Howick rolls into exotic markets

Howick Ltd

Specialist engineering firm Howick Ltd has remained true to its name. The family-owned business has continued to operate in the affluent and historical Auckland coastal suburb of Howick while carving out a strong international reputation.

The company’s computer-controlled steel forming machines are regarded as the best in the world. The machines – there are four models – accurately produce steel frames, trusses and flooring for housing and commercial buildings.

Howick Ltd is a one-stop-shop, designing, manufacturing, assembling and commissioning its innovative machines, and selling them to 56 countries through 12 sales and distribution offices overseas.

The main export markets are Australia, particularly in the mining sector, and Russia but even director Nick Coubray is surprised how far the machines have spread. Two machines are producing steel frames for commercial warehouses in Mongolia, one has gone inside the Arctic Circle to a Siberian building company, and another is being used in the small South American state of Suriname.

The long-lasting, high precision machines are packed into 40-foot containers and used as mobile factories in parts of Africa including Nigeria and Namibia. The machines speed up building and they have been installed in the Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan and in earthquake-torn Haiti.

``We have succeeded because of the quality of the machines and the attention we give to customer service. One of our early machines in Australia went for 14 years before it needed refurbishment ,’’ said Nick Coubray.

Howick Ltd was formed 36 years ago by Nick’s grandfather Keith, and his father Bruce (managing director) and brother Hamish also work in the business.

The company’s reputation soared when it developed a machine to produce steel frames for an 11-storeyed student accommodation building in London – before than steel-framed buildings only went three storeys in Britain and Europe.

``We came up with a weight-bearing solution and a structure that could take the whole load of the building,’’ said Nick Coubray. ``The machine’s capability is only limited by the length of the steel coils – they are typically 1-1.5 tonne or 500-800m in length. The machine cuts and rolls the framing sections, punches the holes and comes out like a meccano set .’’

Golden Homes has exclusive use of the technology and six machines in New Zealand, and builds a steel-framed house in 14 weeks rather than the normal 28 weeks. The steel framing is assembled in eight hours, and there’s less than 1 per cent waste on the building site. Because the design and framing is so precise, construction costs are reduced by 20-30 per cent.

Howick Ltd, which employs 32 people, has a target of making 50 FRAMA machines a year and it attends 14 trade shows a year to grow its business.  Back home, ATEED has organised speakers and helped promote two successful innovation conferences at Howick Ltd’s own factory, attended by 100 people and half of them potential customers.

``They see the machinery working and it’s a good opportunity to showcase who we are,’’ said Nick Coubray.