TIN Member Spotlight: Howick

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Annual Technology Investment Network (TIN) survey launches this week into a changed world

High-tech Manufacturing continues to be the backbone of the TIN200, with established companies in this sector contributing over half ($6.55B) of total revenue in 2020, and consistently demonstrating growth. 

Howick Ltd is one such company that has been quietly innovating and building global demand for its products over more than 40 years. Based in East Auckland, Howick Ltd manufactures roll-forming machines through their Howick FRAMA™ Systems, producing bespoke solutions for clients in over 70 countries worldwide.

The company’s success has been recognized and awarded three times in the TIN Report over the past decade, achieving revenue growth that placed it in TIN Supreme Scale-Ups winners lists in 2011, 2013, and 2019.  

So, in a world that has seen unique and ongoing challenges emerge – especially for high-tech exporters – over the past year, what is the company doing to maintain its market position and keep driving innovation forward?  

We spoke with Howick CEO, Nick Coubray, for an update on the company’s past year and plans for the year ahead…

Howick has been in business now for more than 40 years, quietly evolving and steadily innovating over that time. What are the consistent business approaches that have helped the company stay competitive in the industry from its early days until now?  

We have always focused on manufacturing components as much in-house as possible, and this allows us to control the process and development of our products while ensuring a high level of quality control. 

As a result, we have built a skilled team and reduced our reliance on outside manufacturers for components and core software features. In-house manufacturing also has the benefit of not having to move materials across multiple sites, hence reducing our transportation impact. 

You shared with us last year how Howick used AI and VR technology to help with serving international customers in the first months of COVID-19 lockdowns. Are there more new and innovative ways like this that you’ve found help you do business in the midst of the ongoing pandemic?   

The use of AR technology helped us establish continuity in service support during a time of travel restrictions. But as the world starts to open up, there is less appetite from customers for it to be the first option; customers are preferring in-person service, and are less accepting of our inability to travel. We see this as a significant risk for us, and other NZ based companies until we can freely travel again. 

For this reason, and to help mitigate this risk, we are now focusing on how we can implement more smart sensors and predictive technologies. This is to ensure we can quickly respond to any issues and also help our users optimise their systems.

Howick has shown an ongoing commitment to industry education through engagement with tertiary organisations and has won awards for your efforts in this area. Is this approach helping you with recruiting new talent, and what strategies do you follow generally for maintaining your staff’s skill base?   

Nick Coubray - CEO

As a relatively small enterprise, we have to focus on harnessing long-term high value results with limited resources. 

We are happy to gift time and materials to universities and technical colleges to enable them to explore modern construction methods, knowing many of the students would go on to be the industry leaders and drivers of change.

On the in-house side we focus on building the team by offering opportunities to grow into more senior roles or to acquire additional knowledge and competency through learning from collaboration and skill-sharing, and through recruiting talent with skill sets not available from within. 

Meanwhile, we have focused on our key offshore markets by having our machinery installed at the Autodesk Technology Centre in Boston, as well as Bedford College and the MTC in the UK.

The construction industry is facing some unique challenges in a pandemic world, and your products are helping the industry find better, smarter ways of doing things that are now becoming the new normal. What are some key ways that you’re delivering on solutions for the modern construction industry? (eg. Digitalisation, specialisation, sustainability)   

There has been a massive issue in construction around productivity. While most other industries have made significant productivity leaps, the construction world has not really evolved with accelerated growth - until a few years ago, when the industry started to take notice of and – in some parts of the world – embrace modern methods. 

Even before the pandemic, there was increasing pressure for the building industry to change due to excessive costs and a shortage of skilled people. The pandemic has certainly propelled some companies to use the opportunity to do really in-depth planning, to ensure they can still deliver on projects that are affected by labour and material shortages, and to overcome the restricted number of people working on site.  

Howick has always been ahead of its time, and now we are poised to leverage this industry awakening. Our roll-forming technology enables offsite manufacturing of framing, flooring, and roofing, so prefabricated systems can be delivered to the site to be installed, saving on building and installation time, and limiting the number of people required onsite.  

To take this one step further, we recently launched the X-TENDA 3600 which produces framing which telescopes to fit the building; this results in even fewer site visits and onsite labour.  

More about the X-TENDA 3600: https://www.howickltd.com/products/x-tenda-3600  

See live example of this and design-to-fabrication-to-installation, fabrication and installation part starts at 2:28: https://youtu.be/KR6u5FuKvlg

In spite of a tough year, the company’s 2021 revenue results have been steady. What has driven this performance, and what are your company priorities for the year ahead to continue this trend?    

It certainly has been a challenging time since we have not been able to travel to our global markets as we used to. 

We have increased our overseas team to support customers in UK and Europe, and we will continue to grow our global teams in other markets, while we make more use of connectivity for remote support. 

The material and supply chain issues we have been experiencing are going to be with us for some time to come. This has caused many construction companies to look at taking on the manufacturing of structural components in-house – and we are well placed to help them make the transition to automating parts of that process.

Click here to learn more about Howick.

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