CAPE Manufacturing: New welding procedure boosts competitiveness

Three years ago Jason Bridge remembers having a conversation with a vendor that would change his business’s fortunes.

“At the time, the economy was slowing down. The manufacturing sector was taking a big hit with dropping energy prices. As a company, we knew we needed to come up with innovative solutions to get costs down and be more competitive,” says Jason Bridge, operations manager at CAPE Manufacturing, a welding company near Halkirk in east-central Alberta.

As they shared stories, the vendor asked Bridge, ‘Have you reached out to AMFI?’”

Soon Bridge contacted experts at the Alberta Manufacturing and Fabrication Innovation (AMFI) Program. Offered through InnoTech Alberta and funded by the Alberta Ministry of Economic Development and Trade Industrial Growth Solutions and the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), AMFI works with manufacturers to accelerate the adoption of advanced technologies. InnoTech Alberta provides technical expertise and research facilities, and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Alberta Innovates.

To better understand CAPE’s needs, Peter Krzesinski, AMFI’s program lead, and Sean Watt, InnoTech Alberta’s senior welding engineering technologist, traveled out to the manufacturer’s 45,000-square-foot plant. Here a team of 50 welders, fabricators and drafting staff design and build equipment such as pressure vessels and separators for the oil patch. As Bridge and his visitors walked around the facility, they began to formulate possible solutions.

“We quickly came up with some ideas we could explore with AMFI’s help,” Bridge says.

Initially CAPE decided to test new semiautomatic machinery to potentially replace older stick welding equipment. To facilitate this, AMFI arranged a vendor demonstration at InnoTech Alberta’s welding technologies lab in Devon. But after giving the equipment a test run, Bridge and his team opted not to buy the machine. Then, in talking to AMFI, they came up with another answer—re-examining CAPE’s use of consumables (fill material used to bond metals). At the time, the company was mostly using filler rods to stick weld parts.

“Changing out our consumables could be easier, cheaper and still give us improvements,” Bridge explains.

With AMFI’s help, Bridge and his group began to test several consumables, again at the Devon lab. Soon they landed on a winning solution—adopting a new metal core wire procedure. Instead of having to frequently stop to reload with filler rods, operators would be able to use a wire consumable with a spool feeding the wire into the weld joint for continuous welding.

That was two years ago. Since then, with the new procedure, CAPE has made big gains. Bridge estimates the company has improved welding productivity by 20 to 35 per cent (welders in the shop are now averaging up to 27 inches of welds a minute). At the same time, they’re saving on materials with the more efficient wire process.

“With this new process, we’re building quality products that can better compete on price,” says Bridge, whose company must compete in the market against low cost manufactured parts from China.

With this success, CAPE has seen sales steadily increase. At the same time, they’re partnering with AMFI to explore ways to automate their new wire procedure for even greater efficiencies.

“AMFI’s support has been critical. Today we’re not afraid to explore new technology to be more competitive.”

 

Putting innovation into action

Through its Alberta Manufacturing and Fabrication Innovation (AMFI) Program, InnoTech Alberta works closely with local manufacturers to accelerate the adoption of advanced technologies. As the following stories illustrate, this is making a critical difference to individual companies in their drive to improve productivity.