Creating a True Spectacle

Howard and Sons Pyrotechnics

Beginning as a one-man team in a Sydney garage, the company quickly grew to incorporate the design and manufacture of fireworks in Newcastle.

Over four generations, Howard and Sons Pyrotechnics has built a reputation for consistently delivering the highest quality, most innovative pyrotechnic displays in the industry, and is now internationally recognised as a leader in the pyrotechnics industry. The company’s customers, audiences and suppliers are treated with the customer service, high quality product and safety standards that only a passionately directed, family-run business can achieve.

Andrew Howard, who co-directs Howard and Sons Pyrotechnics with his brother Christian, discusses his great-grandfather’s early interest in pyrotechnics. “The company was started by my great grandfather back in 1922. He just had an interest in fireworks. He was an engineer at BHP Steel Works in Newcastle, and he saw all the sparks coming of the steel as it was being processed, and then started pursuing his interest in fireworks, making his own and importing fireworks as well and presenting displays to the public.”

By 1932, the company had already developed an impressive reputation nationally, and was called upon to create displays for such iconic events as the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and royal visits to Australia and New Zealand. Howard’s second generation of leaders designed displays for Australia’s bicentenary in 1970, the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 and the bicentennial in 1988.

“The amount of technology that has developed during that period of time has been incredible,” Andrew explains. “We went from lighting displays by hand, to today where everything is computerised and we have thousands of computers to fire off the shows.”

Since the beginning, the company has continued to grow, pushing the boundaries of fireworks and special pyrotechnic effects on the world stage. Andrew suggests that much of the success and growth the business has achieved over four generations can be explained simply by the passion of the organisation’s directors and technicians. “Most people around the world who are successful in pyrotechnics are in family based businesses, and most people, if you asked them if they could earn more income in other fields, all of them would say yes, but they have a passion for fireworks and are following their passion.”

The Howard family has shown this passion for nearly one hundred years, growing with and driving growth in an industry that has seen incredible technical and artistic advancement.

The value of being a family-owned and operated Australian business is tangible for clients, suppliers and audiences alike. Being able to express a passion for pyrotechnics freely, without the need to report to a board of directors or shareholders means that the company is able to quickly implement exciting new ideas and create truly spectacular, imaginative and innovative solutions. “We do the work we want to work on, in a particular style and in a particular way, and that radiates out to our clients, who see that and appreciate that passion.”

And of course, it is the people of the company who make possible the world-renowned displays for which the company has become known. Today, Howard and Sons employs twenty five fulltime employees possessing a diverse portfolio of skills and experience, as well as more than one hundred part-time staff members who help implement displays.

With a focus on providing clients with true turnkey solutions, the company has worked to ensure it has the right people in place to generate exciting new ideas, processes and technologies, as well as sales and marketing teams to introduce new technologies and products to new markets and creating solutions for those already existing.

“We have people that sit down and come up with the physics and the chemistry side of things of how the products work and how logistically it’s going to be delivered, and we have a team of people that go about delivering it, including experienced truck drivers delivering large amounts of explosives who must have a great deal of experience in knowing how to safely handle that,” Andrew explains.

Also, the company employs a number of casual technicians to work onsite in often demanding environments. Many of these technicians, working evening and weekends for events, are driven by their passion for pyrotechnics to simply want to be a part of some of the best pyrotechnic displays in the industry. “Everything is always evolving and never the same, so we have to have a team of people who are quite adaptive and responsive to change and willing to implement new ideas, and we have a good mix of those people.”

The drive to innovate and adapt is crucial in this ever-evolving industry, where new technology and products are allowing providers to create ever bigger, better and more creative displays for enamoured audiences; communicating exactly what a display will look like to a client is one of the greatest challenges any pyrotechnician will face. To solve this, Howard and Sons has implemented an innovative software solution which allows display designers to animate exactly what a display will look like when fired, with each detail realistically rendered, right down to background imagery. “We can digitally animate what the fireworks display will look like, synchronised with music, which we can share with the client and talk through the show to gather feedback. They can get it all prior to the show.”

Furthermore, once animated, the display does not need to be reprogrammed for firing, as the software will fire the display exactly as designed.

Having the ability to accurately meet clients’ expectations and budget is a skill that Howard and Sons Pyrotechnics has consistently demonstrated, and speaks to the company’s ability to develop authentic relationships with clients. “It is a process,” Andrew says. “You have to have the idea and develop it, like planting a seed and nurturing it, hoping it grows.”

To create a successful show, the company must also expertly meet the expectations of a number of other outside organisations, including government and regulatory bodies, to ensure that each display is safe. “We are dealing with large scale public events, which require a huge team of people behind the scenes delivering that event.” And delivering innovative, imaginative and safe displays is what the company has become known for over four generations.

A major ongoing project for the company has been providing the pyrotechnic and special effects for the Nitro Circus Live Tour, which visiting sites across the globe. A product of Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus group, the live tour offers audiences amazing feats of athleticism enhanced by Howard and Sons’ myriad of pyrotechnic and other special effects. “It’s been a very challenging event, but I must say, it’s a very spectacular show and something we’re very proud to be a part of.”

When operating close proximity effects, the company’s focus on the safety of the performers is paramount, and the company’s technicians are at the top of their game to deliver for every single show amidst a chaotic environment that can change each and every night. “That adds to the magic and mystery of what we do. Everyone is waiting for the next effect, and that’s very much part of that live show as well.”

The company’s focus on innovation and progress can also be seen through its longstanding implementation of procedures to ensure that each show is ecologically sustainable through the use of renewable and ecologically friendly materials. Howard and Sons uses raw, naturally produced materials, including biodegradable cardboard, for its pyrotechnic products, whereas some in the industry use plastics. Also, making use of by-products from the petroleum industry for its flame effects means what could be wasted products instead are being used in non-pollutive applications. “As a company, we’ve got to be sustainable in everything that we do, from the fleet of vehicles we employ – ensuring that they are efficient and economical as possible – to all the products we use in our displays.”

Moving forward, Andrew has some big developments in mind for the company, and expects to see continued growth, with new applications of technology working to create an even more efficient and effective operation.

One such innovation is the development of remote firing capability, utilising networking capability such that displays can be operated from afar, saving the company significant infrastructure expenses. “We will always have technicians at a display site dealing with dangerous goods, but I really do think there is a capability of having fewer but more powerful computer controllers based at a central location sending timecoded and operator initiated secure signals out to much cheaper downloadable computer modules on display sites with operators,” shares Andrew.

In but one example of the company’s commitment to continually growing, innovating, and creating new solutions for audiences and clients, Andrew expects that within the next five years, the company will be able to offer remote services for clients instead of transporting millions of dollars of computer equipment into challenging environments. “We work on that philosophy of always developing something to improve what we have done in the past. To be in a business such as ours – a creative business – you’ve got to always evolve and be innovative to create something spectacular for audiences.”

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January 18, 2019, 3:35 AM AEDT