Manufacturing in Manitoba


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2 WINNIPEG FREE PRESS - SATURDAY, MARCH 28, 2020 MANUFACTURING IN MANITOBA BY JENNIFER MCFEE Local companies are transforming the manufacturing industry through their ongoing innovations. One such company is PTI Transformers, which originated in Regina and acquired a plant in Winnipeg in 2015. "In Winnipeg, we build very large power transformers. These are great big pieces of equipment. Most of our customers are Canadian utilities such as Manitoba Hydro, SaskPower, Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One and others," said general manager Brett Todd. "These are our main customers, but we also sell our products to heavy industrial customers. As well, we sell to companies that use large power transformers in the U.S." PTI Transformers, which employs about 200 people, currently conducts approximately 75 per cent of its business is in Canada and the remaining 25 per cent in the U.S. "We only build about 40 to 50 of these transformers a year, so about one a week from the factory. They're big and expensive, so it's very low volume and very high price," Todd said. "Our owners live in Regina, where they make very small transformers at their facility — like those you see in neighbourhoods or smaller power applications. Those transformers are very small for us here in Winnipeg and are not our focus. While we make 40 to 50 a year, they might make 10 times that number. It's like we make ocean liners and they make rowboats." To ensure that the job is done right, proper training is essential in all areas of the proudly Canadian company. "There are no small problems in a large power transformer. Whenever you have a problem, it can be a significant issue because it takes a lot of time and effort to fix. The importance of getting it right the first time is huge — and to do that you have to have well-trained employees," Todd said. "The nature of our product is that it takes our engineers quite a long time to design it because we essentially build prototypes. It's a heavily engineered product so when it comes to training, we need very strong engineering and technical people in our design group." Once the engineers and technical experts have completed a design, the detail-oriented workers on the floor will need to build it. "They're very hands-on and very mechanical, more like a trade or a craft. It's very rare that anybody on the floor has more than a high school diploma, but the training is so important," Todd said. "Unfortunately, you can't go to school to become a transformer maker so most of our training is on the job. Whenever new employees start, they have a couple of buddies who coach them and train them. They take the new employees under their wing and help them to get good at their job." The company's engineering group is mainly made up of graduates from the University of Manitoba, Red River College and the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology. For the hands-on workers, they need to be able to absorb and apply the information they learn on the job. "You can become very skilled at a certain process and become like the resident expert. Alternatively, you could try to learn a little bit about everything. That way, you can be flexible and move around to help out different departments when they're overloaded. We need people on both paths — those who are specialists and those who can be flexible to do a lot of different things," he said. "If you're good with your hands and you have basic math skills and a mechanical aptitude, that's really what we're looking for. We can train you to be a good transformer worker." THE INDUSTRY P R OV I D E D BY N R C Rendering of the future NRC building Other incoming businesses include Merit Functional Foods with its $65-million pea and canola processing plant and Groupe Touchette with its 100,000-square-foot tire distribution facility. Freightliner Manitoba features a 78,000-square-foot facility on 13.5 acres, and NJ Industries is currently building a 14,000-square- foot manufacturing facility on 5.38 acres. Brookside Business Park, located at 19 and 20 Ronn Rd. features 140,000 square feet of multi-tenant industrial space. In addition, at 3010 and 3020 Red Fife Rd., Canada West Limited is bringing to market two multi-tenant industrial buildings that total 85,000 square feet. Adding to the excitement, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has begun construction on a 70,000-square-foot building in Brookside Industrial Park to focus on advanced manufacturing research and technology. Scheduled to open in early 2021, the facility will address private sector needs and challenges through collaborative projects with industry and academia. The University of Manitoba is a key partner in the project, and the NRC also undertook extensive consultations with other stakeholders. To start, the facility will focus on two main areas: the production of metallic and composite parts via additive manufacturing and the transformation of byproducts from the local agricultural industry to develop new applications and technologies for sustainable packaging. Stéphan Simard, an R&D director for the NRC's Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre, is leading the project. "Manitoba has a very strong base in terms of industrial innovation. Historically, the big aerospace companies were able to significantly contribute to the local economy. With the new facility, we want to contribute to the development of opportunities for growth in the field of advanced manufacturing," Simard said. "We want to bring companies and stakeholders together, as well as academia, from the Prairies to collaborate, optimize processes and improve impacts for everyone involved." CENTREPORT CANADA CONTINUED FROM P1 P R OV I D E D BY P T I T R A N S F O R M E R S A PTI transformer is in operation at Manitoba Hydro's Riel Station east of Winnipeg.

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