By David MacDonald T he VMAC story is one of happenstance. The founders, Jim Hogan and the late Tony Menard, started out on a completely different path back in the early 1980s, Tod explained. “They were both engineers living in Kitchener, Ontario and they had opened a machine shop called Atom Machine Shop. Originally, the shop was built to design and manu- facture a low-cost jet engine. One of the founders and the former President, Jim, is an inventor at heart. He designed a disposable jet engine and then he and Tony got con- tracts from the military to build them. That contract ended up drying up for various reasons but what was left was the machine shop – and two very eager and inventive engi- neers. Not long after that project came to halt, they had a customer come in and ask them if they could build a bracket to mount a compressor to their work truck. The guy kept coming back and asking for more and they thought, ‘Hey, maybe there’s something here.’ VMAC was born. Jim always jokes that they never would have thought of vehicle-mount- ed air compressors on their own,” he said with a laugh. “It’s leveraging our competitive position by being located in Canada, too, and developing products that are popular in our harsh climates…” Tod, who referred to Jim and Tony as “true innovators” in the December press release that announced changes to the organization of VMAC’s Senior Management team, is a bit of an avant-gardist himself. He earned his Master’s in Mate- rials and Mechanical Engineering from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario where he was deeply involved with the campus Formula SAE (Formula Society of Automotive Engi- neers) team. “That’s the student-run race car team,” Tod explained. “I ended up leading the team in my final year and that really got me into leadership, working with budgets, and working with teams of people in creating something cool. I really fell in love with the automotive industry at that point and that really helped me get into VMAC. I was also involved in a project to make a laser micromachining system for advanced ceramics, which was pretty unrelated to what we do here at VMAC, but it really got me into the project management and creating things, too. That’s what really got me excited about the company culture here at VMAC; we’re not just packagers, we’re actually creating here – we’re innovating. There are endless opportunities here to keep an engineer’s interest.”
agers. They are buying components and just bolting it all together whereas we are making just about everything we can in-house. The latest process that we have added is a foundry, so we literally go from raw ingot right through to finished product. So, again, it keeps the engineers interest- ed. The foundry is actually part of the engineering depart- ment here. We have an engineer who is interested in casting and he volunteers his time in the foundry. We are a very vertically-integrated company that way. The R&D team, for example, is a very cross-functional team. It is not just made up of engineers; we have mechanical and electrical engineers, technologists, and then also machinists. It really drives a collaborative development process. Our engineers are actually out in the machine shop building parts, working with the machinist, but before that they’re working directly with the foundry to make sure that when we design some- thing, it is something we can actually make efficiently. It gives everyone on the VMAC team a better understanding of the whole process for every compressor we make.” And that’s a lot of compressors. The full lineup of Direct-Transmission- Mounted PTO-Driven Air Compres- sors and Multi-Power Systems, Diesel Engine Driven Air Compressors, Gas Engine Driven Air Compressors, Hydrau- lic-Driven Air Compressors, Multi-function Power Systems, and UNDERHOOD Air Compressors can be shopped at vmacair.com. All systems feature the patented VMAC rotary screw air compressor which includes a VMAC Lifetime Warranty (Limited). “When we started doing air compressors, we were doing reciprocating air compressors through the piston air com- pressors that are mounted under the hood of the truck, attached to the engine,” Tod explained. “Over the years, we noticed one trend: the space under the hood was getting smaller and smaller. Older models from the 80s, you can climb in the hood and work on them there’s so much space. As time went on, it was obvious that we weren’t going to be able to fit our compressors in that space for long, sowemade the important move to rotary screw air compression tech- nology. It allowed us to have something that was a fraction of the size, a fraction of the weight, and produce way more air. We started importing the air-ends from Europe, which is where they are made. Most of the rotary screw air compres- sors are made for stationary applications, so it wasn’t long before we started looking at these air-ends and saying, ‘I wish we could have an aluminum which would be better suited for the mobile market’ and ‘I wish we could shave off this and that.’ Eventually we started making the modified air- ends in-house. We are the only company making these screws in Canada, maybe in North America. We designed our own equipment to do it, too. Before us, there was only one company, a company that had a monopoly on the screw industry. Basically every other air-end manufacturer in the world was using this one brand of machinery – and they were charging a lot for it.” Tod continued. “It’s leveraging our competitive position by being located in Canada, too, and developing products that are popular in our harsh climates, especially in the oil fields where they
As Tod sees it, VMAC’s Research and Development (R&D) roots are the source of its competitive edge.
“We’ve been about vision from day one,” he said matter-of- factly. “In this industry most of our competitors are pack-
SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE • MARCH 2018
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