By Bill Tice
Alberta Truebeam Ltd. is one busy place. The phone never stops ringing, e-mails flood the computer screens, and raw materials come into the plant as finished orders leave for just in time delivery to job sites all over northern Alberta and northeast B.C.
By Bill Tice
It’s a scenario sales manager Dwayne Taylor is thrilled about. Just 18 months ago he and the other employees of the plant thought it was “lights out” for the High Prairie, Alberta roof and floor systems manufacturer. That was before a new owner bought the assets in June 2009 and jump-started the company.
“We were bought last year by Dan Vandermeulen who has been a local resident here in High Prairie for 40 years and is the retired president of Northern Lakes College,” explains Taylor, who has worked at the plant for about 15 years. “He has two sons working at Truebeam and when the opportunity came up to buy it, he saw it as an excellent investment and a chance to maintain some local employment in a community of 2500 people that lost 300 jobs when the local oriented strand board plant shut down.”
Vandermeulen has a great deal of confidence in Taylor and the approximately 25 people who operate the plant. He’s the ultimate hands off owner, spending most of his time north of the Arctic Circle where he came out of retirement to take on the role of president of Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.
Small and Nimble
Taylor says the company has a lot going for it, even with the turbulent ride anyone working in the wood products business has faced over the past few years. “Being an independent company and staying small and focused has really helped us out, especially as we have rebuilt under our new ownership,” he says. “We are small enough to be nimble, and we can turn on a dime if we have to change direction in production to meet a customer’s needs.”
He describes a job they just finished to illustrate the flexibility they have. “We got an order in yesterday for a floor system and we finished it this morning,” he says. “That’s just unheard of in this business, but the customer needed it and we could do it.”
Taylor also says location is key. “We service a market that we feel is underserviced locally,” he explains. “We basically make and sell floor and roofing systems for houses, condominium projects and hotels in areas such as Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, B.C. to Fort McMurray, Alberta and western Saskatchewan. Plus we, of course, sell locally and in places like Grand Prairie and even Edmonton.”
In most cases, the customers come to Alberta Truebeam with structural drawings and then one of four in-house designers creates the roof and floor systems to work with the client’s design. For most of the larger jobs, the client is the project’s owner, while on smaller projects such as houses, it can be a local retailer such as one of the local Rona stores.
Once the structural drawings are approved by an engineer, the project is put into Truebeam’s production schedule based on the customer’s time lines. Normally the floor system is finished first. It is a fairly simple procedure that starts with 60 ft. long engineered wood products that are cut to length and the project’s specifications.
For the roof systems, lumber is pulled from inventory or delivered just prior to the start of production and is cut to angles and lengths as specified by the design program used by Alberta Truebeam’s designers. The main saw used in the plant is an Australian-made Mango Saw. From the saw work area, the cut elements are moved to a Pacific Automation truss table with auto jigging. Once the pieces are correctly positioned, line employees assemble the trusses using connector plates. The trusses are then pressed as they roll off the line before being stacked and strapped for shipping, which is all done by trucks with self-unloading trailers.
Taylor says spring through fall is the busiest time for the company. They were running two shifts, five days per week earlier this year, but moved to two shifts seven days per week this summer with employees working on a four on, four off basis.
This year, rapidly changing prices for raw materials has been what Taylor calls a “gentle issue,” especially with lumber and LVL prices. “We’ve seen a lot of fluctuation and some price increases this year, but we have to look at the positive and that is that the mills are running. Nobody wants to see the mills lose money. Our quotes are only valid for 30 days so that minimizes the impact of price increases and we look at our customers as long term so we are willing to do what it takes to maintain the business.”
Most of Truebeam’s raw materials come from Broadleaf Logistics, which is a distributor of wood products that was owned by Weyerhaeuser but was recently sold to Canwel. “We need quality products with just in time delivery and these guys can do it for us,” notes Taylor. “They are consistent and they really come through.”
Truebeam uses mainly machine stress rated (MSR) lumber ranging from 2×4 to 2×10 for its roof systems and a combination of I-beams, laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and Microlam beams for its floor systems.
Looking forward, Taylor says they are being more cautious as they build up the business again. “We are gearing back up to previous production levels but since most of us were around when the old company ran into trouble we know how quickly things can change,” he says. “We are trying to manage our growth better and we really watch the market. In the past, we never said ‘no’ to an order and we still don’t, but we are approaching growth with caution and not letting it get ahead of us.”