The History of CAMCO

The Early Years

Camco has a long and rich engineering and entrepreneurial heritage, which can be traced back to the late 1700’s, when a certain Benjamin Blackman started a business manufacturing candles from tallow in Southwark, London, UK. Benjamin’s direct descendants moved to NZ and were pivotal in setting up and managing the Hamilton Gas company in the late 19th century.

Fast forward to 1985, when a certain James (Jim) Henry Blackman entered the world. A hard and dedicated worker, Jim worked for the Post Office across a range of branches in the country. As time went on, he married Ivy Turley, (who’s descendants own a large metal fabrication business in the Wellington area to this day), and had eight children, including Colin and Dennis (who would be the father of Phil, who founded Camco. More on that later).

Showing a conscientious work ethic as they grew up, Colin and Dennis entered the trades; Colin becoming an engineering apprentice, and Dennis moving into the building trade. That entrepreneurial flair coming through, Colin soon moved on to starting his own engineering business in Cambridge called Hautapu Welders – still operational today. Colin developed a range of scoops that could be towed behind a tractor, which are the base of HW Industries lineup of products today.

As a carpenter, Dennis spent most of his working life constructing homes in the Napier & Cambridge areas. Dennis’ first son Phil joined the family in 1967 and was soon a valuable helper on the building sites, keeping an observant eye on all the trades going about their tasks.

Phil Blackman (Camco’s Founder) started off his working life manufacturing garage doors, before he moved to work for his Uncle Colin (remember him above?) at his engineering business. Thoroughly trained in the basics under the watchful eye of Colin, Phil soon showed his knowledgeable creative flair for quality workmanship, working on fabricating scoops, trailers, general machinery repairs, lathe work machining precision components, press brake operation, hydraulics and so on. At this time, he even built a flat deck tipper ute – perhaps the earliest “Camco” fitout we can lay claim to!

Armed with 11 years of precious engineering experience, Phil moved out on his own, starting an engineering business called Alvo Engineering, which specialised in high quality digger buckets, and developed a revolutionary tilt bucket design. Having repaired many tilt buckets over the years, he had a fair idea of the issues at hand. With the help of a mentor who owned a reputable hydraulic ram manufacturer(still in business today), Phil designed a twin-ram tilt bucket with superior geometry. This gave the ram 50% more leverage, decreased the stress on the bucket by 30%, and stopped the tilt mechanism bleeding back. At the time, the average 12-ton tilt bucket would do about 3000 hours a before an overhaul was required. Years after the business was wound up in 1999, Phil met a contractor at the local petrol station who told him he had purchased a second hand digger with an Alvo bucket fitted and it had done 10,000 hours without any major maintenance!

Phil later went on to work for a local glazing company, where he worked on site out of the back of a van, giving him valuable understanding of the experiences of tradies out in the field, sparking a passion to bring a solution to the challenges he faced on a daily basis – lost tools, hard to find gear, sore backs & knees and bonked heads, lost time scrambling in and out of the vehicles to find his gear.


Camco is Born!

Camco Industries was founded in 2005, inspired by finding a way to make lives easier for tradespeople of all types on site. Simplicity of finding gear and minimising back strain were the main requirements for Phil’s next venture. He was dedicated to designing a slide out drawer solution that would work in the back of nearly all vans and utes. Using his wealth of experience in all-position welding, steel processing and fabrication, Phil created a simplified slide mechanism which cut the moving parts down by 75% compared to what was then available, creating a simple yet reliable stand-out performer in the world of commercial fitout. A real market-leader!
The basic structure of the original cargo drawer system has not changed to this day!

Ever resourceful like all good kiwi entrepreneurs, Phil utilised his home garage for development of the drawers and successfully ran the business out of here for several months, until it outgrew the home base, and relocated to a commercial premises in Cambridge. As the business grew, it became apparent that what customers wanted was a one-stop-shop for end-to-end fitout of their vehicles.

The Camco Engineered Systems initiative was born as Phil strove to solve client pain points. Early additional innovations included a rubber isolator system for ute roof racks, which protected the cab from damage, solid mounted canopy roof rack legs which reduced the risk of mount failure in the event of an accident, and much more.



An important development!

Camco produced our first service body in 2009. Using Phil’s extensive sheetmetal and general engineering experience, the new design was tough and durable, ready for anything that was to be thrown at it. This service body was seen for sale on Trade Me in very good condition 14 years later – testament to the engineering prowess that has gone into it.



Another Move

During this period, Camco underwent huge change. The current premises had been outgrown, and a custom-built shed was constructed to provide room for growth. Phil’s next project was the development of a strong & sturdy range of Ute flat decks and Gullwing Service bodies that addressed the needs of the market. A solid and reliable Aluminium flat deck wasn’t available, and low grade options from overseas had tainted the market appetite for the use of aluminium. . To facilitate the constant flow of quality development and innovation, Phil invested in a new CAD system to assist with superior design ability, along with a new welding machine which allowed Camco to retain the innovative manufacturing principles which have stood us in good stead until today.

Over the next 5 years, Phil’s family joined the business, with eldest son Carl joining in 2014 and second son, Ricky, joining in 2018. Products were reviewed and refined to ensure Camco maintained their edge on the market. The Integrated Service Body offering joined the ranks of Camco’s product lineup at this time – Phil’s experience allowing him to design this unit to save 25-30% of the weight compared to other units on the market. To this day, the basic structure of this workhorse remains the same.

With increased demand recognising Camco as a class-leader, our manufacturing process morphed from a piece-by-piece effort to a smooth, streamlined production engine. With substantial input and refinement from Phil’s design team a lot of changes were made in the name of efficiency. With their leadership, we developed our innovative plug-and-play wiring system for electrical accessories – this was a game changer for quicker install and simplified maintenance down the track.



A new premises (again!)

Camco’s recognised prowess in the industry as a leader in innovation and problem solving led massive demand, necessitating 2 satellite production sites to be set up. In 2019, we moved to a larger site which amalgamated all manufacturing operations and provided larger carparking facilities all on one site. A property came available just 2 doors down from where Alvo Engineering had been located 20 years earlier! The move allowed Camco to set up a project team dedicated to analysing process flows and efficiency, and the first full month of production in the new location beat any previous output record by 30%!




The global pandemic really pushed the team at Camco to think outside the box in order to continue bringing the innovations of the past 15 years to our loyal customers. A new range was created – the CamcoTrade scheme, where we set up a standard range of fitouts, tailored to different trades, and offered them at a corporate pricing structure. This scheme was met with resounding feedback and has stayed part of our offering to this day.

Also out of our review of the business, we recognised the need to set up a truly stand-alone department for Research and Development. A small unit across the road from Camco came available, so we signed up and Phil set up a state of the art workshop in which to continue his developments. Importantly, this bespoke facility allows us to conduct real life testing alongside theoretical calculations.



Rick, armed with experience gained over the last 5 years across a range of industries from market gardens to autoglazing, to working in a range departments across Camco and our sister company Sokoza, joins Phil in his R&D lab to absorb all the jewels of knowledge Phil has learned over the years, and to contribute to the product innovations that come flowing out of the Camco stable. Rick is in charge of the thorough and vigorous testing programs we run on our new products. His first big project was our newest innovation: the Stealth canopy.

Camco spied a gap in the market with many of the incumbent canopy manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand, control shipping and offshore production. Phil had produced a concept of an aluminum canopy back in 2013, but hadn’t proceeded any further with the product. Revisiting this concept, Phil used his dedicated R&D workshop to test and re-work and test again to ensure Camco’s latest addition to the fitout family was a structurally sound, secure and fit-for-purpose unit for trades and field service fleets.

As we look now to the future, Camco has plenty of bright potential ahead. Driven by R&D, supported by client demand, and founded on the basic principles of hard work and doing better always, we will continue to exploit our rich engineering heritage to stay at the forefront of the market.

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