Lincoln Electric Canada turns 100 with new focus on R&D
The introduction of two R&D centres in the past year has delivered results and given the Canadian manufacturer a new value in Lincoln’s global operations as it enters its second century
It’s pretty rare that a company remains in business for 100 years. It’s even more uncommon for such a company to find new relevance in its organizational structure. Quite often attempts to retool a business’s approach to the work it does end up being more harmful than helpful.
In August, Lincoln Electric Company of Canada turns 100, and over the past year the company has been in the process of giving its engine and welding wire operations new life. Two new R&D centres comprising 10 staff members have been created, and already their activities have produced results that customers in the field are putting to use.
“When you work for a company that has been around for 100 years, you kind of take it for granted, but it is a remarkable achievement,” said Dale Malcolm, vice president of sales.
“Throughout the 100 years, there have been any number of reasons Lincoln could have left Canada, but it says something about the fortitude of the people who have worked here that they didn’t,” said Michael Whitehead, president. “When they were asked to grind through tough times, they did. It says a lot. The company has been through a lot of lows, as well as many highs.”
Lincoln Canada has become known for its engine-driven power sources used in pipe welding operations worldwide. The company’s Toronto shop on Wicksteed Avenue also produces a variety of welding wires. While the company has remained busy over the past 15 years releasing new machine models and producing both engines and wire efficiently and effectively, actual research and development took place primarily at world headquarters in Cleveland.
That doesn’t mean Canadian operations didn’t expand in that time, however.
“If you look at the company in the past 15 years, we’ve invested quite dramatically in our Canadian operations,” said Malcolm. “We are an international company, and the company could have invested anywhere in the world but decided to do so in Canada. We have expanded our Wicksteed facility [for the production of engines and wire]; we have invested in our automation business in Mississauga; and our Indalco® facility, which produces aluminum welding wire, has been through a complete overhaul, and investment there continues.”
With the export of its engine-driven machines to oil and gas markets around the world, the Wicksteed facility has had a very busy few years. But when Whitehead took on the president’s role 18 months ago, it was to inject new purpose into the Canadian operations. The timing couldn’t have been better.
An Ideal R&D Footprint
As Adel Mir, director of operations, explained, making the Wicksteed facility an R&D hub makes a great deal of sense for the broader Lincoln Electric organization.
“We are a smaller version of the Cleveland facility,” Mir said. “In some cases, we can leverage that to run trials on new product processes and product development. Our size allows us to do so more rapidly, without disrupting operations.”
An example of a process improvement first introduced in Canada is quick die changeovers for the shop’s wire-making machines. Lincoln Electric Canada produces over 350 products in its wire department, and with the quick die changeover process it has adopted, it can change its lines much faster than was possible before.
“This involved implementing some of the principles used in automotive plants,” Mir explained. “This approach has now been adopted by a number of other Lincoln facilities worldwide.”
The timing for this implementation of the quick die changeover process is, of course, connected to the changed focus of Lincoln Electric Canada’s operations.
“We want to develop new products, and if you bring a new product into your manufacturing line, it is not going to be a huge seller right away, so you have to be able to switch it out for a variety of other products,” said Whitehead. “When you commit to new product development, your shop has to be able to react to changes as they come.”
The challenge created by such a change in focus, however, isn’t small. As Mir noted, a lot of the work the Wicksteed shop had been doing was on old formulations, and the people on the floor had become efficient and effective in making those products. New product development requires a shift in mindset.
“We, as managers, had to explain to everyone on the floor that this is who we want to be if we are going to grow,” said Whitehead. “You are never going to grow continually by producing the same products for a long time. You have to invest in the future, find out what customers want and what they are willing to pay for that. That is what we set out to do.”
Lincoln spent nine months talking to customers to find out what products were missing in the marketplace that they wanted to see, and then took that back to Canada to determine what sort of solution they could come up with. As always, the ideal product was a combination of reliability, features, and price, but it still required a focused management team to drive the development.
“Our management team has strategy meetings every two weeks,” explained Whitehead. At these strategy meetings, the team reviews company priorities to ensure a focus on goals is maintained. “As a team, you have to know what you are going to do and also what you are not going to do. That sounds self-evident, but we have a finite amount of resources, and as a management team we have to determine what employees need to be working on, that’s our job. That means we need to know when to stop working on something that isn’t working, and we have to explain to the employees working on that that it is not that they are not doing a good job, only that we are putting our focus elsewhere. When you continually go through that process, you get cross-organizational alignment and you can drive projects much faster.”
Whitehead sees his role, and that of other senior managers, as obstacle removers. “We ask our team, ‘This is great, but how can we make development go faster? What is stopping you?’ They have started to see us as people who are there to help them rather than people who are there to judge them. The more we help them, the more they trust us.”
The side benefit of this, for Whitehead, is that it identifies processes that are inefficient as well.
“The key is not to drive forever with changes that don’t work,” Whitehead continued. “We need people to understand that it’s OK to try things, but if that thing doesn’t work, to move on to something else.”
The results of this shift have been noticed. Whereas development timelines often run between two and three years, Lincoln Canada has managed to introduce three engines and four types of wire – one solid and three cored wires – in about a year. This quick turnaround on R&D is where Lincoln Canada wants to shine going forward.
The diesel engine-driven machines are the FLEET™ 400, 500, and 650 for SMAW, GTAW, and arc gouging in remote locations. The design features Lincoln’s Chopper Technology® and the Deutz® air- and oil-cooled industrial diesel engines for use in jungles, deserts, and other extreme environments. The units have been targeted to the Middle East, Mexico, and South American markets initially for general fabrication applications and have had a positive rollout thus far.
On the wire side, one of the newest products created through the R&D efforts here in Canada is the Emergence™ 61 low-carbon, medium-manganese, low-silicon electrode. It is coated with a proprietary surface lubricant designed to eliminate one source of wire contamination (copper) in pipe mill welding applications.
Metal-cored wire R&D has focused on addressing changes in manganese fume legislation.
“Not only have we developed products, but we have also developed our own customized wave shapes for process solutions,” said Malcolm.
Whitehead, Malcolm, and Mir are all excited at the prospects these efforts open up for Lincoln Electric Canada, but they also know it means continually pushing ahead.
“You have to be dynamic,” said Malcolm. “If you are able to remain so, you can be successful for another 100 years.”
Editor Robert Colman can be reached at email@example.com.
Lincoln Electric Canada, 416-421-2600, www.lincolnelectric.ca
Indalco responds to new requirements for higher purity aluminum wire
Lincoln Electric’s Mississauga, Ont.-based Indalco Alloys division, which specializes in the production of aluminum welding wire, has been through many changes over the past few years. The company has completely updated its wire drawing lines in that time, and investments continue today.
“We are investing a further $2 million in a combination of a capacity increase and quality improvements,” said Indalco Managing Director Joe Cacioppo. “Specifically, on the quality improvement front we are investing in equipment that is going to give us a lower hydrogen aluminum wire. The wire already goes through a degassing process, but the additional processes we are investing in will reduce hydrogen content even further.”
Cacioppo noted that customers involved in the production of heat exchangers and air separation units in particular are requesting very low hydrogen wire.
“You are also starting to see manufacturers buying base material that comes with a certification that it is low hydrogen,” Cacioppo continued. “It only stands to reason that these requirements will soon be demanded of the filler metal they use and we want to be ahead of the curve.”