People rely on gas springs in their everyday lives, but seldom realize their importance.
From holding up a hatchback door while you collect your groceries from the back of the car to adjusting the seating level on an office chair, gas springs have a wide array of applications in many fields.
They are most commonly seen in the automotive, health care, public transport, airline and furniture manufacturing industries. Most are mass produced (using various qualities of components) by manufacturing giants in China, Turkey and Korea.
But for the last three years, Vernon’s Henk Blok has been holding his own as a small player with his company, Gemini Gas Springs.
Located on Pleasant Valley Road (near Mike Rosman RV), Blok, his son, Maurice, and wife, Frieda, have been producing custom springs for a growing clientele that stretches across Canada and international markets.
While unable to compete with the bulk buying power of the big boys, Gemini instead offers faster turnaround times, a greater ability to customize smaller orders and a more consistent and higher quality product by using high-grade components.
“The average lead time from China is at least three to four weeks,” said Blok, who moved with his family from Holland three years ago.
“And in order to get a better price you have to order them in bulk. I’m not in the high-volume market. Other guys are good at that. I try to build springs of a high quality so they will last twice as long.”
Blok, who has been in the industry for 10 years, manufactures the gas springs onsite using precision German machinery. Springs use compressed gas (nitrogen), contained in a cylinder and compressed by a piston, to exert a force.
To add dampening to a spring, various oils can be added to depending on the required application.
“We can manipulate that with different viscosities of oil,” said Blok. “The thicker the oil, the slower the dampening will go. We can also adjust the length of the dampening. It’s all based on what the client wants.”
Gemini also produces temperature-resistant springs capable of withstanding hard Canadian winters (down to –45 C).
After working for years for other people, Blok decided to branch out on his own when he came to Canada. Despite being in a different market, he still sees the same questions, challenges and customer demands popping up.
Thankfully for Block, physics is also the same overseas. However, he jokes that he is fighting an uphill battle in converting some of his North American clients over to the metric system.
“You have to learn about math and gravity, and you have to have some technical background to understand exactly how it works,” said Blok.
“You don’t learn this from trade school. You learn this from practice from working for a company.”