by Andrew Brooks
Ellery Manufacturing Ltd.
- Years in business: 39
- Shop floor: 1,858 sq m (20,000 sq ft)
- Part capacity: Up to approximately 10 m3, 18,144 kg (40,000 lb); turning up to 2.4 m (8 ft) diameter on vertical lathes
- Key processes: Medium to large CNC machining, CWB certified welding
- Key equipment: Okuma and O-M CNC turning centres; Haas CNC vertical mills and horizontal machining centre; Toshiba CNC horizontal boring mill; Doosan horizontal boring mills
Over four decades, Ellery Manufacturing Ltd. in Surrey, BC, has seen the best and the worst the market has to throw at it. A leading provider of custom machining, fabrication and project management, Ellery will begin its fifth decade next April. And it’s weathered its share of bumps along the way.
Vice president Paul Ellery defines the company as a service oriented, custom job shop with a focus on CNC machining, welding and project management. Ellery’s work ranges from custom large parts to smaller, high precision components for customers in a broad range of industries.
The company was launched in 1978 by Paul’s father Les, a skilled emigrant from the UK who got tired of bouncing between jobs when employers shut down, and finally decided only a business of his own would give him the job security he needed to support his family. As Les’s children Paul, David, Anne and Nick grew, they also got involved. Nick came on board a couple of years ago to manage business development and special projects.
Ellery Manufacturing occupies a single 1,858 sq m (20,000 sq ft) facility, and the number of employees at any given time is around 20. The two shift operation is active for 18 hours a day. About 70 per cent of the work is CNC machining, while welding–the company is fully CWB certified–accounts for the rest.
The company started as a small conventional machine shop focusing on the resource sector with an emphasis on mining. As it acquired larger capacity conventional machines, it expanded into pulp and paper, producing machine components and specializing in the design and manufacture of pulp and paper machine rolls.
The company has steadily diversified, partly as a way of weathering downturns in any single sector. Today, the oil and gas sector accounts for the biggest chunk of business. “We do winch control systems, gear boxes, winch drums, all the drill work systems,” Ellery says. The shop’s products get used on everything from smaller land-based facilities to the huge ocean drilling platforms.
“We’re also involved in the amusement ride industry, and we do work on telescopes, and in mining, where we do a lot of rotary drilling equipment,” Ellery says. Other sectors include defence and aerospace, construction, marine and forestry. Most customers are based in western Canada, but Ellery does business across the country, as well as in Texas and Southern California.
Because quality of work is so critical, Ellery has insourced many processes that other companies might subcontract. “We’re very fussy about quality,” says Ellery. “Basically we’ll weld and fabricate our own components for machining. We don’t get too involved with outside welding. We only outsource very, very limited processes, such as burning or forming, heat treatment and non-destructive testing.”
In 1990, thanks to strength in the mining and pulp and paper sectors, the company expanded into a new 2,787 sq m (30,000 sq ft) facility. However, the economy hit the skids soon afterwards, interest rates soared, and Ellery’s tenure in its new home lasted just four years. For a while it even looked as if the company might be sold. But at the last minute the family decided to stay at the helm.
Manpower to horsepower
Soon afterwards, Ellery transformed itself into a CNC shop. “We could see that future generations were moving more towards CNC,” Paul Ellery says. “We saw the writing on the wall; manpower had to be changed into horsepower.”
With the move to CNC, growth picked up again. Today, almost all of Ellery’s machining is CNC-based, and the company produces from three to seven times more than it did before it got into CNC. And expansion is again in the cards. Paul Ellery says the company hopes to get back to that 30,000-plus square foot mark in the next couple of years.
Because of its strong project orientation, Ellery doesn’t have a steady production line configuration, and job sizes tend to vary. While the company does make forays into high volume work, the parts Ellery produces tend to be large and in relatively small runs – from one-offs up to 25 or 50 pieces. Some projects can take nine months to a year from engineering to production, and some products have been in production for 10 to 15 years and more.
“Our main goal is to work with customers; we look at longevity of relationships,” Ellery says. “It’s not rare to find us actually reducing our pricing ten years into a project. We work with the customers to develop better methods, better machining procedures, fabrication procedures, or maybe better materials. Often we find we’re reducing our costs at the same time that they’re increasing their quantities.”
Ellery cites one outstanding example of what CNC has done; a product that used to be manufactured manually at a cost of $12,000-$13,000 per piece is now being produced for $60-$100. Ellery has been making this product for a customer for about a dozen years.
There’s still room for new capabilities. At press time, Paul Ellery mentioned the company is “quietly looking” at adding a large horizontal floor mill, one piece of equipment that has been lacking so far.
“This would give us a fully rounded offering for our customers. It’s the way we work–we’re always upgrading our equipment. We’re always buying top of the line machines, and we’re always training our personnel, to make them better for the type of work we’re doing.” SMT