Manufacturing Today - January/February 2014 - 207

Comact

the South can buy a product that is
manufactured in their region.
Comact Optimisation employs 60
engineers and programmers in
Boisbriand, Quebec, and integrates
electronic components bought on the
market to create the company's wood
processing control systems. "We're
really more of an integrator on the
electronic side," Potvin says. "We're
more of a software company than a
hardware company on this side.
We're buying hardware and putting it
together to feed our software."

Manufacturing Operations
Comact performs several manufacturing operations on 10 to 20 different thicknesses of steel, from 12gauge to beams from 6 to 8 inches
thick. "We buy tubings of all dimensions, from 1-by-1 to 12-by-12 tubings," Potvin says. "We buy beams
depending on the different applications. We're not buying in rolls. The
biggest we would buy is 40 feet."
Comact does all the steel preparation including plasma and flame-cutting and sawing. "Then we will do
some rolling and forming, and we
weld it all together," Potvin explains.
"We do machining and stress relief in
that process. We have CNC machining
and standard machining and all
mechanical assembly. So we put it all
together, and we test it in our facility,
as well. We make everything run and
move and turn to what it's going to do
in the field. We're not breaking down
lumber in our facility, but making sure
all the equipment is doing what it's
supposed to do. We paint, finish and
ship them to the field."
Parts undergo conventional painting. Any powder coating is outsourced, along with any welding that
is more specialized, in higher volumes than Comact can handle or can
be outsourced less expensively than
Comact can do it. "The only thing we
keep in-house 100 percent is final
assembly and testing," Potvin empha-

Canada

Ups and Downs
Comact's customers sell their lumber primarily to the construction industry, so Comact's economic well-being
is tied to the volatility of the housing market. "During the crash we had in 2008, construction basically fell
down and stopped for a little while in the U.S.," recalls Simon Potvin, Comact senior vice president of manufacturing. "The price of lumber came down to $225 to $250 per thousand board feet. Today, it is $400 to $450. For
that period of time, our customers were just trying to survive. They were just doing maintenance - nobody
was investing in capital projects. So for a period of time, it was very slow for our industry."
Although in 2008 business was tough, Comact's sawmill business is improving. "These are good times
for the sawmill industry," Potvin declares. "The price of lumber has been coming up in the last 18 months.
There have been a few little bumps, but it has been steadily coming up. We've started seeing a lot of
requests for quotes and a lot of urgency from our customers."
Sawmills are expanding in the southern United States because of the timber availability there. That was one
of the reasons Comact located its new plant in the heart of that region. Companies in other North American
locations might be acquiring other companies or facilities or consolidating their own.
"There would be a couple small mills, and they put more money in a third one to give them more capacity,"
Potvin observes. "Or they are trying to be more efficient. Instead of running two or three small mills, they will try
to put a bigger one together. Or they are just upgrading their equipment to the technology that is available today.
Some companies have not invested for 10 to 15 years. We could see they are a couple of technology cycles behind.
So they have a lot of catching up to do."
For this reason, Potvin sees a future of growth for Comact. "I think the wood products business is going to be
there," he predicts. "There is a nice and solid positive cycle in front of us for three to five years. We're trying to
prepare ourselves to be the leaders of that industry for these years and serve North America with the best
sawmill equipment as possible. We want to be a big part of it for the next five years."

sizes. "We want to have the last look
at our equipment before we send it to
the customer."
The new South Carolina plant will
concentrate on cutting, steel preparation and welding, along with some
small-scale machining, painting and
some mechanical assembly. Fewer
hydraulic and pneumatic components
will be assembled in South Carolina
and more mechanical and structural
work done there. "At the moment,
we're trying to replicate what we are
doing in other plants because we
know it works," Potvin says.
Comact purchased an existing
building for the South Carolina plant
and began transforming it Aug. 1 for
its new use. The company has purchased approximately 80 percent of
the production equipment in it new.
"We did find some good deals on
used equipment, so we did buy it,"
Potvin concedes.

More Planning
The latest production technology
the company has purchased besides
the equipment for the new South

Carolina plant are plasma cutting
equipment and an automated steel
beam-cutting machine. "We've put a
lot more emphasis on the way we're
planning and we're doing our
sequence of manufacturing and trying to maximize the volume of the
plants while keeping the work in
process as low as possible and cutting the lead-time," Potvin says. "So
we've been working on our software
and planning tools to really focus on
that to maximize the usage of our
facilities without putting the inventory up and creating larger costs.
This is where most of the energy has
been put in the last couple years.
When we would feel we are in the
position where we do maximize the
usage of our assets, then we might go
in and invest more in robotics and
other technology, but that's not
where we are yet."
An additional challenge of
Comact's business is ensuring each
little component for every custom
wood processing system is available
when it is needed - but not too soon -
during the entire production schedJANUARY/FEBRUARY 2014 manufacturing-today.com

207


http://www.manufacturing-today.com

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