All Hands on Deck
- September 25, 2018
Old school manual rules allow an east coast machine shop to maintain its quality standards
Maritime Industrial Machining was once owned by Fredericton, NB-based York Structural Steel until the owner decided to change direction and get out of the machining business in 1997. That’s when the employees got together and made an offer to purchase the company. “The owner facilitated the sale and treated us very well,” says David Flecknell, acting company president and general manager. “And we’ve been growing slowly ever since.”
This employee owned machine shop is not a large company and everyone wears a few hats. “We primarily do custom and heavy machine work, but we do everything from small and delicate components to work that’s several tons,” says Flecknell. “Most of it is one or two offs and repair work.”
Over the past 20 years, Maritime has made significant investments in adding equipment to its arsenal on the shop floor. “I like to call it controlled growth. We don’t want to get too big too fast, so we’ve added as required,” says Flecknell. “We do all of our own repairs too. Some of our equipment dates back to the 1940s…we have war finish equipment here right up to new stuff.”
The machine shop operates all conventional equipment with digital readout, with the exception of its two abrasive waterjet tables, which are CNC.
Most of its clients are local heavy industries such as New Brunswick Power, Point Lepreau Nuclear, Urban Oil and Gas, and two pulp mills that are in the area.
“In our business, we deal with a lot of custom jobs. We don’t compete with CNC shops,” says Flecknell. When you’re doing one or two off components, it’s more advantageous for our customers to go custom rather than paying for the programming for CNC.”
Martitime’s equipment includes horizontal and vertical turning centres, boring and milling machines as well as welding and plasma cutting systems. But with such a conventional operation, one obvious challenge for this shop is finding skilled operators.
“To find someone that can jump from a small 12-in. lathe to a 72-in. vertical lathe or over to a big boring mill is a challenge,” admits Flecknell. “That’s why we find it more beneficial to train from scratch. Of course, a lot of this equipment has its quirks. It doesn’t work like the book says it should. So there’s a lot of hands on skill needed. It’s old school for sure. But these guys know their trade inside and out. And over the years they pick up a lot of tricks and things that may not have been taught. That kind of skill is hard to come by, but it comes with experience and time.”
This hands on approach allows Maritime more flexibility. Flecknell explains that they can create components with conventional equipment that you’d have a hard time with on a CNC. “If you want a certain area or a bearing polished to a certain size, you can do that. You can work it by hand and get the results you want.”
Martime’s fabrication department was initially geared toward supporting the machine shop and repair jobs that might require welding and fabrication to be done onsite.
“When we first got the waterjets, the idea was to supplement some of the machine shop work, but it’s kind of turned into a business on its own. They’re handy machines,” says Flecknell. “We cut everything from cardboard to titanium with them. Waterjet works for us mostly because it’s a cold process and it doesn’t affect the material at all. There’s no heat affected zones, no warping or slag. So it’s a good tool choice for us.”
One of the best decisions the employees of Maritime Industrial made when they took over the company was getting the ISO9001 certification. Flecknell admits that they initially got it for its organizational aspects.
“But we also found it was very beneficial in allowing us access to different markets. Now, it’s almost a requirement for oil refineries and industries that require traceability and quality standards.”
Growth is definitely in the cards for this machine shop, but it will be slow, strategic and controlled, much like its processes. Flecknell says there will be more investment in equipment and, yes, perhaps replacing some of the old models. But as an employee run establishment, the objective is to support the investment and spend wisely. SMT