Job Shops | Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan’s “Gold” Good For Business
- Published: July 29, 2016
Goodman Steel Ltd.
- Years in business: 30
- Shop floor: metal fabrication shop 1,045 sq m (11,250 sq ft) and machine shop 650 sq m (7,000 sq ft)
- Key processes: robotic and automatic plasma cutting, machining, paint finishing
- Employees: 60
Potash production is a major industry in Saskatchewan so if you’re a job shop in the province, chances are you’re generating business from this sector. For some shops like Goodman Steel Ltd., close to 100 per cent of its business is in this sector.
While it is somewhat of a risk to focus so heavily on an industry, admits Jeff Nordquist, general manager of the business he runs with Steve Silvermagle and two private shareholders, the shop has been serving this industry since the mid-1960s.
“About 98 per cent of our business is potash mining and we’ve built a reputation for service and quality and do a good job for our customers. We’re looking at becoming more diverse to serve more markets in our area.”
Goodman Steel has been in operation since the 1960s, but the current owners took over the business in 2013. Nordquist, a mechanical engineering technologist graduate, was a ten-year employee when he became a part owner in the business so he had a good idea of what needed to be done to keep the company competitive: invest in technology.
In September 2013, the company installed a robotic plasma cutting machine, Python X, a company based in Hamilton, ON, and now a Lincoln Electric company.
“There’s a lot of structural steel work in almost every job we do such as frameworks and tanks. It’s improved our efficiencies and made us competitive. Before, a lot of structural steel work was going to Ontario where it could be fabricated for less but now that we’ve invested in automation, we’re able to compete. We were nervous about the upfront costs but as soon as we got the machine and began to do work on it, it proved its worth.”
The fabrication shop houses shears, press brakes and roll forming equipment, but it’s dated, says Nordquist and the company is looking to upgrade equipment. In fact, in July the company takes possession of a new plasma cutting table from Machitech, equipped with Hypertherm plasma technology and purchased through distributor Praxair.
“With the PythonX we’re cutting angle iron, beams, channel and other structural components like that but with the new plasma table we’ll be able to cut our own plate work too.”
Asked about its strength as a job shop and Nordquist cites two factors: Goodman’s flexibility as a fabrication and machine shop, and its ability to come up with solutions to customers’ problems. An example is a tooling system the company designed for potash miners underground, the UBOT miner tooling system.
“The miners [machines] have toolholders which house bits that do the cutting. Typically there are two to three tools on a plate and if one tool breaks, they need to replace the entire 150 lb plate. What typically happens is they use a crane to remove the plate to repair the broken tool and it can take numerous hours. We came up with a bolt-on design for the tools that weighs less than 10 lb and if they break a toolholder, the tool can be changed out within minutes.”
Goodman’s flexibility in structural steel manufacturing is broad, says Nordquist.
“We’re not a typical fabricator. We fabricate chutework, pressure pipes, pressure vessels, structural steel and any other miscellaneous steelwork, big or small. We’re CWB certified for aluminum, stainless steel and steel. We also have a machine shop with CNC mills, CNC lathes and conventional lathes.”
While Goodman has experienced challenges finding skilled workers, much like most of its competitors in the region, Nordquist and his partners are optimistic about future growth.
“Finding skilled workers is a challenge especially where we’re located and we have to train them from the start, which can be expensive. We now have a good group of local youth and some older experienced people so it’s going well for us. We realize we have to keep investing in our shop to stay competitive and it’s a major focus for us to ensure we keep up with technology and are able to service our customers for years to come.” SMT