Bernard Kennelly – a 30 -year veteran of Pryda and currently their Market Development Engineer – has spent a professional lifetime pondering better ways of working inside fabrication plants and on building sites.
He’s shaken hands with three-fingered cut-saw operators, played a leading role in close to 30 patents, masterminded industry-defining products, including Pryda’s Longreach Floor Truss, SpeedTruss, floor cassettes, and his personal favourite, the company’s pre-manufactured roof truss webs, called Turb-O-Webs, which he says used to travel by the train load from Canada to the US until tariffs killed off trade at the border.
Like so many others affected by the uncertainty surrounding Coronavirus, Bernard is working from home – temporarily a unit on Sydney’s Northshore as building work progresses on his new house, forty minutes northeast, in Pittwater.
“I can’t believe my luck,” Bernard said, taking in the view across Middle Harbour to the Heads. “Of all the places I could be working, I get to look at this.”
But when you look back – and forward – on Bernard’s career, luck doesn’t do justice to his past accomplishments or future work. Fortunate he may be, but Bernard’s success – and by extension Pryda’s – rises on a passion for solving problems inside the fabricator to improve things outside, on the building site.
Problem solving is a consistent theme at Pryda. “Whatever we can provide to fabricators to make them more competitive makes us more competitive and builders more competitive,” Bernard said.
The thinking is evident in Pryda’s modern day marketing call to arms: Safer, faster, smarter, easier – a mantra Bernard has applied, unconsciously perhaps, to his work since he first qualified as an engineer in the 70s – decades before marketing riffs infused company vernacular.
“If I saw something that didn’t tick the box on a category, I tried to improve it. The safer, faster, smarter, easier idea served as the criteria to measure my effectiveness,” he said.
Back in the day he applied his craft using slide rules and pencil sketches, but took to computers, 3D modelling, and computer-controlled fabrication processes as the technology emerged. “Technology has changed, but the problem-solving philosophy remains the same,” he said.
However, as smart technology becomes more accessible and software-define processes more commonplace, industry focus is shifting to speed and safety – a development reflected in the changing profile of Pryda’s product patents, which more recently enshrine IP such as rounded edges on brackets, streamlined fasteners, and a host of design features aimed at reducing requirements for specialist skills on the building site.
The shift is most evident in the recent development of Pryda’s SpeedTruss, which makes the job of truss installation safer and faster, without asking builders to do things much differently.
Citing the Steve Jobs quote: “Simple can be harder than complex – you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple,” Bernard said simplicity is everything when it comes to designing new building systems. “Because asking builders to change the way they work, with new tools or convoluted instructions, just ain’t going to fly.”
Underscoring the significance simplicity and the sweat and tears the end product belies, Pryda’s SpeedTruss involved a four-year development process based on 600-plus observations informing 57 early-stage design ideas from market research conducted in the USA, the UK and ANZ.
Bernard’s view to Sydney Heads might be unbeatable, but he quickly concedes that design doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and as soon as circumstances allow, he’ll head back to the places where design magic happens – on building sites and in the fabrication plant.
“You can’t sit in a room and dream up solutions – you’ve got to get out there and find problems, find the biggest ones and look at ways to resolve them that are economical, unique, and something our customers can use but our competitors can’t,” he said.
The compulsion has deep roots – which he attributes to his industrial chemist father, who early on planted the seeds of enquiry and experimentation, most memorable for the formative experience of a failed rocket launch from the family lawn. Turns out they messed up the rocket fuel – a mixture zinc metal dust, sulphur, and carbon. There was a big bang, but the only thing Bernard saw was stars and, when the smoke cleared, his father’s blackened face and smouldering eyebrows.
These days he’s swapped DIY rockets for surfing and sailing. He mentions the pulling power of a 7S seven-foot surfboard – a present from his adult kids – and a powerful urge to build on his recent form off the back of a surfing holiday to Lombok.
Surfing is far cry from the clamour of building sites and fabricators, but essential fuel for this designer – fuel we can be thankful is inherently more stable than zinc metal dust and sulphur.