Bourgault expands, upgrades

The machinery manufacturer designed the facility around a Japanese model to improve efficiencies

ST. BRIEUX, Sask. — An expansion covering 4.5 acres and costing $50 million should be in full production at Bourgault Industries Ltd. by summer’s end.

“We’re going to improve our efficiencies so we’re going to be able to consolidate our work,” said Rob Fagnou, marketing specialist at the company.

Manufacturing of drills and tillage equipment will move to the new building, while air seeders will continue to be made at the older facility.

The company’s original site in downtown St. Brieux will be “mothballed,” Fagnou said during a recent tour by members of the Saskatchewan Farm Writers’ Association.

The expansion has been under construction for nearly two years and began during an industry downturn. Fagnou said people questioned why the company would undertake an expensive and large project at that time.

However, he said Bourgault has a long-term plan.

“We really did need the space.”

The company now employs 500 people in the town of about 600 near Melfort, Sask. It also has 75 staff at a facility in Minot, North Dakota, and 25 in Australia at two facilities, as well as an office in Kiev, Ukraine.

“A large part of our workforce in St. Brieux are local people,” Fagnou said.

“We also have a (contingent) from the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Ireland and a few other locations that, as we grew and started to outstrip the supply of labour in our area, we went overseas to get more people brought in to work here.”

The employee base is fairly stable with a 20 to 30 percent annual turnover. One of the company’s first employees from the 1970s is still on the job.

The new building is designed to accommodate the growing workforce and new technology. For example, pulse welders that produce less splatter are set up between double work bays so that when the job on one side is finished the welders simply move a few steps over to keep working rather than moving out the finished components and bringing in new ones.

New paint booths will be able to powder coat frames using a paint-and-bake system for a more durable finish on large frames.

There is also room to store steel so that Bourgault can stockpile when prices are good.

As well, the building features a 350-foot moving floor at the final assembly stage. Ten-foot panels move about four inches a minute as workers put the final touches on drills heading out the door.

It takes 12 hours to build a drill from start to finish, Fagnou said.

Bourgault uses the Lean model of manufacturing and designed the expansion using those principles, which companies around the world have adopted from Toyota in Japan.

“We’re like toddlers in Lean compared to the grandfather, Toyota,” said Bernard Ferre, who works in the company’s service and warranty operation.

However, he said it was easy to notice the bottlenecks in the old facility, and time management will improve after the move.

The Bourgault plant shuts down for two weeks each summer so that the maintenance staff can come through for cleaning and repairs. This year, that will be followed by the move.

Ferre credits Bourgault’s longevity to maintaining its farmer roots and understanding what farmers want. For example, the leaders of the marketing and tillage operations still farm.

A cart sitting on tracks inside the new plant is another example of listening to customers, many of whom have been struggling with wet conditions the last few years.

“It’s an expensive option,” Fagnou said of the tracks.

“We were a little surprised at the uptake.”

There is an $80,000 difference between tracks and tires, which puts the cart at about $400,000 retail.

However, Ferre said there are limitations to the expensive option.

“You can’t run on the highway very long. Tracks need a lubricant, and dirt is a lubricant.”

The company unveiled an air seeder and hoe drill at last week’s Canada’s Farm Progress Show.

Most of its sales are still in Western Canada, but Fagnou said Australia represents 10 to 12 percent of the market.

The U.S. market is a struggle be-cause farmers there tend to be more brand sensitive, Ferre added.

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