Success in “a Difficult Business”

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by Mary Scianna

The problem
Grappling with offshore competition

The solution
Investing in machining centres, multi-tasking and automation

Machine shop embraces machining technologies to cut costs, improve productivity

A job shop, without a doubt, is one of the most difficult businesses to be in because our competitors are offshore companies and we don’t compete on a level playing field.”

Tim Clay, founder of Perth Precision Machining and Manufacturing, a one-stop CNC machine and fabrication shop in Stratford, ON, knows of what he speaks; he’s been in the machining business for the past 50 years.

He formed his first business, T. Clay Manufacturing, with a partner, in 1962, simply because he was “interested in making stuff.” The partnership didn’t work out, but Clay continued the business and in 1982, formed a new, larger company, Perth Precision Machining and Manufacturing.

Two years ago, Clay, his son Kevin, who is general manager, and daughter Cindy, customer service manager, purchased a 135,000 sq ft facility to house the company’s growing line-up of machine tools. The company’s machine shop is housed in 60,000 sq ft while the remaining square footage is rented out to another company.

“We had some good years and had purchased new machines to meet customer demands. We didn’t have a lot of space in our old shop,” explains Kevin Clay. “We needed to expand and although business was slow, we thought it was also the best time to expand. 2010 was a good time to purchase a building because we were able to find one relatively cheap, and do the bulk of our moving while we weren’t busy.”

A larger machine shop was the first step Perth Machining & Manufacturing took to establish a more competitive business. A large shop with more machines isn’t enough though in today’s environment to compete and stay in business. So the Clays decided to invest not just in standard machine tools, but also in multi-tasking machines, machining centres, grinding operations and automation. And it went further by setting up bending, laser cutting, robotic welding and powder coating finishing operations to create a one-stop shop for customers.

“It means we don’t have to rely on many outside services and that allows us to control the quality of parts we manufacture and control the cost too,” says Cindy Clay.

The decision to focus on multi-tasking machines and machining centres was simple to make, says Kevin Clay, because of the benefits the technologies offer.

“We can produce less expensive parts on both types of machines. We reduce setup times, improve machining time, and the quality of parts is much higher. And the automation associated with these machines helps us to reduce costs because some of them can run lights out.”

The company’s success is also due, in part, to another division it formed, Oneway Manufacturing, which produces lathes and lathe accessories for woodworking hobbyists. Tim Clay estimates that almost 40 per cent of sales are generated by Oneway.

While the company’s customer and market range is wide, its niche is the offroad vehicle industry. It machines a variety of parts for customers such as Caterpillar, for the locomotive industry, as well as components for underground mining equipment. SMT

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