Skills training, new boiler power up production at Ontario fabric plant
Cambridge, Ont.-based MW Canada is a leader in creating quality textiles for the window covering, home decorative and technical materials industries. They work with top brand names to develop exclusive designs, colours and materials to meet ever-changing consumer demands. Their products can be found at retailers such as Sears, Costco, Lowe’s, Home Depot, JC Penny’s and Blinds to Go. The company meets the specialized needs of customers by maximizing its in-house warping, weaving, knitting, dyeing and finishing, pleating, printing and laminating capabilities.
Robert Berger took over as MW Canada president and CEO 15 years ago. His father and grandfather founded the company under the name Montreal Woollens in 1963. MW Canada relocated from its original home in Montreal to Cambridge in 1976. With 66 employees, the continuous research and development of new products and processes has enabled MW Canada to remain ahead of the competition.
“We design and manufacture unique materials that are engineered to solve very specific problems,” Berger says. “When we put our products in front of our clients, we want them to say that they have never seen anything like it before. … We just have to keep coming up with new ideas and updating our processes.”
Focus on Skills
With Canada’s manufacturing sector facing a shortage of skilled workers, MW Canada has made employee training a top priority. As part of an industry-wide initiative to develop on-site learning facilities, the company started its own Skills & Learning Centre where employees take classroom and web-based training. They offer GED, math, language and technical skills to all employees. Upgrading skills becomes part of every employee’s job description. In 2007, the company won a national award from the Canadian Council on Learning for its efforts to bring learning opportunities into the workplace.
“It has become essential that we upgrade the knowledge and skills of our employees. Innovative processes and active participation in the workplace are the direct result of making training available on site,” Berger says. “As older workers retire, we lose 20, 30 or 40 years of experience that you cannot replace. For very specialized skills, it takes a long time to become proficient. On a regular basis, we bring in the top trainers from all our machinery manufacturers to give refresher courses to our staff.”
According to Berger, 85 percent of the company’s business is exported outside of Canada. He says MW Canada has managed to come through the recent economic recession in good shape. “There will always be a need for medium-sized manufacturers that are close to the market, able to deliver niche market products quickly and efficiently. We are shipping to China, India, Mexico, South America, while the U.S. remains our largest market,” he says. “Canada has a name for quality around the world. In these foreign markets, it is all about finding the right distributor to carry a higher-end line.”
Boiling Over with Improvements
Going back to the days of the old Montreal Woollens plant, MW Canada has had a long-standing partnership with Brampton, Ont.-based Clayton Sales & Service Ltd. In the 1970s, MW Canada installed a steam generator boiler in the Cambridge manufacturing plant, which worked steadfastly until it was replaced a few years ago with a new Clayton 250-HP boiler. The company’s maintenance department still uses the previous steam generator as a back-up system.
In any manufacturing plant, the loss of production affects the bottom line. Customers expect product on time, and to specification, every time. If it is not, there are always ramifications. “We realized the old steam generator boiler was coming to an end of its life after 30 years of loyal service. So, we put in a new Clayton boiler,” Berger says. “We require steam for our dye house, where we are dyeing yarns and fabrics 24 hours a day, as well as for our finishing lines. The dye vessels are all steam-fired. This is how we heat our water. The dye process requires consistent, controllable water temperatures.”
With the new boiler, the company says its counter-flow design provides higher fuel-to-steam efficiency than traditional boilers. It also offers rapid response to fluctuating load demands and eliminates hazardous steam explosions. Other key features include: high-quality steam and advanced controls; and full output from cold start within 10 minutes without thermal stress. The boiler design typically occupies one-third of the floor space and is 75 percent lighter than a traditional boiler. Industry-leading low NOx burners are also available for added environmental protection.
Berger especially likes the new boiler’s energy efficiency, instant-on capability, dependability and low maintenance. “You know you have a problem when maintenance spends too much time with your boiler,” Berger says.
Brian Hutchings, MW Canada’s maintenance manager, knows the new Clayton boiler better than anyone. According to him, the steam generator delivers reliable and efficient performance. “Automation and start up is a big thing for us, and the new boiler is really a hands-free system,” he says. “We can also test things a lot easier and save fuel.”
What is MW Canada’s key to success? According to Berger, it is about having good people, knowing your markets and high quality production. “I am lucky to have a very smart group of people who understand the critical issues involved in manufacturing. My job is to chart our path to the future. The decisions of today effect where we will be three to five years from now,” he says. “You have to focus on the top line, bottom line and everything in between. Then people will call you lucky.”
Glenn Adgey is general manager with Clayton in Brampton, Ont. For more information, visit www.claytonindustries.com.