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City Welding gears up for rebound

The world-wide recession and the still unsettled strike by Vale Inco workers have taken their toll on Sudbury area mining suppliers, but one company, City Welding (Sudbury) Limited, has taken advantage of the reduced volume of work to invest in the business and gear up for the inevitable economic rebound.One of the region’s oldest and most respected welding shops, City Welding has recently commissioned a high definition CNC Messer Titan II cutting table and installed a central gas distribution system. A new 6,000-square foot building will house a 12′ x 12′ x 42′ paint booth and a 12′ x 12′ x 42′ sandblast booth. Also in the works are plans to gut and renovate the company’s offices.

Georges Brouillette founded City Welding 39 years ago in a garage at home after a short stint as a hired hand. He still serves as president, but is much more comfortable wielding a torch on the shop floor than sitting behind a desk.

Son Robert, who joined the family business following a ten-year career as a lawyer and National Hockey League player agent, has a few welding tickets of his own, but focuses primarily on management and administration.

Mining-related jobs account for between 40 to 60 per cent of the company’s business and include ductwork, steel frames and booms for drill rigs, buckets, tanks, catwalks and inlay carbide wear pads for drilling rods.

“Fifteen of our top 20 clients are other welding shops in town,” said Robert. “We’re known as the go-to shop. We have never advertised and we don’t have any sales people. It’s all word of mouth.”

Most of the work the company does for the mining industry is performed for contractors and other welding shops.  Many of the jobs are for Vale Inco and Xstrata Nickel, but it also does work for Goldcorp in Red Lake and the oilsands industry in Alberta.

City Welding is also able to benefit from welding shops that have succeeded in winning jobs outside the region. If a Sudbury company winds up with a contract, said Robert, City Welding is usually sub-contracted to do part of it.

“It’s a small business, so you pretty much run into everybody at some point in time. We all tend to help each other out one way or another,” he said.

City Welding’s status as a “go-to shop” in Sudbury is primarily attributable to Georges Brouillette’s reputation for troubleshooting.

“If someone has a problem – whether it’s a lifting device or a conveyor that doesn’t work, or a piece of equipment that’s wearing faster than it should – he will come up with a solution, so it’s really tapping into my father’s ingenuity.

We’ll find a way to get something done quicker and better than anyone else.”

The company’s pride and joy, the CNC Messer Titan II 10-foot x 30-foot cutting table, cuts up to three-inch thicknesses using a plasma process, and up to 12 inches with a tolerance of less than 1/32nd of an inch using an oxyfuel process. It’s equipped with two plasma Hypotherm 400 plasma torches and two oxyfuel torches, and powered by MTC ProNest 2010 nesting software.

According to Robert, there are fewer than 15 HPR 400 plasma torches in Canada and City Welding has two of them.

It’s also one of the first companies in North America to deploy “MTC ProNest 2010 true-hole technology software combined with the Hypotherm and Messer systems.” Plans are also in place to further upgrade the cutting table with a 180-degree bevel head.

The shop is also equipped with 750-ton and 400-ton presses, an autoshear with maximum capacity of 5/8 inch by 14 feet and a plate roller with a maximum capacity of 3/8 inch by 10 feet.

Virtual service by Messer Cutting Systems Inc. in Wisconsin ensures that the cutting table is never out of service for long, said Robert.

“They can log into our system from Milwaukee if there is a problem and diagnose it from there. They can upload a cutting program and modify the feed rates if necessary.”

The new central gas distribution system will enhance productivity and cut down on injuries caused by lifting heavy cylinders.

“Every employee switches bottles at least once a day on average,” said Robert. “The bottles are stored outside for health and safety reasons, so if you figure 15 minutes times 30 employees, that’s a saving of close to eight hours per day.”

The company prides itself on the quality and experience of its employees, some of whom have been with City Welding for almost 30 years. Two summers ago, when the mining industry was at its peak, the company was firing on all cylinders with a head count of 45 to 48 employees. Today, the City Welding team has been pared to 30 employees, but the company has weathered more than its share of strikes and economic downturns, said Robert, and is confident of emerging stronger than ever from the current challenges facing Sudbury’s mining industry.

Capital improvements at City Welding were made possible through grants and loans totalling more than $800,000 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.

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