vacuum engineering business in New Zealand in 1986. At the time, this was New Zealand’s first engineering business focused on the use of vacuum and low pressures.
Coincidentally, that first vacuum business was the neighbour of a progressive boat builder who was already vacuum bagging fibre glass composite boats. This aroused Cliff’s interest in the vacuum aspects of composites. This interest became a business opportunity as more and more of New Zealand’s boat builders moved to vacuum bagging and then to resin infusion. Altus Air & Vacuum (Cliff’s business at the time) became the predominant supplier of vacuum systems to local boat builders and other composite manufacturers. Then, as New Zealand made boats became more successful internationally, boat builders in other countries began enquiring about vacuum systems. At the end of 2003 an international vacuum pump company bought Cliff’s business. This created an opportunity for Cliff to take time out to specifically develop a vacuum system for composites which could be easily packaged and shipped anywhere.
The end result was the Vacmobile 20/2 machine, which was the first professionally engineered system specifically targeting the resin infusion process. The 20/2 integrated a vacuum pump with a resin trap and controls, in an extremely compact, robust and easily shipped package. The 20/2 was first exhibited at the IBEX boat building show in Florida in late 2006 and was enthusiastically adopted by American boat builders and wind blade makers in 2007/2008 – fortunately before the world’s economy was turned upside down!
Equally fortunately, interest in the resin infusion and RTM Light processes continued to develop despite the world’s financial troubles. While American boat building activity declined, other opportunities developed and Vacmobiles have now been exported to over 50 countries. The development of other models has followed on from the 20/2, extending Vacmobiles reach from the manufacture of tiny composite parts to huge structures and from boat building to aerospace, cars, bridges, wind energy and a diversity of other applications.
Vacmobiles.com remains committed to the vacuum applications in composites and sees plenty of opportunity for further innovation – watch this space!.