Industrial, Mobile and Marine Hydraulic Specialists

Norcan Fluid Power

A lot of companies do what is necessary in order to get the job done. Then there are those that go beyond the minimum to not only finish a project, but to solve issues long after the initial job is completed…

Norcan Fluid Power prides itself on the ability to problem-solve; its in-house research and development team loves a challenge. With worldwide suppliers and double digit growth in 2011/2012, Norcan has become Western Canada’s premier supplier of hydraulic components and expertise. We spoke recently with General Sales Manager, Scott Brown and its Operations Manager, Wes Hamm.

The company got its start in a small service repair shop in Vancouver in 1974. As the company grew, what began as a service model expanded into a product line that catered toward the needs of various industries including mining, forestry and fishing. Continued growth saw expansion throughout BC and into the prairies when offices opened in Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon in 1998.

Norcan Fluid Power does it all. The company will take a system design, engineer it, fabricate it in-shop, test it comprehensively under its robust quality control system, install it in the field, commission it and maintain it over the years. That is all-encompassing. The company also carries a large inventory of new components and parts to build and maintain these products in the field to the tune of $8 million to support its customer base.

The backbone of this business is the firm’s engineering expertise and the top service the company provides. With engineering offices in three locations, any large job can be tackled through teamwork between them. “Engineering and problem solving has become a main focus,” says Scott.

Indeed, Norcan Fluid Power is known for its ability to solve problems for its clients. A few years back it was involved with a potash mine that was conducting a significant underground expansion. A lot more product was being produced; the mine, however, did not account for the fact that the system in place was not able to efficiently deal with the increases in volume. The skips were unable to bring new volumes up any faster because of the time it took to dump them. “We had our engineering team redesign and automate the system,” Wes explains. “We increased production by fifty percent and accomplished this in a short period of time. Today, they are looking at doing several other mines because it works so well.”

There are other strengths to this company as well. The products it represents are industry leaders – for example, Norcan has the distribution rights for all of Western Canada when it comes to Danfoss Power Solutions. Danfoss, formerly known as Sauer-Danfoss, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of mobile hydraulics. Norcan has a long list of great product lines it represents throughout Western Canada; suppliers / partners are a big part of the company’s success. “We work closely with the factory representatives to keep up with product changes, upgrades and training requirements,” Scott explains.

Norcan offers a modular machine control system called PLUS 1 under the Danfoss name. This electronic programmable logic controller has solved many problems and issues in the field as it allows for customizable controls for mobile machinery. It is able to electronically monitor all system parameters, doing away with the old analogue systems of twenty years ago. “Down-hole tools and top-drive systems in oil fields are using mobile applications and [these] have enabled the operators to get their hands off the levers and onto a touch screen control pad,” explains Wes.

“Business has changed so much with the need for automation and more electronics along with system design and integration. We are really leading the way. We are like a one-stop shop for a complete system.”

Wes has just undertaken a new initiative, supplying the company’s crews in the field with iPads. Norcan has invested in a software package that integrates with its main server; everything can be viewed live with the customer on any given site. Remarkably, Norcan is the first company in the industry to use this technology and it says a lot about the foresight of its management.

Other competitive advantages are evident in the company’s front line and technical sales people who can be called upon to provide hands-on assistance. “We are not a bunch of suit and tie type people,” shares Wes. “It is very much blue collar business here, and it’s a big advantage. Our people take control of the situation without having to call in a bunch of expertise and waiting extra days. It’s something we can provide right on the spot.” The company invests heavily in training and upgrading, making sure not to put anyone in the field unless they are ready.

Wes and Scott are very proud of the efforts taken to provide service to the company’s client base. “We are 24/7/365 and are not limited by hours; we don’t close at lunchtime. We have paid people on call 24/7 and we will go out on the Friday night of a long weekend to help a customer on a mill that is down and in need of servicing immediately.”

Recently Norcan had to work on a large P-24 size Denison Pump up in the Prince George branch. This $35,000 unit was required in Meadow Lake, Sask. In a panic rush, it was driven to Edmonton, then flown to Saskatoon where it was rebuilt and modified before being taken to the Meadow Lake Mechanical Pulp mill to get it up and running. The rework took place over a quick one and a half days over a weekend and involved two different company branches across three provinces. That is the type of service Norcan is known for.

The challenges Norcan faces are not dissimilar to those faced by most trade-based industries in today’s economy. Finding people who want to work in this field, without having to lure them away from existing companies, is proving to be more difficult as time passes as it seems fewer young people are entering the skilled trades. “We try to breed our own by bringing in good people, training them and bringing them up through the ranks. We are putting as much training as we can at the branch level, having older guys mentor the younger guys. We also have a quality control process in-house that is followed to ensure that the learning is done correctly.”

Times certainly have changed. Today, careers in the industrial market are not as sought after by younger workers whereas, twenty years ago, many kids coming out of high schools went into trades. “We need to find those people because it’s a very lucrative process and a great career! We attract good people due to our reputation as a leader throughout Western Canada.”

Having quality employees is, of course, a must if a company is to provide good service and Norcan works hard to reward and retain its people by making the company an attractive place to work – encouraging staff barbecues and get-togethers at the branch level. “We are always keeping the customer in mind, but it’s also about our employees. We give them flexible shifts where they can work four days and have a day off to promote more quality time with their families. We have that ability because we are privately owned, and we are able to see that vision as innovation to make a better home for our people.” The initiatives are working; the company boasts a number of long-term employees.

Besides retaining talent, another challenge has to do with the current the state of the economy. The oil and gas market has softened somewhat in Alberta and the mining industry has scaled back operations as well. But as Scott explains, Norcan is used to these challenges. “In BC, the forestry industry has not been strong for many years, but it’s starting to come back now. The challenges we face open up opportunities to approach our customers on new ways of doing things with reliability, cost savings and new ideas.”

Norcan Fluid Power and its research and development team are always coming up with ways to improve the reliability of systems. Clients are looking for longer warranties and machines that are built to last. Years ago this was not an issue, as standard warranties of six months to a year were considered acceptable. But the systems are run pretty hard and have to be trouble free for the customer.

Quality control is one of the biggest issues in the industry; Norcan initiated a new quality program a few years ago to ensure products meet consistent standards when they leave the shop regardless of whether they come out of Prince George, Langley or Saskatoon. It’s an important factor as customers are becoming more discerning.

Recently, Norcan Fluid Power saw double digit growth, exceeding all its expectations. “There is a great market out there in Alberta, and we went after it.” The company brought in the right product at the right time, and supported it with its high level of service. “We saw a need for our core product and made a commitment that, if we had it, we should sell it.”

June 19, 2018, 8:10 AM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.