The history and origins of Melbu Systems

A/S Melbo Slip og Verksted was founded in 1912. The purpose was to run a mechanical workshop, production of equipment for the fishing industry and slip vessels for repairs and maintenance. The main occupation was repairs and maintenance of the fishing fleet at Melbu. The close connection to the Christian Frederiksen empire was expressed by the fact that both the fishing steamers and motor vessels of A/S Neptun bought shares in the workshop. The buildings initially consisted of a carpentry workshop and a small machine workshop, a warehouse and a winch house for the slip carriage. A new and larger machine shop building was built in Melbu-stone and put into use in 1919.

Picture of the workers at Melbo Mechanical Workshop sometime in the 1920s during construction of a fish oil tank for “Neptun”. Photo: Museum Nord/Digitalt Arkiv

This building is still used today for a machine shop and laser cutting. The building has recently been renovated with new flooring, lighting and new machinery. Investments were also made at this time (1914-1919) in yet another patent slip, as well as workers’ housing (Skabo) with a dining area and offices located just north of the new machine workshop. Skabo was separated from the company before 1962

The old workshop from 1919 in 2021. Photo: private

In 1920, the name was changed to A/S Melbo Mek. Workshop and in the mid-20s the company had around 25 employees. Now they had also started producing production equipment for the herring industry in the form of tanks, transport screws, dryers etc.

From the docks at Melbu, presumably in the 20s, with the boat slip in the background with boats both on the slip and at the docks. Photo: Museum Nord/Digitalt Arkiv

Around this time they got licenced to conduct repairs on swedish “Bolinder” boat engines of the semi-diesel type. This meant they had workers traveling around all of Northern Norway on repair missions for Bolinder-engines.

When the many bankruptcies hit Melbo in the early 1930s, Melbo Mek. also went bankrupt. Hadsel Sparebank and Vesterålen Fiskeri & Handelsbank took over the estate and were run by long-time worker and foreman, Reinholdt Reinholdsen. He ran the Melbo Mek workshop for the banks under varying conditions from 1932-1935, but in 1935 Reinholdsen took over as owner.

Picture from the 40s-50s where you can see Rystkaia in the foreground and both boat slips, the workshop building and Skabo from 1919. Photo Museum Nord/Digital archive

At the end of the 1930s, operations picked up and there were at most up to 40 employees in the company with, among other things, close to 200 slips a year, primarily local boats. In 1941, a new limited company was formed where three of Reinholdtsen’s sons joined the company.

In 1957, the machine workshop was leased to the Hadsel Vocational School and used in the training of ship mechanics until about 1965. During all or part of this period, Gamle Børøysund was anchored at Melbu Inner Harbor and was used as a training ship in connection with the training of machinists, Børøysund became in this the period called HYMA.

Photo taken between 1962 and 1965, the new office building is in place and HYMA is still in the harbor. Photo: Museum Nord/Digital archive

In 1962, the entire workshop area and buildings were sold to the trawler company A/S Melbutrål. It then became a service and maintenance company for the local many sea fishing trawlers. The new name was A/S Melbu Verft, the manager was Arnold Reinholdtsen who was also manager of the trawler companies A/S Melbutrål and A/S Havfisk. Arnold sat on the board of Melbu Verft until 1987.

Here we see today’s administration building, formerly “Heimen”. Photo: private

In 1962 “Heimen” was moved (dismantled and reassembled) from the site where Coop is today, to where the office is today. The building then functioned as an operational building with workshop, trawl loft for trawling repair, warehouse and office for Melbu Verft. The house has been renovated and upgraded several times and is used to this day. Now as a canteen, changing rooms, meeting rooms and offices for Melbu Systems

In 1974, after a long process and several rounds of planning and many rounds in the board, it was finally decided to build a new and larger dock that would enable the shipyard to satisfy the requirements for better dock space for increasingly large boats/trawlers, and was built and completed in the period 1974-1975. This was a big financial boost for the company, but it was also linked to opportunities to take on maintenance assignments for many of the other trawlers in the region as well. History has shown that this was the right investment, the dock is in use to this day when Melbu Systems has boats in to equip new factories. “Nordlandsjekta Brødrene” has also had its hangout at the quay free of charge for all the years since it came to Melbu in the late 90s.

Trawlers in summer stock at the new docks in the 70s. Photo Museum Nord/Digital archive.

Tore Johnsen was employed as an operations engineer in 1971 and was a little in and out of the operation and combined the position with the fact that he was also a teacher at Melbu high school until the end of the 80s, but he eventually became Director from about 1985. It was during this period Melbu Verft turned its operations from 70% of the operation’s turnover being purely service work for the local trawler fleet and 30% being production equipment for the fishing industry, to becoming a niche supplier of various production lines for the production and processing of fish in all possible types and varieties. Aluminum was the material used in the beginning, but eventually they switched to using exclusively stainless steel for this type of production.

In the period from the mid-80s to the early 90s, service on the trawlers was replaced by new production of factory equipment. The big game changer in the company’s shift from service to production was the delivery of the complete factory for the new trawler M/TR Sortland, which was completed in 1986. Maintenance work on trawlers ceased completely in the period from 1992 to 1994.

Picture from 1987, foundation work has just begun and the crane truck that was bought in for the construction project. Photo: private

1987 was also the year it was extended and a new, large hall was built so that it connected the “old workshop” from 1919 and the carpentry workshop from the 1920s. Over the years, both the carpentry workshop and the shed were upgraded. This is to make room for an ever-increasing need for more space for both machines, material and the large lines that were produced and assembled around Norway, primarily in northern Norway. The new hall was both designed and set up by Melbu Verft’s own people. Tore Johnsen designed and the workers cast floors and set up the hall.

Picture from 2021 taken from the same place as the picture above, the hall with 2 lights in the facade is the one built in 1987. Photo: private

In 1987, Pumpeteknikk Nord was also established by Melbu Verft in collaboration with key national pump suppliers. Pumpeteknikk Nord was to function as an independent company that would take care of pump sales and create total solutions within various water and waste treatment in connection with municipal water and sewage systems, the fishing industry and salmon slaughterhouses. Jann Abelsen was appointed as director after the herring oil factory Neptun was closed in 1986 and sold out of the country in 1987. Pumpeteknikk Nord was to design and sell various pump solutions and Melbu Verft was to produce the necessary equipment for the solutions that were sold. Pumpeteknikk Nord grew and the number of employees increased. Eventually there were 3 men in the office on the 2nd floor of the administration building and were eventually sold out of Melbu Verft. They moved to Melbu Fiskeindustri’s premises where they stayed for a period before later setting up a building together with Havfisk with an office, warehouse and workshop. The company is still in operation today in these premises. Pumpeteknikk was also eventually bought out from Melbu Fiskeindustri by a group of employees and after a long period of operation was sold away from Melbu to the Momek Group.

In the sale of Pumpeteknikk from Melbu Verft, some exchanges and purchases of shares were also made so that Melbu Verft was completely bought out of the Havfisk/Melbu Fiskeindustri group and stood on its own two feet again from 1992. An ownership group named FABI Nord AS v/Nils In this process, Otto Ørjasæter became an owner and during 1992/1993 FABI Nord owned approx. 60% of the shares, Tore Johnsen owned approx. 30% and the remaining 10% was distributed among other board members and employees.

Beyond the 1990s, the shipyard took increasingly large shares in the market for equipment for salmon slaughtering throughout the country, equipment was also sold abroad and a need was seen for a more correct name in relation to type of activity and services/products that were delivered. Thus, Melbu Tech AS was established in 1998 as a pure sales company for total solutions for both the fishing industry and farming. Melbu Verft still existed and was to be responsible for the production of equipment commissioned by Melbu Tech. Melbu Tech was established with the aim of offering total tailor-made solutions both at home and abroad. In the early 2000s, in addition to the head office in Melbu, there were offices in Trondheim and Bergen in Norway, and a separate sales company with an office in Chile was also established.

Here we see a drone photo taken by Bjørn Eide in late autumn 2021. Here we see the new Vikanøy at the dock for a final finishing touch after arriving from Turkey where it was built and had a factory installed. We also see all the buildings on the left in the picture and the newest building is closest to the homes to the east and the administration building that was moved is closest to the sea. Photo: private

Beyond the 90s, both turnover and staffing increased, so there was a renewed need for more space. In 1998, a new hall was built, which was bigger than all the other buildings combined. This was built on the east side of the two existing workshop buildings. The new hall was better adapted to the new work with large gates and loading ramps at both ends.

Chile was a country with great expectations in the salmon industry, and therefore an office was established here. This eventually turned out to be a difficult path in a somewhat more unclear and not quite as regulated market as we are used to in Norway. It was precisely a large project for Chile that became Melbu Tech’s path. This project was ordered and delivered from Norway during 2002, but while the equipment was on its way across the Atlantic, the project was cancelled. As a result, Melbu Tech eventually went bankrupt. Tore Johnsen was director of Melbu Verft right up until 2002, when he eventually moved to Chile to continue running the previously established sales company.

Melbu Verft also faltered as a result and was about to be dragged along in the drag. After a large-scale rescue operation where the creditors agreed to a composition negotiation and Pål Krüger came in as owner, Melbu Verft was relaunched in a new guise in autumn 2002. It was then launched under today’s name, Melbu Systems AS. Pål Krüger soon became the sole owner after a very difficult time for the company where many people from management, sales and technical disappeared. In addition, a good part of the workshop staff disappeared to new jobs. This was during a period when the salmon industry had major problems and there were many, large bankruptcies which contributed to making the industry difficult for a number of years to come.

In 2009, a process began where employees were invited to buy into the ownership with a total of 40% ownership. Tore Bjørnå, Roald Hanssen and Kjølås Stansekniver by Frode Kjølås were also invited to the owner’s side. The distribution of the shares was as follows: employees 40%, Pål Krüger 40%, Seaside 10% and Tore Bjørnå and Roald Hansen shared 10%. In this connection, Einar R. Pettersen becomes director after having been operations manager for the most part after the bankruptcy of Melbu Tech in 2002. Activity in the market gradually increases and Melbu Systems takes new paths. Among other things, a separate automation department will be established which enables the company to deliver solutions to customers even better and enabled the company to engage in product development in a much more independent way.

In 2017, Melbu Systems buys the property between the workshop building and the highway after IGA building ceased operations. This is to secure areas in an otherwise rather narrow area. The area is currently used for storage, both in the warehouse building and in the surrounding area.

In autumn 2020, employees took over 50% more of the shares so that employees per time owns 90% through the company Melbu Verft Ansatte. Kjølås Stansekniver AS still owns the remaining 10%. Melbu Systems AS is a solid company in the local community with over 35 employees and designs, manufactures and installs various types of factory and processing equipment for handling fish. The equipment is still mainly produced in stainless steel for the fishing industry, fishing vessels and fish farming operations.

Established: 1912

Names: A/S Melbo Slip og Verksted: 1912 til 1935. Melbo Mek Verksted: 1935 til 1962. Melbu Verft AS: 1962 til 2002. Melbu Systems AS: 2002-

Ownership changes: 1912-1931, 1932- 1935, 1935-1941, 1941-1962, 1962-ca 1990. 1990-2002. 2002-2003. 2003-2009. 2009-2020. 2020-

Buildings: workers’ housing, canteen and office (Skabo), plus new slip 1914-1919. (not in use today), machine workshop (built in 1919 is in use), new workshop building put into use in 1987 and another new and larger workshop building put into use in 1998.