Author: Prairie Manufacturer

Back to the future

By Ron Koslowsky.  In December, my daughter in New York invited me to lunch with Ron Chernow, who has written bestselling and award-winning biographies of historical figures, and is perhaps best-known for his book, Hamilton, which served as the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical of the same title. I love history and had a fascinating discussion with Ron about how it tends to be “re-written” based on post-modern thinking and values. This is happening all around us, including a mainstream revision of the reasons why we have unparalleled wealth today. The world in which manufacturers now find themselves has more opportunities than ever before, but also more challenges that can threaten their future. The foundational principles of a free and open society that, over the past 200 years, unleashed human potential and created a dramatic rise in the wealth and lifestyle of all people is coming under attack. Some of the factors of our past success were: Open and freer trade, allowing markets to determine where money should be spent; fiscally responsible and limited… Read More

It’s all about the people

By Paul Soubry.  For the past nine years, I have been fortunate to work for a great Canadian company, New Flyer Industries Inc., which has been around since 1930. We manufacture buses and lead our industry within North America. Over the years, we have grown organically and through acquisition — now consisting of a team of nearly 6,000 people. We have transformed our business, both by changing our capital structure and by adopting lean principles to enhance our products, service, and competitiveness. As I get older and wiser (not to mention fatter and balder), I have come to truly believe the only real source of competitive advantage we have is our people. It’s easy to say — and everyone does — but there is a significant difference between saying it and building a company around it. We have made a commitment to continuously pursue excellence in our operating environment and in the relationship with our team members. I read a book nearly 25 years ago that had a huge impact on the way I think… Read More

Industry 4.0: Are Prairie manufacturers ready?

By Pierre Cléroux.  The outlook for Prairie manufacturers has brightened considerably over the last year. Buoyant economic conditions in North America and rising oil prices have led to a job recovery in the sector amid higher sales and exports. That’s welcome news after a couple of dark years that saw 35,000 manufacturing jobs disappear in the region. Half those jobs were recovered in 2017 as sales and exports surged 12 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively, in the first 11 months of the year. We expect the good times to continue this year. After the Canadian economy posted robust 3.1 per cent GDP growth in 2017, our forecast is for the economy to ease to a still healthy 2.2 per cent this year. On the Prairies, the oil price recovery, strong U.S. economy, and relatively low Canadian dollar are forecast to produce 2.5 per cent GDP growth in Alberta, 2.1 per cent in Saskatchewan, and two per cent in Manitoba. Each year, we ask Canadian entrepreneurs about their investment intentions for the coming 12… Read More

You don’t need to be Toyota to do lean well

By Shaun Stephen. One of the most frustrating excuses you hear in the manufacturing world for tolerating inefficiencies is ‘we are too small to fully embrace lean — we’re not Toyota.’ More often than not, those same companies are struggling to maintain margins and suffer from less-than-stellar health and safety records. When I first joined Alumicor, we probably fell into that same category. Our safety performance was inadequate, we had lots of work in progress (or, WIP) cluttering the floor, and inventory levels were beyond our production needs. At the time, our answer was to build more space. But, tens of thousands of square feet later, we were no further ahead, and it became abysmally clear that something had to change. So, we took our first steps along the road to continuous improvement (CI). Our lean journey, however, is not one of unabashed success or radical, overnight transformation. Instead, it’s a story of commitment, perseverance, incremental movement, and plain old-fashioned hard work. We started roughly a decade ago with the basics. A critical element to… Read More

Reversing the workplace civility crisis

By Lew Bayer.  We are smack in the middle of a civility crisis. With research on both Canadian and U.S. companies showing a whopping 98 per cent of people have experienced uncivil behaviour on the job, rudeness in the workplace is systemic and epidemic. Evidence that the incivility virus impacts — amongst other things — our productivity, our ability to work together, our creativity, and our health, is growing every day. For employers in the manufacturing sector, where innovation, thinking skills, and change-readiness are essential to survival, incivility in the workplace represents a significant cause for concern, operationally and financially. Consider, for example, that, according to Business Insider, four out of five people are dissatisfied with their jobs. How do you think this dissatisfaction manifests? If your response encompasses negative impacts to retention, engagement, productivity, stress levels, and profitability, you’d be correct. A Canadian study by Bar-David Consulting and Canadian HR Reporter shows incivility affects the following key business indicators, as reported by human resource professionals: • 90 per cent say it hurts collaboration; •… Read More

Conversation with the minister

Prairie Manufacturer Magazine Editor Derek Lothian sits down with Hon. Blaine Pedersen, Manitoba’s minister of growth, enterprise, and trade, to discuss the Province’s strategy for manufacturing prosperity.  Derek Lothian denoted by the initials DL; Hon. Blaine Pedersen denoted by the initials BP. DL: Minister, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. BP: You’re very welcome. DL: Let’s start at the 30,000-foot level. When you look at Manitoba, few would argue it’s probably one of the strongest and most consistent manufacturing jurisdictions in Canada, comprising around 10 per cent of the total provincial workforce. How is Manitoba positioning itself in the marketplace to maintain its competitive edge? BP: I just had a great conversation with our local manufacturing association on this. Our colleges — Red River College here in Winnipeg, for example — are doing a tremendous job in training people for work, getting them out [into the workforce], and bringing them back for future training. Our universities are catching up for the new demands of the workplace, too. You must… Read More

Paving the protein highway

Big investments in crop processing are laying the groundwork for a world-class food manufacturing sector on the Prairies.  By Joanne Paulson.  Just west of the small Manitoba city of Portage la Prairie, the darkness of a winter night comes alight with the glow of a changing future. The site of a new, $400-million pea processing plant is being prepared for spring construction, and locals can’t help but be awestruck by the bustle of activity. “Particularly after sundown, it gets really exciting here, because all the site lights come on and you say, ‘hey, there’s lots happening in that field,’” quips Vern May, executive director of Portage Regional Economic Development — the entity responsible for attracting new business to the area. “As soon as the spring thaw happens, things will be going at a pretty aggressive pace.” The facility belongs to the French company Roquette and, until the $460 million announcement by Simplot on February 15 to double the size of its Portage la Prairie potato plant, represented the largest single private sector investment in the province’s… Read More

Why are we still talking about innovation?

By Jayson Myers. I spent Groundhog Day at a conference on boosting Canada’s innovation performance. How fitting. No groundhog made an appearance, but there was an overwhelming sense of déjà-vu. It was a rehash of the same issues we’ve been fretting about for the past 30 years, if not longer. Why do Canadian manufacturers lag behind when it comes to investing in research and development, and new technology? Why is our productivity growth so much lower than in the United States? Is there anything that can be done to improve the situation? Why should we care? What bugs me is we shouldn’t be starting again at ground zero. There is actually a lot of good analysis available that helps, at least in part, to answer these questions. We know, for instance, it isn’t a matter of industry structure, since — over the past decade — every major industry group in Canadian manufacturing, except for paper, chemicals, and petroleum refining, invested less in new machinery and equipment as a proportion of sales than their counterparts in the… Read More

The factory of the future

From digital technologies to state-of-the-art research facilities, Manitoba is leading the charge on the evolution of advanced manufacturing.  By Joanne Paulson.  Historically, we have been a ‘bricks and mortar’ society, grouped into economic silos of industry, education, and government. That has been especially true of manufacturing, which — by its very nature — relies on complex physical infrastructure to produce tangible goods. The way those three pillars interact, however, has been changing for some time. Colleges and universities no longer function at arm’s length from industry — they are an integrated part of the innovation and skills supply chain. Governments, too, are becoming direct players in the development of assets designed to assist businesses in the commercialization process. Yet the world continues to spin increasingly quick on its technological axis. Without coordination, seamless collaboration, and resource-sharing, industries and even nations can be left behind. Enter the drive toward the factory of the future — not defined by four walls and a singular shop floor, but by its ability to connect, communicate, and enable companies to… Read More

Big tax changes here for small businesses

By Chris Kauenhofen.  The federal government has announced several tax changes over the last year, which will have an impact on many businesses, including manufacturers. In October, the government outlined a few changes related to the small business tax rate, income splitting, and how passive investment income earned in private companies is taxed. It also pronounced it wouldn’t move forward with proposed measures to limit access to the lifetime capital gains exemption (LCGE). Two months later, the government revealed legislation to simplify restrictions on income splitting. Here’s an overview of the changes: Small business taxes At the beginning of January, the small business tax rate has decreased to 10 or 10.5 per cent, depending on classification. As of January 1, 2019, the rate will decline again to nine per cent. The rate applies to the first $500,000 of active business income earned by a Canadian-controlled private corporation. Income splitting Starting in 2018, the government started limiting income ‘sprinkling’ using private corporations, while promising the rules won’t affect businesses where there are clear and meaningful contributions… Read More

A new northern light

How aerospace manufacturing could power the next generation of prosperity for Indigenous People in Manitoba’s north.  By Martin Cash.  These are tricky times in Northern Manitoba. A suspension of rail service through the north, as a result of springtime flooding in 2017 that washed out the line, has left the Hudson Bay coast town of Churchill without an overland transportation link. The washout occurred after the owner of the line, Denver-based Omnitrax, had already let it be known it wanted out of the market and was in discussions with a consortium of First Nations to figure out a way to transfer the rail infrastructure and port to local ownership. That has turned into an excruciatingly drawn-out process, with legal darts being thrown by the company, provincial and federal governments — even in-fighting between two rival First Nation-led groups, who eventually joined forces in an effort to acquire the crucial corridor. Adding to that cloud, Northern Manitoba is also facing all sorts of uncertainty in its legacy resource sector. Late in 2016, the paper mill in… Read More

Maintaining the status Moe

Political commentator Tammy Robert explains why Canada should expect more of the same from Saskatchewan’s new premier.  By Tammy Robert.  The late-January morning of the Saskatchewan Party’s leadership convention dawned in Saskatoon under a blanket of fresh snowfall. An Alberta clipper — a parting gift from Saskatchewan’s estranged neighbour — had dumped more than six inches of snow on the region overnight. Treacherous conditions, that would effectively shut down other parts of Canada, equaled just another winter day in the province, and were no match for the Saskatchewan Party’s rural base, which showed up in droves to say one last goodbye to Brad Wall and hello to their new leader. Finally, after a campaign that felt like a marathon ran at a sprint’s pace, Rosthern-Shellbrook MLA Scott Moe emerged as the victor, earning the title of the first post-Brad Wall leader of the party and the keys to the office of the Saskatchewan premier. It wasn’t a decisive mandate. Moe received only 26 per cent of first-choice support, not reaching the 50-per-cent-plus-one majority required to… Read More

With Guy Regnier, president and creative director of Winnipeg-based marketing and design agency Deschenes Regnier

Everyone is pushing us to give up traditional marketing and try online marketing — do I have to? In the last 20 years, there has been incredible growth in the number and types of marketing vehicles available to businesses, especially in online or ‘digital’ spaces. This doesn’t mean that older, more ‘traditional’ means of advertising should be ignored, but it does provide you with a greater breadth of options to consider when you are developing your marketing strategy. Today, the best marketing campaigns use a strategic combination of new media and traditional vehicles to maximize your marketing impact and connect with your customers wherever they may be. As a manufacturer, I have always used brochures, trade shows, presentations, and direct B2B mail campaigns, but people tell me these don’t work anymore. Is that true? Of course not. These can still be valuable assets in your marketing campaign. Even though these tools have worked in the past, however, you now have access to a variety of new options that can be more cost-effective and that make… Read More

Surviving and thriving in an age of disruption

By Derek Lothian.  This past November, I had the honour of representing Saskatchewan at the Polytechnics Canada National Strategy Group meetings in Ottawa. Between roundtables with cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats, we were fortunate to hear from Dominic Barton, the managing director of global consulting giant McKinsey & Company and one of the most influential figures on the federal government’s 14-member Advisory Council on Economic Growth. I have heard Barton present on a handful of previous occasions, and his speeches tend to pattern around the same message: There are four forces currently transforming the global landscape — and they will impact the very foundations of life and commerce, from where we live to how we do business. Seldom, however, have I found his insights to be so raw, pointed, or relevant to manufacturing. With this issue of the magazine focusing on supply chain excellence, I thought it was an opportune time to briefly look at each of these four pressures and begin a conversation around our own preparedness on the Prairies. As manufacturers, and as… Read More

Canadian manufacturing and the global supply chain

By Guillermo Moreno.  If you have been following the conversation about creating a national energy strategy, you’ve likely heard the argument that a Canada-wide supply chain approach will generate jobs. You’ve also likely heard the argument that it won’t. So often we are quick to assume that any job creation in energy development will only benefit one province or one industry. As the leader of Tenaris in Canada — a global steel pipe manufacturer and service provider for the world’s energy industry with a distinct focus on local operations, I am often asked to explain the value domestic manufacturing provides to our clients. Today, our customers intuitively understand the importance of global competitiveness, but they typically underappreciate the advantages of a local network. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, it’s easy to lose sight of the role the domestic market plays, and the opportunity our local industry has to add value well before the resource is developed. Domestic manufacturing creates value for the customer and Canada. Being local adds value to the local economy. Being… Read More

Growing Alberta’s manufacturing sector makes sense, but it’s not a silver bullet

By Rob Roach.  Alberta’s manufacturing sector tends to be either overshadowed by the province’s oil and gas industry or hailed as a key source of the economic diversification needed to reduce Alberta’s reliance on oil and gas. There is truth in both sentiments, but the reality is more complex. In Alberta, oil and gas extraction is king. The sector accounted for a whopping 27 per cent of the province’s real GDP in 2016 (the nominal figure was 17 per cent per cent due to low oil prices, yet this is still a huge proportion of the provincial economy). Nationally, oil and gas extraction accounted for six per cent of real GDP in 2016. And in Ontario, it was less than one per cent. Alberta manufacturing represented just under six per cent of the province’s real GDP in 2016. While nothing to snuff at, this is clearly much smaller than the output of the province’s oil and gas sector, and explains why manufacturing in Alberta does not get the same amount of attention it does elsewhere.… Read More

Productive by design: How better flow can lead to better results

By Chester Nagy.  Roughly two decades ago, I had the dream of building a new manufacturing facility. Our existing plant was a glorified, 90-year-old dungeon, located in an industrial park near the Calgary Stampede Grounds — dark and dingy, cold in the winter, and sweltering in the summer. Like a lot of buildings similar in vintage, the layout was not designed for the scope of work happening inside it. Once components came through the overhead door, they could usually move in only one direction, even if there was another project or problem holding up the line. After completion, the finished product had to exit back through the same door. To the most layman of observers, we had flow issues, which translated into performance issues — efficiency, quality, profitability, on-time delivery, you name it. Our first eureka moment came when the Government of Alberta began funding a program through Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters that allowed manufacturers to bring in outside expertise to conduct an in-house lean assessment. At the time, lean principles were still foreign to… Read More

#Me Too #I Will

How to promote a respectful workplace By Shereese Qually.  It all started with Harvey Weinstein. This, of course, isn’t accurate in that allegations of sexual harassment against powerful figures certainly predate the October claims against the media mogul. In the weeks and months following, however, we have seen a tide of #MeToo stories flooding the media, and an international conversation on sexual harassment to an unprecedented level. Stories abound across social media of various overt and systemic incidents of harassment throughout many industries and workplaces. In the employment and labour law context, we are concurrently seeing a message to employers that failing to address or appropriately respond to complaints of harassment of any nature is inappropriate and will be met with significant remedial consequences, including significant damage awards. These cases indicate that not only are there significant financial ramifications for employer and high-level managerial harassment (and there certainly are such awards), but there is also significant liability where an employer fails to implement appropriate policies and procedures to address harassment, respond to complaints of harassment,… Read More

Canada’s clean secret

How green technology is revolutionizing the oil and gas supply chain.  By Joanne Paulson.  High-efficiency pulse jet engines burning away harmful emissions. Electricity separating impurities from water. These aren’t wild ideas or futuristic prototypes — they are just two of the latest Prairie-made innovations transforming the way oil and gas producers in Western Canada are operating. While jaw-dropping advancements in technology are nothing new to the resource development supply chain, the pace of adoption has accelerated at an unparalleled rate. Competitive pressures are exerting their full force on the industry, and any advantage extractors and processors can capture — to be more efficient, more productive, more agile, and, with increasing demand, more clean — is a necessary edge that can be the difference between riches and ruin. Dan Wicklum, chief executive of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), a coalition of 10 global giants accounting for more than 90 per cent of the region’s annual production, believes there is no turning back, and that fortune will inevitably favour the bold. “Innovation has been right in… Read More

Rethinking your supply chain as a strategic asset

By Stephen Rogers & Robert Porter Lynch.  For many manufacturers, the supply chain — including both owner production assets and supplier and distribution partner assets — is by far the largest asset it ‘owns,’ and is core to the company’s ability to succeed both financially and in the marketplace. And while the supply chain is a major strategic asset, it is seldom seen or managed as one. Instead, supply chains are often managed as expendable or easily replaceable. Management assumes it will always be there, even when abused. This belief is not only flawed, but also subjects companies to needless organizational risk. To manage the supply chain as a strategic asset, it is important to step back and consider what it is comprised of. Unlike traditional assets, which a company fully owns, the supply chain is both a direct and an indirect asset, much broader and more complex than just its internal component. Let’s examine its parts: Value chain The value chain is an end to end, or E2E, entity. To be managed as a… Read More

Uncertainty, adaptation the name of the game in 2018

By Jayson Myers.  The beginning of a new year: It’s the time when economists and other clairvoyants dust off their crystal balls and pronounce what they see lying ahead for business. You should excuse them this go-round if their forecasts are a little less confident than usual. There are fewer certainties and a lot more risks that need to be considered. 2018 will indeed be a challenging year. The world is out of joint. That may not exactly be news in today’s Trumpean Twitterverse; but, the very fact that it’s not emphasizes how uncertain and risky things actually are. A tweet can bring on a sea change in popular opinion. No less so in the world of business where markets, manufacturers, and supply chains are facing far greater political volatility and more rapidly shifting expectations on the part of customers and stakeholders than ever before — all on top of the more usual but still highly risky disruptions caused by economic and technological change. ‘Business as usual’ in the sense of steady-state growth has been… Read More

The commodity conundrum

Prairie Manufacturer Magazine looks at which resources are up, which are down, and where they are trending in the months ahead.  By Joanne Paulson.  Jayson Myers, former president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, once quipped, “There are only three ways to generate new wealth in an economy: You can grow it, you can extract it, or you can manufacture it. Everything else is a trickle-down from that wealth creation.” In Western Canada, our economic and social wellbeing is intrinsically linked to all three — often more directly than most other global jurisdictions, through interdependent value chains. As a basic example: The world needs to eat. By 2050, humanity must produce more food than in the previous 10,000 years combined. And, to meet that demand, farmers are becoming increasingly efficient, yielding more crop on fewer acres. That requires fertilizer derived from Prairie potash, mined using Prairie equipment, to grow crops planted and harvested using Prairie agricultural implements, which then supply Prairie value-adding processing facilities before export. All these activities, meanwhile, are reliant on Prairie-extracted… Read More

With Stephen Heckbert, public relations professor and executive advisor

As my business is growing, our organization is in transition, and many of our new recruits are under 30. Should I be worried about hiring millennials? Many organizations have expressed concerns about the differences between millennials and others in their workforce — fears, from my experience, I believe are unfounded. The main difference for your organization is that millennials want to know, on day one, what impact their work is having on both the business and society as a whole. The ‘triple bottom line’ is now the equation that matters. So, you will need to improve communication to ensure your new staff understand how what they do is making a positive contribution — but that improvement in communication will be of benefit to your entire organization. But I’ve heard millennials are more stressed out and, therefore, harder to manage? The challenge for all young people in today’s world is that all they know is change; and, like many of us, sometimes we’d prefer the constant change to stop. Millennials, however, are more adaptable and more… Read More

Thank you, Brad

By Derek Lothian.  Sitting at my kitchen table on the evening of August 9, I was suffering from a bout of writer’s block. I had struggled through all but the final paragraph of this column, yet couldn’t find the right words to precisely summarize the point I was trying to make. So, I closed my laptop and did what any other Saskatchewanian would do — flipped on an episode of Corner Gas. The next morning, plunked down at that same kitchen table, this column unexpectedly began to rewrite itself: Brad Wall had just announced he would be stepping away from politics after a 10-year run as Saskatchewan’s premier. Granted, an elected official departing the political scene, regardless of seniority, is not necessarily noteworthy. Even as a recovering political junkie myself, I must admit the Trumpian drama south of the border has been enough to numb me from much of the routine noise I’d otherwise gobble up. This, however, was different. This one hit home. Many of my friends in Ottawa and further east have long… Read More

Harnessing our innovation potential is not an either-or equation

By Patrick Thera.  Want to foster a high-tech community in the heart of Prairies? Why not ask a Prairie company that has been successful in advanced technologies long before the rise of personal computing, the internet, and smartphones? SED Systems has been a pioneer in this field since the mid-1960s. Originally spun out of the University of Saskatchewan Department of Physics, SED has been involved in upper atmospheric studies, the development of space instruments, satellite imagery, search and rescue missions, mobile satellite communications, digital satellite radios, and deep space exploration, among its many other accomplishments. The success of SED has always been its ability to keep its customers happy and adapt to changing market conditions. For more than 50 years, SED has been solving tough engineering challenges, working side-by-side with the who’s who of the communications industry, and doing so all within the City of Saskatoon, and in the Province of Saskatchewan. SED formed its manufacturing capability out of the need to reliably build the products it had designed. We quickly realized, however, that we… Read More

Growing our value in the value-added economy

  By Dr. Rick Green.  There is a good chance that, before now, you haven’t heard of POS Bio-Sciences. Like many Prairie manufacturers, we are better known internationally than we are here in our own backyard. That being said, we shouldn’t be complete strangers. We have probably developed ingredients for the food you eat, and have created new opportunities for the crops that generate income for your friends or family. Take, for example, canola oil, which POS played a key role in introducing commercial processing methods for more than three decades ago. The widespread adoption of this crop, innovated by Canadian seed breeders, has transformed the Western Canadian economy, the lives of farmers, and agricultural communities coast-to-coast. The technical work we do is highly complex. In the simplest terms, we take biological materials and, from them, produce specialized ingredients that can be produced at the commercial level — for use in food, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, medical goods, cosmetics, and other industrial applications. Start-ups and multinationals alike flock to Saskatoon to collaborate with our research scientists and… Read More

Lean and green

By Darryl Minty.  There are as many characteristics to a lean organization as there are lean experts. Everyone has a unique definition, a personalized approach, and an underlying set of core values. In my near-30-year-career in manufacturing, however, I’ve found there are six attributes universal in businesses that embrace true lean thinking: They are laser-focused, aligned from the boardroom to the shop floor, relentless in their pursuits, fully engaged, team-oriented, and sustainable. The first five are not exactly news. In fact, they are the underpinnings to general business success altogether. But the definition of the last trait, sustainability, often elicits livelier debate. Indisputably, there is a long list of synergies between what it means to be a ‘lean’ and ‘green’ manufacturer. Both strive to reduce waste. Both promote resource productivity. And both hinge on continual learning and a common understanding. The primary difference lies in the priority. Lean organizations are fixated first and foremost on delivering value for the customer. Green organizations, meanwhile, are dedicated to managing their environmental impacts. That’s why hundreds of manufacturers… Read More

Navigating the disruptive winds and disturbing calm of internal conflict

By James Mitchell.  For decades, operational specialists and heads of the world’s most successful companies have realized the value of involving people at all levels of an organization — in assessing needs, developing plans, making decisions, and successfully executing and evaluating the development of a service or product. Would it surprise you to then learn that, despite this greater awareness and consensus, only about one in five employees today feels valued? Why, if we as business leaders truly believe that our people are our most valuable resource, do so few of them feel that they are? From experience, I would say a certain ‘wind’ — or lack of wind — is the problem. I will spare you the grandeur of the analogy; however, if businesses are ships and we are the owners or officers of our ships, we understand that too much wind, not being prepared for changes in wind, or having too little wind can often lead to problems. In corporations, wind may be produced by shifting markets, supply issues, technological development, board or… Read More

The future of food production (and the equipment revolution behind it)

By Trent Meyer.  We have all heard the shocking numbers that are being thrown around by demographers and those selling the ‘future of agriculture’ — the most common being the world needs to feed up to nine billion people by 2050 (give or take a billion or a decade). For many in our industry, this goes well beyond the proverbial 30,000-foot view, into an area that seems too far away to concern ourselves with. We look at our operations and note that we just make (insert your product here), so we will continue to do so and hopefully keep or expand our share of the market. The fact is we have always been in the game of feeding the world, so there is no reason we should hide from the lofty expectations of 30 years from now. Most of us have been around for 15-30 years already, many longer, and have watched the demand for commodities balloon right alongside production capacity. We’ve been up to the task thus far — the modern challenge, however, is… Read More

Small towns, big dreams

Meet three manufacturers overcoming the odds to grow their businesses, and communities, in rural Saskatchewan.  By Colleen Mackenzie.  Big machinery, big industry, big city, right? Think again. In Saskatchewan, nearly one-third of the manufacturing base is situated outside the two largest centres of Saskatoon and Regina. Some of these rural enterprises employ staff complements half, equivalent to, or even double the size of the communities they operate in. And many are punching well above their weight class on the world stage. Saskatchewan Business Hall of Fame inductee, Doepker Industries, traces its roots back to the northern United States, where the Doepker brothers emigrated from before settling in the small agricultural community of Annaheim, Saskatchewan, 125 kilometres east of Saskatoon. Following the completion of World War II, the brothers studied welding and mechanics, and decided to open a repair shop to serve local farmers. They quickly built a reputation as entrepreneurs who did the right thing and helped their neighbours in need. Growth was inevitable. It’s a familiar storyline on the Prairies. Today, Doepker Industries is… Read More

The Saskatchewan spirit

Micro-distilleries are becoming big business in Saskatchewan — and the world is taking notice.  By Joanne Paulson.  Drink less. Therefore, drink better. And, while you’re being discerning, drink local. That’s the new mantra of the modern spirits connoisseur — often a millennial, sometimes a locavore, and invariably a lover of finely-crafted consumables. The local food-and-drink movement lit the gas that has fueled the explosive growth of micro-distilleries across North America over the past decade. Craft breweries and wineries were at the head of this trend; but, today, small-volume, boutique distilleries are sprouting up in every corner of our expansive national landscape. Saskatchewan — population 1.16 million — has more than its fair share, despite the industry still emerging out of relative infancy. The first two micro-distilleries were gleams in their owners’ eyes as recently as 2010. That number has since blossomed to the double-digits. Customers, meanwhile, are lapping up the whisky, gin, vodka, rum, and liqueurs pouring from the barrels and stills more today than ever before. It all began, though, with a trickle. At… Read More

Keep calm and carry on: The art of negotiating NAFTA chaos

By Jayson Myers.  Steve Verheul is an awesome poker player. You can’t tell what he’s thinking. You never know what cards he holds. But, you can bet he will play them well. Better yet, he knows when to walk away. And, he knows how to win. That’s good. Steve was Canada’s chief negotiator for our ground-breaking free trade agreement with the European Union. Now he’s Canada’s lead for renegotiating NAFTA. It’s a tough job. I can tell you, though, that poker-faced Steve is more than up to the task. It’s much more difficult to say what we should expect from the NAFTA negotiations themselves, other than that day one, August 16, will go down in the annals of trade negotiations as a media circus. Subsequent negotiating rounds better get into substantive issues fast. Both Mexico and the United States are under pressure to conclude an agreement by early January — that is when Mexico’s presidential election campaign begins in earnest, and if President Trump waits until that election is over in June, he will need… Read More

Innovating from the (under)ground up

Manufacturers have felt the pinch of resource prices, but that doesn’t mean they’re standing still.  By Joanne Paulson.  Innovation is generally understood, in the public realm, as a ground-breaking discovery or never-before-seen product. Tesla. The internet. Insulin. It’s a valid perspective — one that has been borne out on the Canadian Prairies for generations. The region has historically been a hotbed of economy-changing product and process innovation, from the development of canola to remote-controlled uranium mining to the Blairmore Ring. But there is also incremental innovation — the small, yet meaningful improvements that build on genius, deliver greater customer value and improve operational performance. In Saskatchewan’s present post-boom era, that’s precisely what manufacturers are focusing on to better support the resource development sectors and sharpen their competitive edge in the supply chain. Not all recent economic retraction, however, is related to lower prices in commodities like potash, oil, and uranium. Many new major capital projects, such as the new K+S solution potash mine near Bethune, drove significant supplier demand during the construction phase, yet have… Read More

How public procurement can become our competitive advantage

By Keith Moen.  In the wake of NAFTA negotiations and ‘America first’ policies, there exists a fine line between favourable and unfavourable public procurement practices. From a free enterprise perspective, a strong case can be made for the inherent benefits of interjurisdictional trade, whether it be at the international or interprovincial level. Conversely, when it comes to public dollars, there is just as clear of a benefit for those dollars to be spent within the jurisdiction from which goods or services are being procured. When you try to combine the two scenarios, however, the vision, the process, and the results become much murkier. And the line between good public policy and outright protectionism becomes as fine as a razor’s edge. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has been among the more outspoken supporters of free enterprise, market-driven economic policies. One of his first orders of business upon being elected in 2007 was declaring that Saskatchewan was, in fact, open for business. Soon thereafter, the province joined Alberta and B.C. in the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, patterned… Read More

With Greg Hutch, director of new service development with ISM Canada – an IBM company

Some have called blockchain ‘the most important IT invention since the internet itself.’ Yet, if you ask folks on the street, few can succinctly define it. In layman’s terms, what is blockchain and how does it work? Blockchain is a technology that lets people who do not know or trust each other build a shared, dependable ledger. In other words: It is a way of recording transactions securely and reliably without the trusted third party — like a bank — that is usually required for verification. There are some very interesting mathematical and computational underpinnings for blockchain, but the fundamental idea is that blocks of information can be securely tied into chains. Each block can represent information like a transaction. Each time a block is added to the chain, it is securely connected to the preceding blocks, and anyone trying to change a link will be detected. There are also multiple copies of the chain, which avoids having a central authority or a single copy of a record. Everyone can see the blockchain and confirm… Read More

Diversity must become our innovation strategy

By Ronda Landygo.  This edition of Prairie Manufacturer Magazine is especially near and dear to my heart. Not only does it commemorate the start of our second year in publication, it also marks perhaps our boldest editorial direction yet. With the exception of The Rundown, a new quarterly policy and economic feature we have launched for the first time on Page 18, every article in this issue is either written by or showcases a prominent female leader. We didn’t make that decision to waive the gender flag. Instead, as Palliser Furniture CFO Cathy Gillespie eloquently explains in the View from the C-Suite column (Page 6), we chose to spotlight women influencers to spark a conversation on the importance of embracing varied and unique perspectives. Why? Because the business of manufacturing is changing before our eyes. The very nature of disruption — technological, societal, and economic — means if we intend to survive, let alone lead, we need to evolve. And, to do that, we need to start thinking differently. One singular lens through which to… Read More

It’s all about perspective

By Cathy Gillespie.  Fifteen years ago, manufacturing wasn’t prominently fixed on my radar. I had a good job as a commercial banker in a good company, making good money. Apart from a handful of industrial clients in my portfolio, my career path at the time couldn’t seem further from many of the everyday operational concerns facing manufacturers. Important functions like product research and development, IT system integration, and lean adoption were foreign concepts. I’ve always considered myself to be a selective individual — personally and professionally. Maybe it’s the accountant in me. But I rarely jump into any endeavour without first identifying and analyzing every possible influence and outcome. Who I decide to work for is a decision I make only after long and careful consideration. And truth be told, it has historically been a short list. Fortunately for me, Palliser Furniture was on it. Palliser is a fascinating Manitoba success story, full of rich history, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit. Established in 1944 by the DeFehr family, the company is now transitioning into its third-generation… Read More

Building the advanced manufacturing ecosystem

By Dayna Spiring.  A primary function of economic development agencies is to develop market intelligence around key economic drivers. This data represents a combination of raw statistics and qualitative information gathered by tracking global trends and engaging with leading companies in targeted industries. In Winnipeg and Manitoba, advanced manufacturing is one of the sectors proven to power economic growth, supplying high-value products to major players in packaging, ground transportation, farm machinery, and aerospace. The past decade has given rise to dramatic shifts within the advanced manufacturing ecosystem, and Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW) has been challenged to better understand the technologies and catalysts moving the sector forward. The mobilization of an advanced manufacturing alliance, designed to connect EDW to stakeholders who can supplement and corroborate market intelligence, has been a vital first step to validate manufacturing’s role in the economy, and understand the profound and pervasive changes stemming from both radical and incremental innovation. New products using next-generation materials are being designed and produced more efficiently than ever before, while advancements in quality are often complemented by… Read More

When lean meets community, everyone wins

By Carrie Schroeder.  Lean is a journey, not a destination. It requires enterprise-wide commitment and a long-term vision to identify and solve problems, learn from those experiences, and institutionalize a culture of continuous improvement. Leadership is key, yet teamwork is fundamental. Although recognizing there is always an opportunity to do better will get you into the game, nurturing high-performing teams is what will earn you the win. Being part of a strong team is hard work. Egos must be checked at the door, humility sewn, and self-assessment practiced regularly. All players must foster an environment of trust, where healthy conflict challenges the status quo, while — at the same time — celebrating successes and helping one another reach their potential. World-class lean companies have refined this engagement down to a science. Each Toyota employee averages close to 50 suggestions for improvement annually — roughly one per week. Celebrating accomplishments, however, is equally important. Lean should not be a daily grind; it should instead be a constant reminder to ask questions. Can we do this better?… Read More

In the weeds: Making way for effective corporate policy

By Annie Bell.  Medical marijuana. Pot legalization. Cannabis in the workplace. These phrases have sprouted in popularity — and have elicited corporate trepidation — over the past year, and will continue to be a hot topic in the coming months, as the Government of Canada enacts its new cannabis legislation leading up to July 2018. While much of the rhetoric has been rooted in the fear of impeding legal chaos, it is also built on a lack of understanding between employees and employers as to what their rights are and how they can be exercised. We are still waiting for both scientific leaders and federal policymakers to establish guidelines on impairment levels — not to mention a device that can successfully measure impairment from marijuana use (although an oral swab test opposed to, say, a urine test can detect usage in a 24-hour period). In the meantime, there are no specific directives you can include in your policy to circumvent the uncertainty. That said, more than ever, now is the time to ensure your current… Read More

The Rundown

A quick update on the issues and policies impacting you.  By Derek Lothian. Canada Free Trade Agreement After months of intense negotiation, Canada’s provinces and territories finalized a new domestic trade pact this spring, set to take effect July 1. The new Canada Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) replaces the two-decades-old Agreement on Internal Trade, and is aimed at improving the alignment of regulatory controls, removing barriers to inter-jurisdictional business, and strengthening dispute resolution mechanisms. While there are stalwart critics of the deal — many of whom have slammed the provision of a ‘negatives list,’ whereby provinces can outline protected exemptions on market access (worth noting it is a long list, too — comprising more than two-fifths of the final document) — business leaders nationwide have broadly welcomed the announcement, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business to Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. Under the former regime, provinces declared what goods and services were eligible for interprovincial free trade. The CFTA, on the other hand, establishes free trade as the default position. In addition to other structural… Read More

Your next hire?

Technology is transforming more than your products and processes — it’s changing your workforce.  By Jennifer Findlay.  The robots aren’t coming — they’re here. And with them, they are bringing big questions for Prairie manufacturers: What will Industry 4.0 need in an employee? What happens to the jobs of today in a world dominated by artificial intelligence and automation? What skill sets will grow in demand over the next decade as companies race to harness a new era of global opportunity? Estimates suggest more than 40 per cent of the tasks currently performed by humans can already be automated. In the past, robots were used to replace highly repetitive manual tasks, such as packaging or welding on large-volume production lines. Now, using advanced sensors and computer algorithms, automation is moving higher up the value chain, performing exceedingly complex cognitive functions in real time. In 2014, Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Deep Knowledge even appointed a robot named Vital to its board of directors — becoming the first business in the world to do so. These… Read More

Ten recommendations for a ‘new NAFTA’

By Maryscott Greenwood.  President Donald Trump has been talking tough about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) since the early days of his campaign, threatening repeatedly to withdraw the United States from the pact outright. After concerned phone calls from the leaders of Canada and Mexico, however, he seemed to walk that threat back, opting instead to push for a more liberal ‘modernization’ of the accord. The selection of international trade law expert Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative gave Canadians another reason to breathe a sigh of relief. But even with the overwhelmingly-bipartisan confirmation of Lighthizer, it is far too soon to assume NAFTA is out of the woods. America’s 45th president has demonstrated he is nothing if not unpredictable. For now, the Trump administration does not appear to be on course to scrap NAFTA. It is, though, readying for significant renegotiation. That alone is no cause for alarm. NAFTA truly is in legitimate need of an update. The deal is, after all, 23 years old, and was negotiated in an entirely different… Read More

Great beer, down to a science

Meet the Newfoundland grad who turned in her stethoscope for a lab coat en route to becoming Saskatchewan’s newest brewmaster.  By Joanne Paulson.  Amanda Butt is in the ‘party room’ at Saskatoon’s Great Western Brewing Co., sipping a fresh batch of beer out of a small glass sleeve. She wrinkles her nose, and notes this beer is young; she won’t allow anyone outside the testing team to even take a sniff. Not before it’s perfect. Butt took the helm as brewmaster after only two weeks learning the ropes. Her pride in the brand, however, was fully in place the minute she walked through the door. In brewing circles, Great Western’s history is a story of legends — how 16 employees bought the company from Carling O’Keefe in 1989, when the beer company merged with Molson and the plant was slated for closure. Great Western has been a revered local institution ever since. “When I heard it, I thought the story was super cool,” recounts Butt. “I left ‘big beer’ to get into the craft beer… Read More

The puck drops on Manitoba Manufacturing Week

By Jill Knaggs.  It is one of the most prolific sports metaphors in corporate Canada: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” Those words, first uttered by Walter Gretzky and immortalized through his son, Wayne, formulated the rallying cry this past March, as manufacturers from across the Prairies converged on Winnipeg for the 2017 Manitoba Manufacturing Week — a weeklong series of events celebrating one of the region’s most important economic sectors. There was even a ceremonial puck drop. At the heart of the week was the annual Dare to Compete conference — or (un)conference, as it is referred to by attendees. Now in its 15th iteration, Dare to Compete has grown into the largest recurring manufacturing event in Western Canada, bringing together a world-class line-up of speakers and thought-leaders to tackle industry trends, challenges, and future growth opportunities. This year’s keynotes included political pundit Andrew Coyne; Michael Gardiner, director of strategy, advanced manufacturing, and Industry 4.0 for Siemens Canada; and leadership guru Stephen Shedletzky. “From the frontline to the… Read More

Gala Awards Dinner 2017

No Manitoba Manufacturing Week is complete without taking in the iconic Gala Awards Dinner. More than 500 guests packed into the RBC Convention Centre to pay tribute to this year’s award winners: Pioneer Award Emeric V. Duha IX (awarded posthumously and accepted by his son, Rick Duha) With the support of his wife, Gwen, and his sister, Margaret, Emeric championed The Duha Group’s booming expansion from a printing press in the family home in Osborne Village, setting the stage for the company’s global success. Today, The Duha Group maintains a presence in nine countries across four continents. Emeric, known as Rick and E.V. to friends and colleagues, had an eye to the future. With the proliferation of printers in the 1950s, he identified unique opportunities in a niche market: Specialized colour-merchandising tools. The company soon expanded from Winnipeg with a second location in Gimli, focusing on colour cards, fandecks, and colour systems. Emeric’s dedication to the relentless pursuit of customer value, employee empowerment, and teamwork developed the framework to help The Duha Group grow and… Read More

What I’ve learned from women leaders

Alberta industry champion and commentator, Jeff Baker, talks focus, commitment, and the power of working with both your head and your heart.  By Jeff Baker.  When I began my career nearly 15 years ago, I was green to any sort of ‘real’ industry, having not been exposed to much in the way of manufacturing and processing in my formative days. Since then, however, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and getting to know many of the major industrial players across Alberta, Canada, and beyond, spanning such sectors as energy, forestry, environmental and professional services, and — of course — manufacturing. Manufacturing in particular held a certain fascination for me. Despite having the odd peek behind the proverbial curtain, there was always a ‘black box’ mystique around what happens as raw materials are transformed into finished products. I admit that I grew up with a stereotypical view of manufacturing. I knew it as the exclusive domain of men — rough and tumble, dirty and dangerous. That’s just how it was portrayed in popular culture. As we… Read More

The business case for inclusiveness

By Jennifer Findlay.  American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Doing well is the result of doing good. That is what capitalism is all about.” For Greg Cruson, general manager of Dutch Industries near Regina, the nexus of that equation can be found in the company’s policy toward inclusiveness. The agricultural equipment manufacturer has hired several workers with intellectual disabilities over the years — not only to the benefit of the employee, but also to corporate morale and the overall bottom line. “My grandfather was an immigrant from Holland, so coming from another country, he had a disability in the sense that he had to learn a new language and understand a new culture,” explains Cruson. “I can resonate with that experience. It’s always something we’ve felt important in our business.” Recently, Dutch Industries brought on a disabled employee to pack bolts to include in global shipments. The result has been a dramatic decline in error rates — to virtual elimination — as well as improved customer satisfaction levels. “Accuracy is very important in his… Read More

With Roberta Soo-Oyewaste, manager of the Pasqua First Nation Group of Companies

A little over a year ago, Pasqua First Nation acquired Pro Metal Industries in Regina — the band’s first investment in manufacturing. Why manufacturing and why now? For starters, Saskatchewan has led Canada in manufacturing growth over the past decade, outpacing the national average more than 13 times over. Wages have kept pace as well, creating sustainable, quality employment opportunities for our people. And finally, it helps to deepen our relationship with the commodities sector — specifically, oil and gas producers and potash mines. This diversification, toward strategic areas of our economy, better positions us to leverage some of the major, new capital projects in the region, from the K+S potash mine in Bethune to the Enbridge Line Three replacement, which will run through Treaty Four Territory (which Pasqua First Nation is a part of). What is the approach you have taken to strengthen those relationships in the resource sector? Resource developers recognize the need to engage Indigenous Peoples. It is not the sole responsibility of those companies, however, to do so on their own.… Read More

Protect yourself this summer from skin cancer

You’ve worked hard all year — you deserve that vacation. But remember: Safety cannot stop you when you leave the office or shop floor.  By Dr. Marni Wiseman.  What are the different types of skin cancer? There are three primary types of skin cancer: Melanoma is the most serious; basal cell carcinoma is the most common; and the third is squamous cell carcinoma. Why is early detection so important? Early detection is vital, because it may lead to better patient outcomes. Patients who are diagnosed earlier may have smaller scars, better cosmetic results, and in some cases, particularly with melanoma, an improved rate of survival. What are the different treatments? A person’s treatment depends upon the type and location of their cancer. Surgery is the most common treatment for skin cancer; however, some skin cancers may also be treated with radiation, different types of anti-cancer creams, or occasionally chemotherapy. What can be done to protect you and your loved ones? Prevention is so important. The sun is a major cause of skin cancer, so be… Read More

Turning up the volume on ‘Prairie proud’

By Derek Lothian.  A mentor of mine once told me the greatest strength a business leader can have is recognizing internal weakness — individually and organizationally. That requires discipline, authenticity, and a predisposition toward continuous improvement. Only then can one properly manage risk and pivot to new opportunities as they arise. It is an ability many of us struggle to master. No one enjoys vulnerability. But, often, it is when we are most exposed we experience the most radical growth. As a manufacturing community, we have spent generations cultivating our core strengths into a regional brand. We are trustworthy, we believe in relationships over transactions, we have high standards of quality, and we push the boundaries of product innovation. That is what we are known for in the international arena. Our shortcomings, on the other hand, are seldom identified with the same conviction. If honesty is the baseline, however, perhaps it is the right time to acknowledge what there has been seemingly closed-door consensus on for years: We have a marketing problem. Call it modesty, call… Read More

Manufacturing the Monarch way

By Roy Cook.  When I was first asked to contribute to this issue of Prairie Manufacturer Magazine, Ronda and Derek suggested that sharing some thoughts on how Monarch Industries has sustained and grown over its long history would be of interest to other manufacturers. I hope that proves to be true. Let me begin with some background. Monarch is a privately-owned Canadian company, with its head office and main manufacturing facility located in Winnipeg. Our foundry operation is headquartered an hour southwest, in Winkler; we also have a joint venture in China, as well as a distribution centre in Kansas City. We manufacture hydraulic cylinders and iron castings, primarily for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and the majority of our sales are within North America. Monarch was founded in 1935 by John Klassen, as a family-owned and -operated business, and remained under family control for roughly the first 55 years of its history. In the early 90s, the company transitioned over to investor and senior management ownership. I joined at the latter stages of this transition… Read More

Making the most of government funding

By Paul Boucher.  The government funding landscape to support manufacturing companies in Canada is changing. A yearlong review of spending initiatives and tax provisions to support the industry has been completed. The government has sought public and expert input from across the country to assist with defining a new approach to sector support. Although the specifics are not yet known, it is clear that change is coming. In addition, funding initiatives will have a higher level of accountability with respect to the return on investment and value of the funding program to achieve stated objectives. Canada has developed a myriad of funding initiatives from a number of federal departments, resulting in a complex path for companies to access government funding. Sourcing out these programs is often difficult for manufacturers, let alone successfully submitting an application. But initiatives to improve this process have already been implemented. For instance, a ‘concierge’ program has been established to access government services, while the 2016 federal budget introduced a framework for a future ‘innovation agenda.’ And, it is anticipated that… Read More

An old lesson for achieving new success

By Scott Keddie.  For many manufacturers, the pursuit of excellence is all about embracing the new — new technologies, new markets, new products, and new ways of doing businesses. Competition has become so fierce, the quest to capture an advantage no one else has can be a consuming endeavour, both personally and as an organization. But, as our parents and grandparents have always told us, new is not necessarily better. Take, for example, Training Within Industry, or TWI. TWI is a system of hands-on learning and practice that dates back to the Second World War. With conscription pulling away thousands of skilled workers from the shop floor to join the battlefield, the United States government found itself needing to innovate. The fight required artillery, aircraft, and reliable equipment — and the Allied forces could not afford a drop in manufacturing productivity. A new supply of labour needed to be trained up, and fast. By 1940, the U.S. Department of War had rolled out TWI in factories across the nation as a means of shortening the… Read More

Developing strong leaders for stronger results

By Ron Koslowsky.  During the rapid rise of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback in 2003-04, I carried out a research project to answer the question of how manufacturers in Canada could overcome an at-par loonie through productivity improvement. I interviewed close to 100 business leaders in the sector and concluded the number one need to compete was improving leadership capacity, both at the top as well as cascading throughout organizations. Leadership starts with establishing core values, such as integrity or respect, that act as a foundation to all in the organization around how things are done. Leadership also requires vision to direct plans and actions in achieving the desired results. While values and vision are determined primarily by the top executive, leadership can and should be exercised by all those in the organization who are in a supervisory role and who lead on an informal basis. The fable of the traveller, wind, and sun has resonated with me since childhood. As the story goes, the sun and wind were debating one day which… Read More

Five provincial leaders share their perspectives on what is driving Canada’s hottest manufacturing market

By Will Stanley & Derek Lothian.  Manitoba and manufacturing: They go together like Churchill and polar bears. For the past century, the sector has been at the heart of Manitoba’s economic engine, from the early days of farm machinery and aeronautics to the latest progressions in advanced materials and value-added food production. Today, the industry generates $17.4 billion in annual sales, and comprises 10 per cent of the entire provincial workforce. Manufacturing companies, meanwhile, remit an estimated $3.2 billion in wages to employees each year. These are more than just numbers. They tell the story of a sector at the forefront of global competition, innovation, and technological change. But it didn’t get that way by accident. Much of the recent prosperity can be attributed to purposeful diversification — in product, and in customer. Since 2007, manufacturers in the Keystone Province have weathered dramatic swings in currency and commodity prices to expand at a steady rate of 6.4 per cent, more than double the national pace. Unlike other Prairie jurisdictions, however, where roughly 70 per cent… Read More

Up in the clouds

How Manitoba took Canada’s aerospace industry to new heights.  By Joanne Paulson.  When the National Hockey League announced a franchise would be returning to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season, there was little public debate around what the team should be called. Since 1972, they were, and in the minds of fans, would always be known as the Jets — an homage to the city’s historied roots in aviation. Many believe the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers garnered their name from the same source. But, in fact, it is widely attributed to a Winnipeg Tribune sports writer, who had referred to the moniker in 1935 after famed boxer Joe Louis had coined the nickname the ‘Brown Bomber.’ The mix-up is understandable. Aerospace is, after all, an intrinsic part of Manitoba’s DNA. Diving into the archives, it is not difficult to see why. The sector dates back more than a century, anchored in the romantic past of trading days at The Forks — the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. Fast forward to today, the… Read More

Our cheesiest article yet

From a local cooperative founded in the thralls of The Great Depression to Canada’s largest independent cheese manufacturer.  By Pat Rediger.  Heralding back to the time of its earliest customers, Bothwell Cheese is still frequently visited by the milkman. Those shipments, however, no longer consist of a few glass bottles. The independent cheese manufacturer — located in New Bothwell, Manitoba, roughly 50 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, near Steinbach — is the final destination for as much as 168,000 litres of the ‘white stuff’ per day, equivalent to 5-7 truckloads, seven days per week. And it’s not just any milk. The company uses only 100 per cent pure, locally-sourced milk in every block of cheese it produces, free from hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, artificial colours, fillers, or additives. For Bothwell Cheese Vice President Mike Raftis, that commitment has been the not-so-secret strategy for success. “Our recipe has stayed the same — we’ve never wavered from using 100 per cent local milk since the beginning,” says Raftis, who notes that 98 per cent of the cheesemaker’s ingredients come… Read More

A colony of innovation

In-house chemists, an on-site laboratory, environmental entrepreneurs: This isn’t your average Hutterite colony.  By Pat Rediger. There are few Canadian manufacturers more iconic and synonymous with innovation than Bombardier. The company even has its own Museum of Ingenuity — reopened this past June after an 18-month, $14 million overhaul. Meandering through the sleek facility, located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, it is hard to ignore the similarities between many of Bombardier’s flagship products, such as the Ski-Doo snowmobile, the Sea-Doo watercraft, and the tri-wheeled Can-Am Spyder. But beyond the obvious comparisons in design and operational interface, one shared theme bubbles beneath the surface: These vehicles didn’t just revolutionize recreational transportation, they created entirely new markets. Two-thousand kilometres west, near the town of Morris, Manitoba, the Oak Bluff Hutterite Colony has embraced that same approach. After more than six decades dedicated almost exclusively to agriculture, the colony has begun to reap the rewards of diversification and shifting trends in ‘green’ technology — finding new ways to capitalize on existing expertise. It required, however, some trial and error.… Read More

Fishing tips for manufacturing social media success

By Derek Lothian.  Blogger Brian Farrell once said that social media is a lot like fly-fishing: It’s deceptively complex. What looks like someone flailing around their arms and a fishing line is really a well-coordinated effort to get a near-weightless fly in front of a hungry fish. Social media — particularly for manufacturers — is no different. It may seem overwhelming at first, or even pointless. But there is a method to the madness. First, you need to make the right decisions around where to cast your hook. Timing and placement is everything. And then you need the right equipment, the right fly, and the right skill before you can reel in your catch. It is an undeniable fact that more and more manufacturers are embracing social media. According to a recent report from the Content Marketing Institute, 85 per cent of manufacturers already use some form of social media to distribute business information. Of those, nine in 10 use LinkedIn, roughly eight in 10 use YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and two in 10 use… Read More

Back to basics: Industry 4.0 and lessons from Bananarama

“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. It ain’t what you do, it’s the time that you do it. It ain’t what you do, it’s the place that you do it…” By Jayson Myers. You know the rest (sorry if you’re now humming it all day). It’s just one of those songs that are difficult to get out of your head. I like the Bananarama and Fun Boy Three version myself. But, the tune has been a hit since the 1930s. Maybe it’s good it sticks with you — it says a lot about how to succeed in manufacturing. It’s a lesson Prairie manufacturers should take to heart in a world of slow-growth markets, fierce competition, and rapid technological change. Innovation has become the key to survival, competitiveness, and business growth. In every sector, companies are looking to new products and services, and to new markets, to boost revenues. And they’re turning to new technologies to improve efficiency, reliability, and flexibility; speed up design, development, and delivery times; and reduce… Read More

Reality check: Selling your manufacturing business

By Steven Beal.  As your manufacturing business matures, it is never too early to start thinking about what it’s worth and how you plan to exit. Even as you are trying to grow and manage day-to-day operational decisions, it is useful to know what key variables will impact value, and what you can to do increase the value when you decide to sell. To start, it’s helpful to understand how a business is valued. It is generally determined by two key factors: Cash flow and the multiple. The cash flow of your business is measured by the profit, plus or minus a number of ‘normalizing adjustments.’ Typical adjustments include owner’s compensation, depreciation, and other expenses that have a highly variable or somewhat discretionary element. The multiple is even more important. Of course, if you can double your bottom line, the value of your business increases — so the obvious advice is to focus on sales and profits. But there are other key value drivers that influence the multiple, regardless of the size of your business:… Read More

The ‘eyes’ have it!

Stop trivializing visual management — the returns are too large to ignore.  By Dave Hogg.  The winter issue of Prairie Manufacturer Magazine confirmed 5S for what it is: Workplace organization, where everything is in a known place when not in use. While it is a straightforward concept, the success of its application depends upon management’s leadership and daily discipline. The illustration on this page shows a simplified movement of elements that gradually propel lean practitioners from basic 5S toward true world-class performance — a journey reliant on a visual workplace to drive improvements in safety, productivity, waste reduction, and competitiveness. Don’t take it from me. Remember, Toyota Way author Jeffrey Liker cites that very necessity as his seventh principle of management: “Use visual controls,” he writes, “so no problems are hidden.” Every step of the manufacturing process depends on visual management to ensure optimized flow. Perhaps the leading authority on the matter, Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth, defines a visual workplace as “A self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving work environment, where what is supposed to happen does happen,… Read More

Protecting your brand with trademarks

By Nicole Merrick.  We have all felt in recent days the uncertainty triggered by U.S. discussions of policy changes on international trade. At the moment, it is unknown what effect these changes may have on the Canadian manufacturing industry, both at home and abroad. Where old trade paths need to be reconsidered and new trade relationships forged, it makes good business sense to consider your brand and how it represents your business. Branding is a key characteristic of a successful business. Not only should manufacturers consider their business and corporate names, but also their trademarks in the form of wordmarks, designs, slogans, and product packaging, for example, as these marks stand for or symbolize your products, product lines, and your services in the marketplace. Often, the question I get from clients is, “Where do I begin?” My first response is to advise that a client take stock of what it has. What marks or brand names are you using at present? What marks or brand names have you used in the past? How does what… Read More

With Noah Krol, owner and operator of Peg City Yoga and the Sivatantra Yoga Teacher Training program in Winnipeg

Why is it important for executives to integrate exercise into their daily routines? No matter what you do, your body needs to exercise, period. Exercise helps to sustain, nourish and increase your body and mind’s capacity to function at a higher, more efficient intensity. In the workplace, and in life more generally, we are often faced with a multitude of stressors, which have the opposite effect on the body. Regular exercise helps to balance the negative impact of distress — the unhealthy stress — by imposing a eustress, which is regarded as a healthy type of stress, because it stimulates you in ways that are necessary for growth and development, mentally and physically. What should be considered regular? There is no blanket answer to that one, because it depends on factors that vary from person to person — the desired results, current activity levels, and schedule. I would suggest that more important than frequency itself is consistency. Whether it’s three days per week or five days per week, structured exercise regimes will far better serve… Read More

Know safety, no injury

Many Manitoba manufacturers are seeing reductions in their WCB premiums — but that’s no reason to deter focus or investment on improving safety outcomes.  By Dani Desautels.  Manitoba manufacturers have made enormous strides in improving workplace safety over the last decade. Safety is one of the three main pillars supporting success in business, and we are doing well. But, there is more work to be done, and vigilance must remain high. Backsliding is not an option. In a consolidated effort to maintain and improve workplace safety, Manitoba’s manufacturing safety association landscape has changed dramatically over the past year. New industry associations have been formed to cover the province in every sector, and they are ready to help and serve their members. Made Safe was formally introduced in January 2016 by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, evolving from the Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada safety association, which had been around since 1994, to become a program for all manufacturing companies in the province. Other associations, such as the Construction Safety Association of Manitoba and Manitoba Heavy Construction Safety… Read More

Embracing the certainty of uncertainty

By Derek Lothian.  So. President Donald Trump. Let’s all take a moment to let that sink in. Truth be told, I started writing this column on November 7. Ironically, it was all about disruptors — a common theme in this issue of Prairie Manufacturer Magazine. Little did I imagine, only 24 hours later, we’d be hit by one of the largest political disruptions in modern history. Granted, changes to government are nothing new. Even the most surprising election results rarely throw markets or businesses into panic. But what makes the latest U.S. voting cycle particularly unnerving is the same factor driving post-Brexit instability in the U.K. and Europe: Complete, top-down uncertainty. We are entering uncharted waters in the Canada-U.S. trade relationship — in part because we simply do not know where the incoming leader of the free world stands on so many important, integrated issues. Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, has already stated on record he would be ‘happy’ to renegotiate NAFTA with Trump, although who knows if the vision for his desired… Read More

Technology: The platform for diversification

By Mogens Smed.  We might as well start the conversation off by recalling the devastation of the National Energy Program in 1982. It was certainly my comeuppance and wake-up call in business. And, yet, here we are facing a savage drop in the price of energy — the Holy Grail for Western Canadians and Canadians at-large. It is still our source of feast or famine. This, despite declaring we are on a quest for creating businesses not reliant on the price of a barrel of oil or other non-renewable resources. Yes, over the years, numerous success stories outside the energy industry spawned in Western Canada. Stantec, PCL, and Ledcor (there are many others) demonstrate excellent success in the international arena. The time and investment to attain their stature, however, is absolutely staggering and well beyond the means of most aspiring entrepreneurs, especially given the sparse availability of investment capital for start-up ventures. How can we succeed? Through technology. The last 10 years have brought us to the verge of the fourth Industrial Revolution. The first… Read More

Risk, opportunity abound in 2017

By Craig Wright. The economic and political risks to the global economy remain elevated as Prairie manufacturers head into 2017. Earlier worries regarding a sharp slowdown in China have moderated, as activity has held steady at just under seven per cent for three consecutive quarters. Policy options for Chinese authorities remain abundant, and there will not be any reluctance to use any and all options if the growth outlook deteriorates. The uncertainty with respect to the fallout from the Brexit vote has diminished for now, and the economic data for both the U.K. and the Eurozone have exceeded expectations. The challenging part of Brexit, however, is still ahead. Europe and the U.K. have yet to begin the renegotiation of their relationship in a post-Brexit world. The combination of political posturing and policy uncertainty will keep overall uncertainty heightened, likely weighing on investment spending in the U.K. and Eurozone next year. It also poses downside risks for a global economy already suffering from a confidence shortfall. The U.S. economy started 2016 on a weak note, with… Read More

From dollars to sense: My experience as a lean CFO

By John Povhe.  To many business leaders, the phrase lean finance is an oxymoron. And to other professional accountants, it can be downright foreign. Seven years ago, I found myself in the same boat. I was the new CFO of a struggling company in a sector I knew little about — manufacturing kitchen cabinets. Lean wasn’t in my vocabulary, nor was it on the radar of management. Fortunately, our operations leadership group could see opportunity where we didn’t. Manufacturing on the Prairies is less of an industry than it is a community. Everyone knows everyone, and employees tend to transition within seemingly dissimilar environments with relative ease. So, it should be no surprise our lean program at Superior Cabinets was actually kick-started by a handful of employees who had migrated over from the farm implement world. They saw the benefit of a culture that looked at problems differently, valued grassroots input, and captured savings to do things better. In many ways, it was a natural process that allowed us not only to survive, but thrive.… Read More

What moves you?

Why transportation is becoming a competitive differentiator in the new age of manufacturing.  By Derek Lothian. For Jerry Bigam, it was a case of the chicken or the egg. The CEO of Edmonton-based Kinnikinnick Foods long knew it was time to expand beyond the North American marketplace. For years, however, his ambitions were surpassed only by the growing list of challenges to serving a global consumer base in a highly niche industry. At the helm of one of the largest gluten-free food manufacturing facilities in the world, Bigam’s primary obstacle was exposure to risk. Existing transportation infrastructure meant he would need to anticipate demand at least six weeks in advance, allowing the company time to ship product to tidewater, and then across either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean by container. It was a risk he wasn’t willing to take. “It didn’t matter where we were looking overseas, the competitive economics were too hard,” recalls Bigam. “Nothing kills a new product in a new market quite like empty shelves. We would have needed to build up… Read More

Training the workforce of Industry 4.0

By Dr. Larry Rosia.  Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong academic. I’ve been immersed in the world of education and training for more than 35 years — as an instructor, program chair, dean, and now president and CEO of one of Canada’s most dynamic polytechnic institutions. But don’t hold that against me just yet. I’m actually here to plead industry’s case for a better, more responsive, and more innovative training sector. There is no doubt higher education is one of the most important ingredients in the economic chain. Human capital is the universal input for all businesses, and we in polytechnics, community colleges, and universities are responsible for ensuring the quality of those inputs. Admittedly, however, academia often forgets that you — manufacturers and employers — are our customers, our clients. And, sometimes, we haven’t been the best suppliers. That’s not because we’re bad at what we do. To the contrary, I’d argue Canada has one of the strongest post-secondary systems in the world. In fact, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2016… Read More


Amidst the commodities crash and one of the worst recessions on record, Alberta manufacturers have turned to their entrepreneurial instincts.  By Joanne Paulson.  While CTV’s hit show Corner Gas is widely associated with small town Saskatchewan, its theme song these days could very well apply to the province’s westerly next-door neighbour: ‘You think there’s not a lot going on; but look closer, baby, you’re so wrong.’ Without question, Alberta’s economy has been hard hit. Weakened crude prices, which first dipped below $30 USD per barrel in January, compounded by one of the most devastating wildfires in Canadian history, have left oil producers and those who service the industry reeling. And who can be the least bit surprised? At its peak, the sector churns out upwards of $30 billion worth of output annually — hardly a drop in the bucket by any standard. But, if you look beyond the gloomy headlines and political bombast, innovation is beginning to reclaim centre stage. That’s not to say it ever left. Perhaps the rest of the country is simply… Read More

A Semple recipe for success

2016 ABEX Business Leader of the Year honouree and Brandt Group of Companies Chairman Gavin Semple chats with Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McLellan about leadership, innovation, and the ‘most important sale’. Steve McLellan denoted by the initials SM; Gavin Semple denoted by the initials GS. SM: Mr. Semple, thanks so much for sitting down with me, and congratulations on your recognition as the chamber’s 2016 ABEX Business Leader of the Year. GS: Thank you, Steve. SM: Let’s start by talking a little bit about the idea of opportunity. How does Brandt look for new opportunity in a ‘rainy day’ type of economy? GS: When things are good, business is booming, and we’re all focused on keeping up with demand, there is sometimes a tendency to think short-term instead of long-term. The converse is, when things happen in the market that hurt your business, it forces the whole organization to rethink what new products you can introduce, what new markets you can enter, and what new ventures you should take on to grow. Coming… Read More

Foreign trade can’t be so foreign anymore

By Jayson Myers.  Good news about CETA. For those keeping score, this is the third time Canada’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union has been signed, but another major hurdle has been crossed on the road to ratification. It now goes to the European Parliament (expect another signing ceremony!), and then enabling legislation must be passed in Canadian and European national parliaments. If all goes well, the treaty will come into effect next year. CETA will open new opportunities for Canadian business in Europe. And none too soon. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has just downgraded its forecast for world economic growth to a disappointing 3.4 per cent for 2017. It expects advanced economies to chug ahead at a measly 1.8 per cent next year. The problem? Well, there are several. Commodity markets will remain depressed. China is pivoting away from infrastructure and heavy industry to consumer and services-led growth. There’s a lot of excess capacity in industrial markets. Businesses are cutting costs and capital investment is expected to remain weak, especially… Read More

House of cards?

By Birgit Matthiesen.  The 2016 election was the longest in U.S. history. For more than 85 weeks, American households were bombarded with lofty promises and grand ambitions. President-elect Donald Trump will assume the Oval Office on January 20, 2017, without any previous public service experience. In doing so, he will be taking the reins of the world’s largest economy, and Canada’s most prominent trading partner. How he leads, however, remains to be seen. On trade policy, Trump went further than any other candidate, promising to ‘rip up’ existing agreements, including NAFTA, impose a 35 per cent tariff on imports from Mexico and a 45 per cent duty on imports from China, and potentially even pull out of the World Trade Organization. He will arrive in Washington supported by a GOP-led House of Representatives, as well as a GOP majority in the Senate. Legislatively, one would expect smooth sailing for the next two years minimum, until the midterm elections. But these are not normal times. In the weeks following the November 8 vote, my phone has… Read More

Construction moves indoors

How manufacturing is powering innovation in Western Canada’s home building industry.  By Joanne Paulson.  Sometimes, it’s all in a name. When Canada’s housing market began to heat up in the mid-2000s, and the dream of home ownership inched further and further out of the reach of many consumers, the term affordable housing became more than just a price category — almost overnight, it transformed into a call to action for policymakers and builders alike. It was a dilemma that had reached new heights, and one that required out-of-the-box solutions. Enter Innovative Residential. Co-founders Alex Miller and Tyler Mathies began their construction careers like many young entrepreneurs in the industry — by flipping homes. But, soon, a rather uncharacteristic opportunity presented itself that would change their business forever. Against the backdrop of Saskatchewan’s economic heyday, the Saskatoon airport had started to attract unprecedented volumes of travellers. With the boom came the need to better develop nearby commercial opportunities, including a parcel of land just south of the airport, in the city’s tired McNab Park neighbourhood. To… Read More

MacLean: The days of carbon pricing are upon us

By David MacLean.  It’s happening, so we best get ready. By January, more Canadian manufacturers will be operating under some form of carbon pricing regime than not. The writing has been on the wall for a long time. But, when Prime Minister Trudeau issued an ultimatum to the provinces, announcing Ottawa would impose a price on carbon even if the provinces don’t, things got real in a hurry. Trudeau’s national policy, broadcast on the floor of the House of Commons in October, has several elements that manufacturers need to pay attention to. It calls for a broad-based carbon price in every region of the country. The emphasis on a ‘carbon price’ is important, as it signals the federal government is eschewing more economically burdensome ‘command and control’ or regulatory-based approaches to carbon reduction. Ottawa wants the carbon price to be equal across Canada, so one region doesn’t grab an unfair advantage over another by setting a lower price — and they want that price to gradually rise over time. The provinces will be free to… Read More

The truth about 5S

Workplace organization is not housekeeping — it’s the key to mission-readiness in 2017.  By Dave Hogg.  Modern workplace organization methodology — or 5S — can be traced back to Henry Ford’s CAN-DO thinking in the early 1900s. The idiom stood for cleaning up, arranging, neatness, discipline, and ongoing improvement. From there, half a century later, the Japanese derived the popular 5S system used globally today: Sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Ford entrenched this philosophy as common practice with every member of his staff. It was an expected responsibility of both managers and shop floor personnel. He was careful never to call it housekeeping (you should avoid doing so, too!), as that particular word implies it is perhaps someone else’s job. Actually, it’s part of yours. Mission-readiness Workplace organization is a sign of professionalism. It means being able to put your hands on whatever you need without wasting time. It means not having to break your concentration when solving a problem. And, it means protecting an image with customers that are about to… Read More

Digitizing safety

By Joanne Paulson.  Safety is our number one priority. It’s a statement echoed by virtually every manufacturing leader on the Prairies. And rightfully so. Apart from being the ‘right thing to do,’ there is a proven business case for investing in safety performance. An Aberdeen Group study co-sponsored by Rockwell Automation in 2011 found manufacturers in the top 20 per cent of safety performers enjoyed an injury frequency rate 60 times lower than companies in the bottom 30 per cent, as well as 12 per cent less unscheduled downtime, and 14 per cent better overall equipment efficiency — a measure used to compare how well a manufacturing plant performs relative to its designed production capacity. Like manufacturing, however, the business of safety has endured immense change over the past decade, and is on pace for yet another revolution. The days of scattered forms, four-inch-thick policy manuals, and stuffy classroom training courses are near an end. Technology is now beginning to usher safety into the digital age. App-lying safety systems No one understands the marriage between… Read More

With Brent Barootes, president and CEO of Partnership Group — Sponsorship Specialists®

How has sponsorship changed over the past 10 or 15 years? For many businesses, sponsorship used to be a discretionary line item, dependent on how profitable operations were in a given quarter or fiscal year. It was viewed largely as a donation, made with few expectations or conditions. Today, however, corporate sponsorships are an integrated part of marketing strategies, on the same footing as advertising, trade shows, and social media. It is an indispensable lever used to immerse an audience into your brand. Since 2006 alone, the sponsorship industry in Canada has ballooned by more than 60 per cent. Roughly 29 per cent of brand marketing budgets last year were spent on sponsorship and ‘experiential’ marketing, and three-quarters of those decisions came directly from marketing and communications departments. As a result, metrics now matter. Sponsors are now more akin to investors, and sponsorship is now a business relationship — one that can be negotiated, accelerated, and terminated, contingent on performance. Where should manufacturers spend their sponsorship dollars? The answer to that question will change depending… Read More

The imperative of ‘big, innately silly ideas’

By Derek Lothian.  Back in June, I attended the Saskatchewan Construction Association’s annual conference near Waskesiu, on the fringes of Prince Albert National Park. Maybe it was the three straight days of sun, maybe it was the unwelcome remnants of the Great Western Pilsner, but there I found myself — bright and early Saturday morning — oddly indifferent to the lucky foursome teeing off only yards away. Instead, I sat spellbound, listening to business commentator Paul Martin hash out his ‘big ideas’ for the future of Saskatchewan prosperity. The first I really enjoyed: ‘Pulling a Newfoundland’ and inviting the Northwest Territories to join the provincial brotherhood as an extension of Saskatchewan. Instantaneously, our region’s natural resources would have access to tidewater, and we would have a hammered stake in the mineral-rich north for the next 50-plus years of exploration. The second I liked even more (and continue to take credit for whenever Paul isn’t around to hear): Capping lifetime personal income tax. Let’s just say we do so at $1 million dollars (or whatever number… Read More

We need more dragon slayers

By Bryan McCrea & Evan Willoughby.  What do a smooth-talking commerce student and an eager engineer have in common? Shipping containers, dragons, and an all-too-aggressive aversion to the word no. Our story starts in 2010 at the University of Saskatchewan — the birthplace of some of the province’s most innovative and thriving manufacturing firms: SED Systems, Vecima Networks, and International Road Dynamics, just to name a few. It was there we first crossed paths and began a journey that would take us to the airwaves on national television, to Canada’s most powerful boardrooms, and, in recent years, all the way up to the northern tip of Alaska. The two of us became serendipitous allies during the fourth-year Wilson Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence i3 Idea Challenge. Our big idea (okay, Evan’s): To turn shipping containers into housing for students. Truth be told, we soon realized it wasn’t a very good idea as far as business competitions go. Students don’t have money. We didn’t have money for land. It didn’t make a lot of sense. So, we… Read More

Growth from the ground up

By Chris Dekker.  This year, the Saskatchewan Trade & Export Partnership (STEP) celebrates 20 years of operation. While manufacturing has figured prominently in the province’s 350 per cent export growth in that timeframe, the majority of the increase has come from trade in commodities. But much has changed over those two decades. According to British novelist L.P. Hartley: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” If we could visit the country called 1996, 20 years away, we would be able to see just how different economic development strategies were back in the day. Leading into the 1990s, economic development was dominated by the big ‘D’ word — diversification. The overarching notion of diversification was to shift away from our dependence on resources. A few years ago, I joined 30 experts in economics, government, and academia for The Hon. James A. Richardson Discovery Roundtables, to examine the role of economic diversification on the Prairies. The result was a report from the CanadaWest Foundation, deliciously titled, Who Cares About Baskets? We’ve got Eggs!:… Read More

Oil slump squeezing Alberta manufacturing jobs

By Jonathan Hamelin.  These days, Alberta manufacturers are hardly having a gas. The devastating drop in crude prices — from more than $107 per barrel only two years ago to the $40 mark being edged upon this summer — has caused a downward jolt in capital investment, delaying or cancelling many projects altogether. In April, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecasted capital investment in the country’s oil and gas sector to drop to $31 billion this year, down from a record $81 billion recorded in 2014. For companies servicing the industry, it has been a rocky ride. “All of the business is drying up,” says Tony Lam, executive vice president of engineering and operations for Stream-Flo, an Edmonton-based manufacturer of wellheads, as well as gate, check, and surface safety valves. “There are no longer any new projects. They might go back to make some changes to improve production; but otherwise all of the drilling projects for heavy oil have disappeared.” The sluggish Canadian dollar has been no friend, either. “It has been challenging trying… Read More

Next-level lean

By Ian Marshall.  Think, for a moment, of manufacturers in your network that have implemented and sustained long-term lean programs. Five years, 10 years, 20 years? How about in your own operations? Is lean merely set of tools, or is it a way of doing business, embraced from the shop floor all the way up to the corner office? If you’re wary to disclose the answer, don’t fret — you’re not alone. The truth is most lean programs fail to deliver the hoped-for results. Or, at least, they falter over time. Even Shingo Prize winners — companies that have been recognized for excellence in lean — publicly struggle to realize endured success. The more disparaging part is that few stop to ask why. Most business owners and senior managers think about lean as a vehicle to improve business performance. But to motivate, engage, and bring the workforce along, there has to be a compelling reason that goes beyond reducing costs or increasing sales. There needs to be a bigger purpose, a bigger reason to change.… Read More

Why safety training isn’t enough [and what to do about it]

By Warren Clark.  How do you define workplace culture? What does it mean to you? Many times, I’ve heard it characterized as ‘the way we do things around here’ — taking the good, the bad, and the ugly implications along with it. All too often, manufacturers’ ‘safety programs’ are comprised of only the basic foundations of a safety system — policies, procedures, rules, responsibilities, new employee orientation, and training. But is training in all these areas enough? Should we be surprised then when safety outcomes don’t improve, or when we battle with the same recurring headaches day after day? Building and sustaining an enterprise-wide culture of safety requires a top-down strategy, wholly embraced and communicated by management. The ground-level buy-in, meanwhile, starts with action. Employees need to see unwavering support and action for safety, from both senior leadership and supervisors. They need to believe the company is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the wellbeing of staff (even at the expense of profits). They want to see words become action. In addition, they… Read More

Parting thoughts

Editor Derek Lothian sits down with outgoing Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters CEO Jayson Myers for a candid Q&A on the future of the country’s manufacturing sector.  Derek Lothian denoted by the initials DL; Jayson Myers denoted by the initials JM. DL: Dr. Myers, thanks for taking the time. Since you started your career with Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) in 1991, a lot has changed in Prairie manufacturing: Sales have multiplied two-and-a-half times over — more than double the national pace. Employment has increased 38 per cent. And, in the last 15 years alone, average weekly earnings in the sector have swelled by 54 per cent — 16 points ahead of even the highest provincial rate of inflation [in Alberta]. Take us through the major milestones you’ve seen during your tenure. JM: There’s no doubt there has been a boom in Prairie manufacturing. Over the past 10 years, the centre of Canadian manufacturing activity clearly has shifted westward. When I joined CME in 1991, Canada and the U.S. had just signed a landmark free trade… Read More

The new era of FX management

Why currency markets are now top-of-mind for many small- and medium-sized manufacturers.  By Will Stanley.  Two decades ago, the practice of foreign exchange (FX) management was reserved primarily for multinational corporations and commodity traders. Today, with Prairie merchandise exports at an all-time high, it is an in-demand skill set that has become mission critical for even the smallest manufacturer. Few executives know this better than Casey Davis. Davis is the CEO of Morris Industries, an agricultural implement manufacturer with operations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and sales in more than a dozen markets around the globe. Although exports currently account for half of the company’s annual revenue, international sales have spiked as high as 80 per cent in recent years. At any given time, Davis estimates Morris Industries is dealing in at least a handful of different currencies. “There was a time when we would be measuring foreign purchases against sales quarterly at best,” he recalls. “We’ve accelerated that quite a bit, especially leading up to our fiscal budget cycle. Now, we’re often looking at what… Read More

Speer: New interprovincial trade pact undermines the promise of Confederation

By Sean Speer.  July’s agreement between the premiers to eliminate interprovincial trade barriers earned considerable self-praise. The premiers called it “historic,” “unprecedented,” and “ground-breaking,” and committed to having the accord in-place for Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary next July 1. It all sounded pretty significant, especially for Western Canadian manufacturers and processors, who are subjected to the high costs of complying with these barriers — ranging from different employee standards to separate trucking regulations to competing weight definitions — and thus for whom an ambitious deal to establish free trade inside of Canada could be a significant financial boost. But underneath the small print and the premiers’ hyperbole lies disappointment. The agreement-in-principle may offer marginal relief for Prairie businesses, but it fails to offer real progress on establishing an economic union for Canada. Remember that Canadian Confederation was, in large part, motivated to eliminate barriers to trade and commerce among the provinces. The United States had just walked away from a free trade deal with us and part of the solution was to bind the provinces together… Read More

Harnessing our innovation infrastructure

The Prairies are home to some of the best R&D and commercialization assets on the planet — but are they being used to their full potential?  By Martin Cash.  One attribute most representative of Prairie manufacturing is part and parcel with perhaps its primary ongoing challenge: Innovation. With such a diversified base — from resource development supply and aerospace to ground transportation vehicles and agricultural implements — building the right supports to assist in research and development is not an easy task. Factor in geography, limited government resources, and a collective population roughly the size of the Greater Toronto Area, and there are immediately competitive restraints. That said, Prairie manufacturers are no strangers to competition, either. They thrive on it. But as the rest of the world vies for position at the top of the value chain, decisions on where and how to invest public dollars in manufacturing innovation have become more vital than ever before. It starts with accessibility, industry alignment, and a technological anticipation of the market. Take, for instance, the Winnipeg-based Composites… Read More

On the heels of the 11th annual Saskatchewan Manufacturing Week this November, Prairie Manufacturer Magazine asks three of the province’s foremost CEOs: What is the best advice you have ever received?

  Steven Hoffrogge, President & CEO, Crestline Coach.  As a leader, the most precious commodity you have is your time. How you make decisions, how you prioritize competing demands can determine whether you are a drag or draft on your organization’s progress. In most situations, time aids you in making better decisions. It allows you to gather more information, consult others, and critically examine your own thought process. The reality, however, is that you don’t always have time, so being able to identify what decisions you can make versus the decisions you need to make is an indispensable skill. This really hit home around the year 2000, as I was exposed to a senior leadership team in the midst of a turnaround. One particular individual, who has since become a mentor of mine, taught me there is a great art and wisdom to choosing when and how to act. It was U.S. President Eisenhower who said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” Every morning, I come into the office and… Read More

The pursuit of excellence

Meet two Saskatchewan manufacturers finding lean success the second time around.  By Joanne Paulson.  Three years ago, the management team at Degelman Industries knew something had to change. The Regina-based manufacturer of farm equipment opened its doors in 1963, eventually moving into an 11,000-square-foot plant three years later. In the decades that followed, the company expanded its product line to include livestock and tillage equipment, land rollers, dozer blades, and other industrial goods, growing its facility to 160,000 square feet, with 300 employees. Business was booming — but they weren’t meeting their deadlines. “In the fall of 2013, we were in rough shape,” recalls operations manager Justin Kleckner. “We couldn’t supply our customers with accurate delivery times. We had trouble capturing the cost variances. We weren’t as efficient as we could be. Priorities were constantly changing, and demand was as well. It hit a point where we decided we couldn’t do it anymore.” Enter lean. Degelman, which had flirted with lean manufacturing implementation 13 years earlier, knew it was time to give it another try;… Read More