On the Cutting Edge
The Williams and White Group of Companies
In its modest beginning as Claxton and Williams, a Vancouver-based partnership between Christopher Williams, Jack Claxton, and Len Claxton, the company was strictly a machining operation with contracts from local industries.
Chris Williams migrated from England just after World War II and worked for a number of different shops as a machinist and toolmaker before his partnership with the Claxton brothers. A few years later, the Claxton brothers sold their shares in the company to Len White, the other half of the company’s contemporary namesake. Eventually the company would become a single-family business when Chris and Margaret Williams bought the remaining shares from White in 1963. The consolidation would mark the beginning of the company’s major expansion into manufacturing and increasing notoriety among local industries.
The company was still a jobbing facility, servicing various components that were needed within Vancouver’s prevalent sawmill industry. Its focus consisted of working with small lathes and other milling machines within the shop.
One of the sawmills with which Williams and White had developed a relationship was MacMillian Bloedell in New Westminster. Chris Williams’ grandson, Matt Williams, now the company’s President and Chief Operating Officer, reminisces, “My grandfather was working in what is called the filing room, and at that time it was all manual processing. There were, however, a couple of companies that had come out with the machinery to maintain saw blades but they were hard to come by.” He explains, “My grandfather was approached to build a machine that would maintain circular saw blades. He built it, and that was the start of Williams and White Equipment which is the division of the company that manufactures saw and knife maintenance products.”
The original machine built for maintaining circular saw blades is actually still in use today. After the sawmill in New Westminster closed its doors, Williams and White purchased the machine back as a little piece of history and a reminder of the hard work that has gone into making the company what it is today.
In the 1970s, Conrad Williams began working with his father Christopher as a machinist within the company. Through the ‘70s and ‘80s the company concentrated its efforts on manufacturing the equipment for saw blade filing and maintenance rooms. Today there are over a thousand installations of Williams and White machinery and maintenance equipment throughout the world, a great deal of which has been installed since the 1980s.
During the company’s more recent growth over the last three decades, Williams and White Manufacturing, the contract division of the company, was steadily growing as well. The company now hosts the largest grinding facility in Western Canada. Matt Williams describes the facility, noting, “We do very large surface grinding and flange grinding, we have some of the largest CNC machining capacity in Western Canada and we recently installed a very large multi access vertical turning lathe that will turn components of up to a 100 inch diameter. Because it is a multi function lathe, it will also do drilling and milling at the same time.”
Matt Williams started working full time with the company in 2000, during one of the forestry industry’s most severe recessions. It was at that time that Williams and White Manufacturing played an instrumental role in completing various contracts to ensure the rest of the company could maintain its footing on a solid income. While the company’s equipment division has maintained a strong foothold within the forestry sector, manufacturing remains a larger share of the company’s business. Over the years, Williams and White Manufacturing has played an instrumental role in some of the major architectural projects in the province, including the BC Place Roof, the Port Mann Bridge, and the Lions Gate Bridge.
In 2000, Matt and his brother Justin purchased the company from their father Conrad, and ten years later, their father retired. Matt Williams explains that the manufacturing division consists of CNC machining, manual machining and manufacturing engineering, while the equipment division “sells circular and band saw maintenance equipment, knife grinding equipment as well as OEM replacement parts for Gang and Edger systems.”
Sales and marketing are all done out of a single location in Burnaby, BC. The majority of the company’s employees are engineers and tradespeople, generally machinists, fabricators and tool makers, and they are qualified to operate a range of equipment and to complete many tasks related to component fabrication. The company also employs a number of mechanical, electrical and mechatronics engineers, as well as salespeople, for equipment, manufacturing and Remtech.
The company also offers a maintenance package on any equipment that it sells. The package is offered on a yearly contract basis without a hassle. Williams and White maintains its equipment to OEM specifications and keeps it working as if it were purchased yesterday.
As Canada’s only manufacturer of saw and knife maintenance equipment, Williams and White is a very unique company. The company has managed to remain family-owned and oriented since the early ‘60s which is no small feat in the face of the depressions that have faced the forestry sector in recent years. The company holds product patents, which come from working so closely with the sawmills in the area.
Williams and White invests significantly in research and development to stay on top of the market. Not only does this research provide the company with an innovative edge, it also has a broad footing in many other industries and can draw from a wide range of sectors to make its products as competitive as possible.
The company’s competitive position in the market is not solely attributable to the watchful eye it fixes on future industry needs and trends, though; much of its success rests on its connection to the past and with the current relationships it continues to foster. “We have been in the industry for 60 years,” explains Mr. Williams. “We have close relationships with saw and knife makers and we can bring all of that history and technical ability into the filing rooms and deliver them as products.”
The company will always strive to stay at the top of its customers’ minds by ensuring that its database is kept current. Williams and White provides individual attention to its clients, guaranteeing that every customer is cared for and has the products and services they require to be as productive and safe as possible. It’s that kind of service commitment that helps Williams and White set itself apart from the competition.
In addition to the equipment and manufacturing divisions, Justin and Matt formed the subsidiary, Remtech Systems. Through this new enterprise, the company provides robotics integration and other automation with a focus on safety and productivity by design.
After just a few years since being introduced Remtech Systems has already begun making major waves in the area, with numerous installations across the lower mainland. In March, Remtech was named the sixth most innovative company in British Columbia by BC Business. Among projects in consideration for the award was a robotic installation at a company called Canada Metal. Remtech Systems integrated a robot to pour molten zinc into castings – a dangerous process previously done by hand. In addition to completely removing workers from a dangerous work zone, this installation increased production by up to 366 percent, surpassing the production of the Canada Metal’s plant in China.
With the continued growth of Williams and White, the Williams brothers identified the need to further diversify the divisions of the company. As part of the re-branding project, Williams and White will soon become the Williams and White Group of Companies, with Williams and White Equipment, Williams and White Manufacturing and Remtech Systems as member companies. Each division will be recognized as an individual company, and will have a new logo and website to go along with it.
In September, the Williams and White Group will hold an open house with an expected 400 attendees as well as robotic demonstrations and facility tours. The Williams expect this type of exposure following a re-branding of this size to bring awareness and business from a wide range of industries. “It’s all about getting people here to see who we are and what we’re about. Once we do that, our knowledge and capabilities handle the rest.”