Unique machines designed and manufactured in Hawke’s Bay are providing frost protection of grapevines, avocado, citrus, nuts, pip and stone fruit around the world.
Picture the sleek, glistening, technology-laden yachts that grace the oceans as they race to win the coveted America’s Cup and then imagine the same aerodynamics, efficiency and elegance being applied to the blades of frost fans.
Hawke’s Bay business, New Zealand Frost Fans, produces around 400 machines annually from its base in the Hastings Omahu Road industrial zone. It regularly services more than 2,000 machines in New Zealand and Australia and its sophisticated computer programming enables real-time monitoring of its fans around the world.
Owner and CEO of New Zealand Frost Fans, Steve Haslett, has turned the previously small, cottage industry he purchased eight years ago into a rapidly growing, successful exporter. More than two years of research and development of design, prototype testing and building manufacturing processes has created world-class frost fans, with significant input from a former Team New Zealand America’s Cup research engineer, Richard Karn, who just happens to also live in Hawke’s Bay.
“These are the sort of people you find in Hawke’s Bay, people with amazing skill sets who like to live here. You’d go a long way to find the skills we have with our engineering, research and development and electronic programming guys,” says Steve.
The blades are made of high tech fiberglass composite materials in a resin transfer moulding process. The blade design and operating speed have been optimized to provide the maximum coverage and minimum noise. The unique frost fans are more efficient, robust and quieter than other market models. They are remotely monitored by the grower, with diagnostic tools that can identify any issues to ensure the fans crank into silent action when frost is threatening.
The fan costs around $60,000 installed, each capable of covering seven hectares and there could be one to 50 fans on a property.
The company is manufacturing four times the volume of eight years ago, with sales throughout New Zealand, Australia, Turkey, Portugal and Canada.
Thirty staff are employed in Hawke’s Bay. There are others based throughout New Zealand and Australia, to complete the service and distribution network.
“There’s a very good labour force here in Hawke’s Bay with great skills, they have a strong work ethic and there is low staff turnover because people like to live in the Bay, it’s a great lifestyle and affordable. There is also a good port and all the specialist support services are here,” says Steve.
Many Omahu Road neighbours supply inputs such as machining, engineering, laser cutting and electrical components. Other Hawke’s Bay companies supply specialty services such as galvanizing and fabrication of tanks and engine cabinets.
“Hawke’s Bay is a significant market base so it is easy for us to be involved in the market, understand the seasons and what’s going on rather than being an external or offshore supplier,” says Steve.
Current expansion will enable Frost Fans to double capacity and the company is eyeing new markets, possibly in Europe, South Africa or South America.
For someone who spent most of his career in the forestry processing industry before taking a four year break to build a yacht and sail throughout the Pacific, Steve’s energies are now focused on his customers.
“I enjoy each day because we have great customers doing interesting things, producing great crops and we see the results of our product at work.”