Home News Howick-made steel framing machines find a lucrative niche

Howick-made steel framing machines find a lucrative niche

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Thursday, 23 December 2010 08:03



A conference held in October in Auckland by a local manufacturing firm is paying big dividends.

Howick Engineering - which manufactures machines that produce steel building framing - hosted the event, which was attended by 90 potential buyers from 14 countries, and by other firms related to the business.

Bruce Coubray, the company's director, says the conference cost $50,000 and has already resulted in sales of around $1.5 million.

Two machines sold to Russians are being shipped today.

Howick Engineering began as a general engineering firm 33 years ago and has been manufacturing steel framing machines for over a decade.

Around 200 are now being used in more than 40 countries, from Britain and Australia to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Congo.

An 11-storey building has been constructed in Britain using the firm's technology.

Coubray said steel had many benefits over traditional wooden framing, including cost savings and increased durability.

"It's straight and it's light and super accurate," he said. "We're making some inroads into the timber industry now."

Coubray said there were many countries, especially in the Middle East, where steel was more readily available than timber.

Howick's computer-controlled machines, which sell for between $200,000 and $500,000, use architectural software to produce frames in accordance with a building's plan.

The technology makes it possible to construct a building inside a factory, before trucking it to a site.

"It gets rid of all the on-site tradespeople," said Coubray.

He said Howick's sales - which were exceeding $10 million annually before the recession - were cut in half when housing markets collapsed with the onset of the downturn.

"The whole market has just stopped dead," Coubray said. "In the US ... we haven't sold anything up there for quite a while."

He said the company has used the lull in sales to conduct research and development work. Emerging markets were leading Howick's recovery.

"I went to a trade show in the US in November and we got more leads from Russian people [at the event] than Americans."

One machine was being shipped to Angola, while another would soon be sent to Thailand.

Coubray said Howick did not have any major competition internationally, but two firms - Framecad and Scottsdale - were producing similar technology in New Zealand.

The company is planning to hold another innovation conference next year.


* Established 33 years ago and run by brothers Bruce and Alan Coubray.

* Manufactures machines that produce steel framing for constructing buildings.

* Has 29 staff.

* Has sold around 200 machines in more than 40 countries.

* A wholly owned subsidiary, RFS, manufactures ready-made steel framing in East Tamaki.

By Christopher Adams | Email Christopher

Article Courtesy NZ Herald.

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