I’m always curious about how businesses come up with their names. But I think having one bestowed upon you by award-winning actor Viggo Mortensen – or if we’re giving him his full title, Aragorn, son of Arathorn – is the coolest origin story I’ve ever heard.
And that is exactly what happened for New Zealand-based materials company, Kaynemaile. Early on in founder Kayne Horsham’s role as artistic director for the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie trilogy, they hit a snag. “I was spending a lot of my time investigating local industries, to see what they could do,” he said. “We were also on the lookout for niche elements or ideas that we could collaborate with people on, to meet the specific – and occasionally, weird – needs of this project.”
Students at the University of Auckland interact with Kaynemaile every day Kaynemaile
Students at the University of Auckland stroll scross this walkway, unaware that the material that shelters them was forged in Middle Earth
And one of the key things that Kayne had to source was chainmail. If you’ve seen any of the LOTR movies, you’ll know that almost every character wears some (except the elves – they have plate armor, but I digress). So, it needed to look, move and sound authentic on screen, while also being robust enough to cope with a long shoot and multiple battle sequences. Thankfully, humans have been making chainmail since the 5th century and it was the main type of armor used by soldiers right up until the 16th century… so we know lots about it. Kayne managed to find a producer in India, but, the resulting chainmail was incredibly heavy, and the actors and stuntpeople really struggled to perform in it.
So Kayne and his team started experimenting with other materials, eventually coming up with a metal-coated plastic mail that weighed considerably less than traditional mail. And I have to say, having now held some of it in my hand, it is extremely convincing, even up close. Kayne talked me through the process they used for ‘Kayne’s Maile,’ “We started with lengths of polypropylene plumbing tube and cut it into rings on this little machine, before hand-assembling it into an interconnected mesh. Then we electroplated pure silver onto the rings, followed by copper via electroforming.”
Kayne openly admits that it wasn’t the most efficient process: “All of the assembly was done by hand, we had to make masses of the metal mail, and we were constantly repairing it. The guilt of seeing my colleagues with sore fingers made me determined to find a better, safer, and quicker way of doing it.” Several years and many failed experiments later, Kayne found an engineering company who were up for the challenge of working with him to reinvent chainmail. “I kept coming back to the idea of making rings without any joins. The circle is an inherently strong engineering shape, but the join in chain links was the point of failure.”
So, he did what he had to do. Kayne forged his material in the fires of Mount Doom… no I’m kidding, sorry. The product now known as Kaynemaile was actually produced using a fairly standard industrial process – injection molding. And he took me onto the factory floor to see the system in action. In its simplest form, injection molding involves melting grains of material before forcing it into a mold – a cavity shaped like the final product. There, it cools and hardens, to form everything from Lego minifigures to bottle caps. But, in this case, Kayne wanted to form large panels of interconnected, join-free rings. For that, he needed a new type of mold, which he went on to patent in 2006.
I stood beside the injection molding machine for ages, staring hypnotically as a new row of perfectly-formed, brightly-colored polycarbonate rings appeared every few seconds. Gradually, it added to the roll of chainmail sitting in front of the machine, and behind me, three workers used a smaller version of the machine to create the rings that stitch the panels together. (CONTINUED…)