All posts filed under: Volume 2, Issue 2 – Fall 2017

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