Infrared Manufacturer Opens New Canadian Plant

By Simon Blake

Global market, lean manufacturing point to promising future

It was a dark day in March, 2004 when the Levi Strauss jeans plant in Stoney Creek, Ont. closed, along with the company’s other Canadian plants in Brantford, Ont. and Edmonton. Ten years later on Aug. 27 at that same Stoney Creek plant the sun was shining and the locals were out in force to celebrate a Canadian manufacturing success story.
Superior Radiant Products, a Canadian manufacturer of high efficiency tube type infrared heaters, had gutted and refurbished the old factory to establish a new plant and headquarters.

Lean manufacturing

Located at 563 Barton Street just south of Hamilton, Ont., the new 40,000 sq. ft. facility is about double the size of the old one. But the new plant is just one aspect of a shift to modern manufacturing, noted Nigel Southway, a consultant that has guided Superior Radiant in its adoption of lean manufacturing techniques.The goal was to be highly responsive to customer requirements, to adopt short cycle/lean build-to-order capability and to offer a wide range of products and variations. Inventory and lead times were substantially reduced. Assembly lines have become “flex lines,” meaning they can be quickly reconfigured for different models. The FIT burner line, for example, is offered in six different versions with 275 variations. “By default, it’s got to be built to order,” noted Southway. A “progressive assembly line” (PAL) has seven stations including testing and packaging. Inventory is at point of use, which minimizes material handling. But it wasn’t an easy process to set up, he added.

The product has to be designed to be built-to-order. Workers had to be cross-trained for continuously changing tasks. Every manufacturing procedure has been examined and improved. A burner box now takes about a quarter of the time to construct, for example, said manufacturing manager Bruno Bieri. Demand fluctuates considerably because heating is still a seasonal business, although not as much as it used to be, he added. Skills training, product design reviews and process improvement meetings are continuous, noted Southway. “What we’re doing today is not what we’re going to be tomorrow. If you’re going to survive, it means continuous improvement.”

Certification Process

As if manufacturing several versions of every product with hundreds of variations isn't difficult enough, each variation has to be tested and certifed by the CSA group. As result, the new plant includes a CSA certified lab so that the company can do it’s own testing and approvals. A CSA official must witness every test. Typically, product development takes about a year including all the testing for the different models, reported engineering manager John Obeid.

A global company

Every aspect of the company’s business has been examined and revised. The company ships its products all over the world.“A lot of thought goes into packaging,” remarked operations manager John Robinson. That means one standard package with 60 different configurations. Tubes and reflectors are shipped in bundles. 200 boxes fit a 53-foot trailer. Much attention has also been paid to how things are located in the plant so that products flow smoothly and quickly through the manufacturing process to shipping and onto the trucks. The expanded plant will also allow Superior to bring some manufacturing back to Canada. One patio heater line that was being made in China is now being made in Stoney Creek.

A long road in short time

Superior Radiant has come a long way in just 19 years, remarked company president Kevin Merritt. It started with four employees and the first order went to Prince George, B.C.

Today the company also operates plants in China and the U.S. It has 60 employees worldwide. The company is ISO 9001 certified – meaning its operating procedures and quality control are third-party approved to a high level. It recently received approval to use the CE mark for Europe. Products manufactured at the Stoney Creek plant meet all European Union requirements and can now be sold there. “We’re very proud of that,” remarked Merritt.

For the hundred or so dignitaries and local residents that came to the plant for the grand opening Aug. 27, it was a much needed day of celebration. The area has lost about 18,000 manufacturing jobs in recent years. “But they are coming back,” remarked Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina. And what about those Levis employees? Three of them are now working at Superior Radiant.

Superior Radiant Products Ltd. has been designing and manufacturing infrared heating equipment for the North American and international space heating markets since 1995, at its facility in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada. SRP has additional facilities in Qingdao China to support sales in Asia and has recently added Superior Radiant Products Inc., Kennesaw Georgia to fully support the US market. Our mission is to expand, through the application of sound engineering, quality manufacturing and customer-attentive marketing, the use of infrared heating technology and products, because the concept is environmentally sound and fuel-efficient.

Susan Samson
Superior Radiant Products Ltd.