Job Shops - British Columbia - Small size, big service
- August 4, 2014
Shop is the go-to place for weird and difficult work
Clarus Microtech Inc. (formerly Implant Mechanix Inc.)
location: Vancouver, BC
size: 2,300 sq ft / 214 sq m
years in business: 16
key manufacturing services: CAD design, CNC machining (complex and micro), EDM, laser welding
Marcus Carius has made a name for himself as the go-to guy for the weird and difficult. Whether its dental implants for dogs, precision components for cyclotrons, complex plastic injection moulds, microsurgical instruments, or custom sex toys, the owner of Implant Mechanix is the catchall for work that others can't do or don't want.
His shop is likewise an eclectic mix of machine tools. A 2011 CHMER wire EDM machine sits in the corner alongside an old Hansvedt CNC sinker, not too far away from a Defiance VTX-1 benchtop milling machine. There's a Prodigy CNC gang style lathe and a Haas Mini Mill. Add to this a broad assortment of manual equipment—a turret mill, Monarch engine lathe, a couple of grinders, even a laser welding machine—and Carius can tackle most anything that fits through the door.
Until now, it's been a small door. Since opening Implant Mechanix Inc., Carius has been machining parts in a space smaller than many people's apartments. With a shop this size, he jokes that it's always been easy to sweep the floors, assuming he has the time—fortunately for him, he's generally been too busy to do so.
Not too long ago, however, the city of Vancouver decided to raze his building to make room for condominiums. Carius relocated the shop an hour east of downtown Vancouver. "It's a mixed blessing," he says. "I pay less money for nearly three times the square footage, but I can't ride my bike to work anymore."
With all that space, Carius has his sights set on some new equipment. While he can hold a "tenth or two" in a pinch, he admits it takes some babysitting, and would like equipment with much higher spindle speeds and better motion control. "I want way better accuracy than what I have now. That's becoming more and more important for the work we're trying to do."
When asked how he gets his work, Carius admits to having two websites: an unattractive one, but with excellent search engine optimization (SEO), and a "brag" site where he shows what he can do, but which has never received the "SEO' treatment. "It's brought me work from as far afield as Europe and the southeastern US."
Apparently that and a good reputation are the only sales tools necessary for this small shop. "I've always been busy, but not like I am now. There's been a huge uptick in requests recently for quotations. Customers are screaming for somebody to please, please look at their stuff. I'm pushing people aside, and that's a new thing for me."
Mouldmaking is a big part of the workload, and Carius is glad that the bad old days of cheap moulds from China appear to be fading. Where North American mouldmakers once competed with foreign offerings priced at one-tenth those of domestic products, Carius explains that as Chinese quality has been forced through market pressures to improve, prices have increased accordingly, so much so that mould customers are finding it's not worth the hassle of offshore sourcing.
If Carius weren't so busy building the strange and unusual, he might be willing to fix a molar for you, or yank out an impacted tooth. In 1980, he left his vocation as a tool and die maker to attend the University of British Columbia, where he earned his degree in dentistry. But after years of looking in people's mouths, Carius grew tired of it and went back to his first love, tool and die, opening Implant Mechanix in 1998.
Since its inception, the company has been a one-man band, and Carius was content to let it stay that way. Until recently, that is. Over the past year or so, he's been feeding work to a nearby garage shop owned by fellow toolmaker, Keith Clausen. "We're a couple of old Europeans, even though I call him young Keith," Carius laughs. "I have ten years on him." When the city kicked Implant Mechanix out of its longtime location, the two joined forces, renamed the company Clarus Microtech Inc. and moved into the new facility together.
Clausen brings some unique skills to the table. Aside from being a "first class tool and die maker," he worked in the CAM software business for years, most recently with HSMWorks, the bolt-on CAM package for SolidWorks. As a result, this two-man shop now has three CAM systems—FeatureMill, which was bundled with Carius's first CNC mill, together with MasterCAM and HSMWorks. "For the simple work where you only need a quick toolpath, we'll probably use MasterCAM. Other times, we like to generate code directly from the solid model using HSMWorks. It's nice to have the flexibility."
Being a small shop, it doesn't suffer from the typical pains felt by many manufacturing companies. For example, finding good help isn't really a problem when it's just you and another guy manning the shop. And the roller coaster cycle of work common to job shops is no big deal to Carius—if business gets slow, he might take a few days off and visit nearby Stanley Park or watch the ships transit the harbor. And when it's busy, he just works longer hours.
Being small doesn't help the shop slide under the radar of the dreaded regulatory environment, however. This shop owner says there's an incredible amount of bureaucratic red tape in the province, especially considering the size of his business.
"When you do everything by the book, there's no money left for equipment and expansion. It's very frustrating."
Governmental frustration aside, Carius has been successful for over 15 years, and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon. Implant Mechanix, now Clarus Microtech, is a shining example of Canadian know-how, innovation and good old stubbornness. With Clausen on board, these two old toolmakers from Europe are sure to continue down their path to prosperity, and to help make Canada a leader in manufacturing. SMT