ProVantage's mission: boost productivity
Automation is touted as an industry game-changer, yet Canada’s manufacturers have been slow to update their processes with the technology.
They’ve been getting an earful from various industry experts who declare automation would boost Canada’s lagging productivity, but buy-in has been slow thanks in part to a high-value loonie, hard-to-find investment money and sluggish export growth; and the European economic crisis hasn’t helped either.
The paradox is automation requires capital investment, and Canadian manufacturers are spending only 71% of what their US counterparts do on machinery and equipment, says a recent TD Economics report. It suggests this is contributing to the productivity gap, but manufacturers are starting to see the light.
Canadian companies have boosted investments by 6.6% this year, according to TD Economics economist Dina Cover, which has also boosted output by between 3% to 4%. Manufacturing sales are also up by 5.6% this year, while new orders have grown by 6%, according to Statistics Canada.
In her report, Cover concedes manufacturers are sitting on more cash these days because they’re not hiring as quickly, which suggests there is money to spend. Indeed, manufacturing has only recovered 30% of the 500,000 jobs it lost during the recession, which is also contributing to Canada’s productivity gap.
Rob Hattin has seen enough. He’s sick of manufacturing’s dark days and the sector’s continued, yet slow recovery. And he sees a business opportunity.
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“All the demographics suggest prosperity is dependent on replacing our aging workers with capital investments, and if I’m going to preach about automation, I have to do something about it,” says Hattin, one of three principals of the new ProVantage Automation and vice-chair of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME).
He sold his stake in Hamilton’s Edson Packaging, Canada’s largest advanced packaging equipment manufacturer, 18 months ago and started looking for new ventures.
“I’ve been in the manufacturing and industrial world since college. It’s what I know. It’s the world I’ve lived in for 30 years,” he says.
Hattin, along with partners Peter Graham and Alex Shalamov, launched the Ancaster, Ont.-based automation and mechatronics services provider earlier this year. The company currently employs a team of seven, but Hattin says that number will jump to 20 by the end of the year as operations and revenues ramp up.
Between them, Hattin says the team has designed and built more than 600 systems over a combined 50 years of industry experience, which he sees as the company’s competitive advantage.
“We know how machines run, we know the touch and feel and mechatronic elements of a system,” he says. “Most automation companies and programmers haven’t had the benefit of running a line and understanding how it operates.”
Specifically, ProVantage specializes in sophisticated machine and process control operations for advanced manufacturing, packaging and material handling companies. Those “sophisticated” things Hattin refers to include services related to lean manufacturing, line efficiency and safety, and data analytics. The company also offers design and programming services to local panel builders that want engineered, documented panels, but may not have the resources to engineer them. And the partners also help optimize entire supply chains, from the IT level to production.
Hattin says that focus and systems designed by Graham and Shalamov have helped ProVantage reduce changeover times by 80%.