by Tim Wilson
The Problem: Build long term capabilities to serve Alberta’s energy sector
The Solution: Cross-train a skilled workforce on advanced machinery
Alberta manufacturer looks to position itself for the future
Regent Global Machine & Tool Ltd. is part of the Regent Energy Group, which has its corporate headquarters in Nisku, AB. The subsidiary’s machining operations employ 25 people and are conducted out of Regent Global Machine & Tool’s 2,601 sq m (28,000 sq ft) manufacturing facility in Leduc, about 30 km south of Edmonton.
“We mostly service the oil and gas industry,” says Brent Trenholm, production manager at Regent. “Our machining abilities are vast and do not only apply to the oil sands; however, at this time about 95 per cent of our business is here in Alberta.”
Trenholm says at this moment in Alberta, machining for the energy industry is somewhat flat, but it is expected to pick up at the end of Q3 2014, and would substantially grow should there be pipeline construction to move bitumen to market. The challenge for Regent is to ensure it continues to make the right long term investments in technology and people.
“Finding good people is hard, and the higher the skill the harder it is,” says Trenholm. “Young people trying to break into the industry are finding it a little bit more difficult; as well, not everyone wants a warm body and is willing to train.”
Certainly, it is up to young people to take some initiative and get themselves trained so they can increase their marketability to a company like Regent. From there, Trenholm says his company is willing to meet the challenge by investing in the right worker.
“I look for energy and initiative–then I will commit to training a person,” he says. “The result is that our retention is pretty good. My philosophy is that if we help the employees it helps the company. It’s a win-win.”
It helps too that Regent can offer a work environment where many of the technical challenges specific to oil production are addressed, such as the company’s slotted liner, which allows fluid to pass while filtering out sand particles. Specifically, the company has leveraged cutting robotics, blade optimization, and precision motion control to deliver what it claims is the most advanced slotting technology in the world.
“Our slot liner is, in general, a very cost competitive product,” says Trenholm. “We are doing our best to make the product even better. Every product has a niche in certain places, or formations; however, overall the slot liner is superior.”
Regent also makes flow control products, thermal liner hangers and packers to support the liners, cement heads, and a trademark Staging Diverter Pup, which optimizes steam distribution downhole. Delivering on this level of innovation requires a team effort on the shop floor and in the field.
“In this industry you have to change all the time and continually adapt,” says Trenholm. “We do a lot of cross-training in our facility, so that any given operator is capable of running multiple machines or processes. This philosophy helps people better understand the manufacturing flow, thus enabling us to run leaner, and keeps us cost competitive, with our employees taking more pride in what they’re doing.”
That kind of versatility allows for better tool flow and less employee downtime. It also speaks to a collaborative approach that extends to the customer engagement itself.
“We just had a customer who gave us some wells, and all the guys chipped in,” says Trenholm. “They had suggestions on how to make the product better. This is really a team environment. The group has embraced a collaborative environment, from business development, to engineering, to manufacturing.”
In this context, it is also critical that a company like Regent keep up with machining investments that add efficiency and help out with the bottom line. The recent purchase of a machine with Y axis–a lathe with milling capability – is one example of where new capabilities have made a real difference.
“We do a lot of milling, and have to take things off the lathe, put them on the mill, then bring them back to the lathe,” he says. “With this machine we can do it in one shot. It will drop our costs significantly. If your machinery is able to do more than one thing, then you save time and money and become more competitive in the marketplace as well. It is the same as cross-training workers.”
Trenholm says for Regent, the changes required to build the technological and human capabilities needed to address the ongoing demand in the oil patch are evolutionary and continual. This process, which is geared to turning the company into a ‘one-stop-shop’, is primarily defined by customer demand.
“We work to be cost competitive,” he says. “That revolves around timely deliveries and continual commitments to our customers.” SMT
Tim Wilson is a contributing editor. [email protected]