Plenty of change witnessed in 50 years of engineering

Long term Scott Technology employee Bob Hyslop pictured in the company’s workshop this week....
Long term Scott Technology employee Bob Hyslop pictured in the company’s workshop this week. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
From hand-turned wheels on cumbersome lathes and milling machines to 3-D computers, touch screens and robotics, there’s not much engineering innovation John Hyslop has not tackled during his past 50 years with Dunedin specialist engineering company Scott Technology.

Mr Hyslop (73) finished his five decades with Scott this week, and was honoured at a function at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery last night, part of a wider "mini-conference" for more than 40 overseas Scott managers and guests.

Dunedin-born, Mr Hyslop had a father who was an engineer, and he began "tinkering with mechanics" from an early age.

He attended King Edward Technical College until 1961, and then studied for the New Zealand Certificate in Engineering.

He took up an apprenticeship with then Hyslop & Foley engineers, in fitting, turning and machining, and completed studies with the Institute of Production Engineers.

When the now 105-year-old Scott Technology was still known as J&AP Scott,  Mr Hyslop joined the team , at 23 years old, as a design engineer, and went on to become the chief design engineer in Dunedin for 35 years.

Shortly after his joining the then tool-making and general engineering company, Dunedin businessman Graeme March purchased the company and it began a long path towards diversifying into a myriad of divisions which create the products it designs and builds today, and exports globally.

"Then began the early days of automation and of assembly lines," Mr Hyslop said,  which Scott now manufacture for clients world-wide.

Following on from being chief design engineer, Mr Hyslop was in project management for five years, and has spent the past decade in logistics and parts purchasing.

New Zealand-wide import restrictions in the 1960s meant customers would bring photos of overseas machines to Scott, who would then build the one-off assembly lines for them.

"We never built the same machine twice. They were all one-offs," he said.

Each was complex in its own way and one particular line had about 90 electric engines, or servo motors, driving the assembly as a whole.

Mr Hyslop said one of the most significant orders for Scott was a $5 million to $6 million order for a Minnesota company, with an assembly line to make chest freezer panels.

"That was our introduction to America, [it] helped us take off with exports there," he said.

In the early 1970s came a "big change" which was to have a major influence for company.

The early computing days began with Scott’s first "programmable logic controller" which later gave way to CAD, or computer aided design; Scott was the second Dunedin company to adopt it.

"Scott was prepared to spend the money and take the risks and get fully involved in computing," Mr Hyslop said.

In his most recent decades, Mr Hyslop said robotics for the meat industry had become "another whole facet" in engineering terms for the company.

Mr Hyslop did not have to relocate his family to temporary overseas posts for long installation periods, but nevertheless he did spend some time in the US and Australia.

"It’s exciting stuff. We’ve built some amazing machines over the years and it’s still exciting.

"Beats welding up trailers," Mr Hyslop quipped.

Mr Hyslop’s son John was also already chasing down his father’s 50 year stint at Scott, having been with the company for 25 years himself.

With his wife "considering" retirement, three children still in Otago and nine grandchildren, Mr Hyslop has found that he apparently has plenty of "fix-it jobs" lined up in his home engineering workshop.

Fly fishing and hunting has been an important part of his life, the former around the Otago reservoirs of Poolburn and Loganburn, and the latter around much of the lower South Island and West Coast.

He modestly admitted having bagged a few trophy deer over the years and is looking forward to an annual wallaby hunt with friends in North Otago, although at a slightly slower pace in the steep, tussock environs.

His other life-long hobby has been music, playing the saxophone and guitar in dance bands, which he plans to continue doing.

"Mainly we play at retirement homes now ... I suppose I should be checking them out," he joked. 

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