SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
Here at Spotlight on Business, we do our due diligence. When we review product pages and press releases, we take superlatives like “most” with a grain of salt and we look at lifetime warranties with great scrutiny. That’s how it should be in this job. Conscientious consumers make great business writers. One of our greatest tools for separating the wheat from the chafe is independent reviews. No time in recent memory has a business we’ve featured stood so sturdily in the face of our painstaking perusal of the internet’s unfiltered and unsolicit- ed assessments as VMAC (Vehicle Mounted Air Compressors) Global Technology. At vmacair.com it reads, “VMAC is the leader in mobile compressed air innovation, designing and manufacturing the most innovative mobile air compressors and multi-power systems available.” There it is. That front of the line language. The “the leader in mobile compressed air innovation” is quite a claim. We had to find out what the online scuttlebutt said about that. “I was impressed with not only the performance of the compressor,” wrote Buzz, an employee with the City of Livonia in Livonia, Michigan, “but the best part was how things were engineered to fit properly underhood as if it was built from the factory.” Sondra, who works in parts sales at Summit Truck Bodies in Kansas, wrote, “We have saved almost 260 lbs when installing the VMAC H40
SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE • MARCH 2018
hydraulic-driven air compressor instead of the competitor’s comparable air compressor, allowing techs to carry more tools and supplies needed to get their jobs done.” There was another claim at vmacair.com that required inquiry to verify: “VMAC has earned a reputation for extraordinary build quality, durability and reliability in extreme conditions, among operators and fleet managers in the mobile mechanic, tire service, utilities, mining, oil and gas, and construction industries.” That’s not hyperbole either, apparently. VMAC really has earned a reputation for durability and reliability. James, the Fleet Manager at Sureway Construction Work in Edmonton wrote, “After three years we have approximately 2, 400 hours on this unit [DTM70] and have experienced zero downtime.” Derrick from Evans Landscaping in Cincinnati wrote, “With the UNDERHOOD, you just push the button to start and get continuous air right away, even in the colder months.” And an unnamed representative from the Galadari Trucks and Heavy Equipment Company in Dubai wrote that their VMAC product “Gives us the unrivalled performance and reliability required for our busy operation.” In late February, the newly appointed President of VMAC Tod Gilbert spoke with Spotlight on Business from the company’s front office in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Tod touched on VMAC’s history, his own story, the company’s manufacturing facility and R&D, today’s market and the state of manufacturing in Canada, the lean journey for his employees, and the future of VMAC Global Technology.
MARCH 2018 • SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
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-
are servicing equipment when it is minus 30 degrees centi- grade outside and hours away from a service shop. It made us create products that are very high-quality, very reliable, which could work in any conditions. Now we’re selling products globally and we don’t have any concerns about a wider reach with our products because of their proven reliability. Recently, we’ve done several presentations to a multibillion-dollar organization who absolutely couldn’ t believe our warranty numbers. We’ve developed some- thing that can withstand Northern Alberta and it follows that if a shipment goes into a nice moderate climate, it will certainly stay robust.” Staying robust is also at the heart of VMAC’s lean journey. Lean manufacturing or lean production is a systemat- ic method for waste minimization within a manufacturing system that doesn’t sacrifice productivity or customer value. “There are a lot of people who see lean as a cost-cutting exercise, but it’s not at all,” Tod explained. When it’s done right, it focuses on company culture and people. We’ve come to realize that lean is a lot about respect, respecting each other’s ideas and assessments, and getting everyone engaged. For example, every week every employee at VMAC has at least one hour dedicated to continuous improvement. So it doesn’t matter what position you are in and it doesn’t matter how busy you are, everyone has to take at least an hour a week or four hours a month and work on some sort of improvement project. The result of that is that people really feel like they can make a difference outside of their area of expertise; it’s an opportunity to go learn a new skill. We really push and promote the ‘can-do attitude’ and if you’ve got an idea to improve something, do it! It is really remarkable to see the impact this has. We have got people who have been in the same position for 10 or 15 years who are really excited to come to work to do something they have never done before.” As the former Executive Vice President, Tod isn’t exactly doing something he’s never done before but that hasn’t quashed his excitement – even in an economic climate threatened by isolationistic reforms. “You can look at things in a number of ways, but I really feel all this trade war talk is opportunity,” he said. “I mean this latest news on threats over the steel and the aluminum industry, if that goes through, the result is prices are probably going to come down in Canada because we have an oversupply, our Canadian dollar will take a hit, which it has already, which means our products are more desirable for our customers in the US. That’s something that we really try and focus on: anything in the news or threats or dis- ruption is looked at as opportunity. There’s always ways to overcome a challenge. The opportunities for manufactur- ing in Canada is something that I feel doesn’t get enough attention. We really can compete on a global scale and it seems like there is a bit of focus going away from it, espe- cially through the education system – and that’s a lot of lost opportunity. Educating people on what’s out there, what we can do, building-up the confidence again would mean a lot to our industry.”
1333 Kipp Road Nanaimo, BC
V9X 1R3 Canada
(250) 740- 3200
as spotlighted in the MARCH 2018 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
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