The big news last week here at Upper Hutt Hire was the arrival of our brand new 14 meter Snorkel Cherry Picker. This new machine complements our older 15M unit but has a more compact tow length and a telescopic upper boom which provides improved access at height. And like anything brand new, it’s smooth and easy to drive, and it still has that ‘new car’ smell about it.
But the good story wasn’t so much about the capabilities of this fine piece of machinery. This story is more about the world class design, manufacture and assembly that went into its construction, in the global engineering mecca of Levin. Yes Levin.
Snorkel is an American owned company, with global manufacturing facilities in Kansas USA, Sunderland UK and of course Levin. The business dates back to 1959, when a guy called Art Moore started to design and built firefighting and rescue gear for American Fireman. After 20 years, he branched out into aerial work platforms and started building Cherry Pickers, Scissor lifters, knuckle booms and a whole lot of other access gear. While all this was going on, down in New Zealand a guy called Murray Squire also had the same sort of idea and started a small company called Gensam Engineering in the early 70’s. To cut a long story short, both Snorkel and Gensam went through a number of ownership and name changes and the whole thing is now owned by a guy called Don Ahern, who also just happens to own Ahern rentals USA. With over 90 branches and more than 20,000 pieces of access gear it’s probably fair to assume Ahern rentals are a bit bigger than us.
Levin, for all its virtues, has had a tough time in the last few decades. Back in the protectionist days of post war NZ, the region was a major manufacturing hub for caravans (does anyone remember Pioneer, Classic and Gypsy caravans?) and textiles. A sudden 20% sales tax on Caravans and Boats introduced by Muldoon in 1979 decimated the manufacturing sector overnight, sending several manufacturers to the wall and putting many skilled workers on the dole. Textiles suffered a similar fate with the abolition of import tariffs in the mid 80’s, leaving a region that struggled to get back on its feet.
Despite its hardships, the Horowhenua has somehow managed to retain both its engineering talent and ‘give-it-a-go’ kiwi attitude. The NZ-based Snorkel design team in Levin take the best ideas and components from the worldwide snorkel group and tweak it to meet local customer requirements. Many of the components are manufactured by a vast array of small New Zealand companies who continue to provide the specialised parts in small quantities to fulfill Snorkels requirements. Snorkel NZ also import components from their own offshore companies and contractors around the world, for assembly here in New Zealand. The Levin team then fabricates, assembles and tests each unit, before exporting to 25 different countries around the world. And it’s not just mundane stuff that gets shipped off. Snorkel had just finished an export contract for cherry pickers going to Australia. One of the all-terrain scissor lifters was being packed up for shipping to Germany.
And all this from a company that carries on, below the radar, in a small town unremarkable except for the people who live there. It’s unlikely that the success of Snorkel NZ will make the 6pm news; even less chance that someone from the production team will appear on Shortland street or meet the Kardashians. It’s difficult to appreciate the depth of talent hidden away in a back street in Levin, building world class products that get shipped all around the globe. Well done Snorkel. Love your work.