- September 25, 2018
Striving to be that one stop shop is one small fabrication shop’s secret to its growth
If you were to ask Christopher Dean, owner of Absolute Fabrication and Machining Ltd., what keeps his company competitive, he would tell you that the main thing is being able to quickly accommodate last minute, quick turnaround projects. “Being able to do everything inhouse—machining, plasma cutting, profile cutting, welding and forming—we can turn things around really quickly.”
The possibilities are endless when it comes to the diverse industries Absolute supplies. It does work for forestry, industrial, architectural and structural, and Dean says they’ll even fabricate something for a mom and pop’s residential backyard project.
Like many teenagers in Canada, Dean got his first taste of the metal world in high school. “I did every [metal shop] program I could and, in fact, I ended up being a teacher’s assistant to do the classes over again. I did everything and knew everything in those classes so I was able to help teach some of the younger kids,” he says.
After high school, Dean got into commercial underwater diving and was an underwater welder for a number of years. A bad car accident paused that career and he decided to move his skill set to top side welding and fabrication. And while working at different companies he managed to pick up the machining trade.
When asked what inspired him to pursue such a career, he says, “being able to take something from its raw form and make something out if it. It’s kind of like the same feeling an artist gets from painting on a canvas. You get to take these things, bend them, weld them, machine them and end up with something tangible and usable. It’s pretty cool.”
Opening Absolute Fabrication and Machining in 2010 in Langley, BC, this family run business has been focused on evolving into a one stop shop. With his wife, Kim, managing the office and his father-in-law out on the shop floor, Dean says, “when you first start out, you’re constantly putting back into the company from everything you make. If it’s not upgrading your equipment, it’s purchasing new equipment.”
Indeed, in the past five years Absolute has doubled its collection of equipment. “The plasma table was probably one of our best investments,” says Dean. “The ability to profile cut in your own shop keeps you competitive on your turnaround times, delivery dates, and by cutting out the step of needing to order pre-cut material, you’re able to keep your prices down. The ability to do all of that inhouse is one of the biggest growths for our company.”
Today, Absolute has an 8 x 20 High Definition Hypertherm plasma machine with Hypertherm TurboNest and Auto CAD, a 100-ton Promecam press brake, mills, lathes, and welding cells. “We do stainless and aluminum TIG and wire welding. We’re certified in metal-cored, flux-cored and hardwire. We’re also certified for handrails,” says Dean.
Repeat customers and referrals generate the majority of Absolute’s business. “Once they’ve used us, they appreciate how easy going and hardworking we are, and our quality,” says Dean. “We don’t just make what they want, we try to understand what they’re building and make sure it’s
One interesting project that Dean’s team took on was a testing station for a Vancouver based manufacturer that builds custom screens for high end housing in California. These screens can range from 4 to 4.2 m (12 to 14 ft) tall and 6 m (20 ft) long. “We built them a testing station from scratch,” says Dean. “It was automated and computer programmed to go to specific heights and test the screens.”
Having worked with saw mills, conveyors and log turners, for example, Dean says, “I have a good understanding of how things need to move, pneumatic parts, etc. For the actual wiring of the electronics, a guy I work with did that. But other than that, yes, we were able to design, fabricate, supply and install a machine we had never made before. It was a fun project.”
Of course, like many in the fabrication world across the continent, one of the biggest challenges Dean is faced with is the lack of skilled reliable tradespeople. “It’s tough to find anyone really. But what we’ve done to try and solve that is by staying competitive with offering employees what they look for in a job,” says Dean. “A lot of companies will hire and fire or hire and layoff per job. We don’t. We stay with a core group and make sure everyone has work, we offer benefits and other perks like taking a Friday afternoon off for a BBQ.”
And staying connected to his passionate beginning in metalworking, Dean has also hosted two week programs for grade 11 and 12 students. “They come in and work under my supervision to see what it’s like in the fab and metal world. They actually get to be in the industry for a couple of weeks and see if it’s something they would want to do,” says Dean. “And, of course, we also offer apprenticeships through a program here in BC.”
With a focus on constant growth as a one-stop shop, Dean has his sights set on future goals. One is to purchase his own building for Absolute and another is to expand his capabilities with a high end laser table to be able to offer smaller, more precision cutting. Dean believes that since we live in such a service based world, anything that will make the customer’s job easier, the more they will keep coming back. “It’s worked so far,” he laughs. SMT