Making it in Calgary

Last week I had the good fortune of visiting Calgary Alberta to speak at an event hosted by the Royal Bank of Canada and the NAM’s sister organization Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. 

During my visit, I also had the opportunity to tour two manufacturing companies in Calgary:  Plains Fabrication and Supply and Toromont Energy Systems.  Visiting manufacturing facilities is one of the great perks of my job.  Seeing first hand the skill, ingenuity and talent of manufacturers making things is always an amazing experience.  Here is what I saw:

Plains Fabrication and Supply is a steel fabricator the builds, among other things, huge steel vessels that are used by the petroleum and natural gas industries to clean water (the process of cleaning the water actually incorporates the use of walnut shells!) used in the process of energy extraction for reuse.  These vessels vary in size but some are more than 15 feet in diameter and 50 feet long.  At first glance, it appeared to me that Plains was a submarine manufacturer.  This gives you some perspective on how big these vessels are.  Plains Fabrication produces its products for customers in Canada and as far away as Pakistan!  Started more than 20 years ago by four guys, the company now employees over a hundred people and is currently building a brand new manufacturing facility.

Toromont Energy Systems designs and manufacturers modular systems in Canada and the United States that are used in the natural gas, chemical and petro-chemical industries across the globe.  Rather than manufacturing on site, Toromont builds equipment in modules in their factory.  These modules are then transported to their customers and sometimes packaged together into a final product.  Due to severe climate conditions of their final destination, some of these systems are enclosed in what appear to be little houses.

While these companies make different products, two similarities that both companies share are (1) customization: every product that is manufactured by these companies is unique.  The expertise of design and the skill of their workers make both companies world leaders in their respective products; and (2) going global: both companies sell products in markets across the globe.  Going forward, it will be more important than ever for manufacturers both in Canada and in the United States to expand their customer base outside North America. 


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