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by Tim Wilson

Big part manufacturing opportunities abound in energy and resource sectors

The energy and resource sectors are crucial to Canada's economic well-being. No longer the “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” professionals in this area drive innovation throughout the supply chain, with specific expertise in manufacturing, transporting, and maintaining large and sophisticated technologies in remote locations.

The industry is also expanding into new areas, such as wind, which is now economically viable.

“The wind sector has been driven by economic development and opportunities,” says Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA). “It is now competitive from a cost perspective.”

The industry is being driven by local content requirements in Ontario and Quebec, which have resulted in the creation of a wind energy supply chain. Now, shops and fabricators active in other areas have begun to diversify into wind. It makes sense: much of the manufacturing expertise needed to serve their client base in other industries can transfer over.

“If you go to a trade show floor you hear a common refrain,” says Hornung. “People will tell you that while wind is not the biggest part of their business, it’s the fastest growing. That’s one reason people are making investments in the sector.”

Hornung says that wind is a capital intensive industry, with most of the costs driven into the manufacturing process.  This is good news for fabricators and manufacturers. Mississauga, ON-headquartered Samuel, Son & Co., Ltd,. for example, has taken its expertise as a metal processor and metal manufacturer to target the wind opportunity.

“We receive all the wind energy market information to see where the farms are going up and who is producing them,” says Bill Hutton, corporate VP, marketing and national accounts for Samuel. “If someone wants metal products for the wind energy market, that’s not a problem–we have the inventory and the processing capabilities.”

In the wind sector, Samuel will supply all different kinds of metal products, metal processing and metal manufacturing. The towers themselves are big, and require significant industrial capacity to build and transport. But there is opportunity in more detailed manufacturing, too. 

“A turbine itself has about 8,000 parts,” says Hornung. “As a result, there have been significant opportunities for manufacturers to move into this sector during a time when other areas have faced challenges.”

Go big or go home
One of the reasons why Canada makes sense as a place for manufacturers to embrace wind–aside from favourable policy and plenty of open space–is our industrial expertise in oil and gas, mining, and pulp and paper. These sectors have unique requirements, but also something in common: they require the ability to manufacture large, durable parts, to get them to remote areas, and to maintain them.

“Some of our items might weigh 40,000 tons or more,” says Jason Young, VP of sales at Standard Machine in Saskatoon, SK, which is active in the mining sector. “We supply gearboxes, large shafts, and gears.”

In mining, typical mill shapes and forms rely heavily on steel and carbon alloy, with castings and forgings having a high content of gray and malleable iron. This is heavy stuff. Standard Machine not only manufactures the parts, it also has to address trucking and shipping issues to clients as far away as South America. This ability to manufacture large pieces of equipment and to move them–something new players in the wind sector also must figure out–means that local capabilities can add value to far away locations.

We design things to break down and ship,” says Dustin Smith, engineering manager at TS Manufacturing, Lindsay, ON, which is active in the pulp and paper as well as the mining and aggregate industry.  “We are working on a tubular section now that is 250 feet long and 12 feet wide. For something like that, a customer might want an escort for a wide load on a flatbed, or they might want smaller parts to be assembled on site.”

The challenge is that with long distances, more assembly capabilities are required by clients that are harder to service. 

TS Manufacturing, which uses a lot of hot-rolled steel, has shipped to Paraguay, with everything sent in containers and, as much as possible, pre-assembled in Lindsay. These skills are learned here in Canada.

“We shipped a job to Nunavut last fall,” says Smith. “That had to go in on a barge before the freeze up. These are logistical problems, and always doable, but shipping can be a major setback on big projects.”

The good news is that Canadian companies have had years of experience–TS Manufacturing has been in business over forty years–in dealing with these sorts of challenges.

“For us, a typical flatbed truck load is about 40,000 pounds,” says Matthew Webb, manager at Kubota Materials Corp. in Orillia, ON. “Our biggest customer area is in petrochemicals, for which we supply steel alloy foundry castings. We ship across North America and into South America, Australia, and Europe.”

Webb says that the largest part Kubota ships is “a couple of tons”, but that the company may also ship multiple smaller units for assembly on site. 

Either way, Kubota is a big operation with a long reach.

“We make 300 tons a month of castings,” says Webb. 

“Right now we have a three to four month backlog, and in the past that has extended to a year.”

That’s a hefty amount of business serving a global industry–something that Canadian manufacturers, perhaps more than any in the world, will be able to capitalize on for years to come. SMT

Tim Wilson is a contributing editor. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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