This Innovative Manufacturer Sets the Pace in the Snowplow Sector
Metal Pless of Plessisville, Quebec is a frontrunner in the snowplow manufacturing sector. Clients rely on the company’s products to clear public roadways, commercial and industrial properties, as well as airports during and after a snowfall. It is a task done under intense time pressure and scrutiny; city streets and parking lots must be plowed quickly to maintain access in adverse weather conditions.
“You’ve got to clear the snow ASAP – get it out of there. So efficiency is the biggest thing. Our blades give you the highest level of efficiency,” states Metal Pless Sales Manager Jason Whittemore.
For years, the general approach to snow clearing in North America has been to plow, then apply salt and liquids to remove any remaining snow and ice. Metal Pless offers a more direct solution. “How about, ‘Let’s scrape better?’ If I remove more snow, I can significantly reduce the amount of salt and liquids needed,” says Whittemore.
“We offer twenty-seven models [snowplows] in total. There are a few models that stick out – that we do the bulk of our business with. MaxxPro built for industrial size loaders with hydraulic wings, unique to the snow industry market, is one of our most popular models,” he continues.
The firm’s main manufacturing operations and head office are based in Plessisville, a small community from which the company derives its name. Metal Pless also operates a paint and assembly facility locally.
The company’s products can be fitted on various vehicles including tractors, wheel loaders, backhoes, skid steers, and tandem trucks. Plows are sold through a North America-wide dealer network. Dealers, in turn, sell to customers – typically snow contractors, Departments of Transportation (DOT), airports, or other government entities. Sales are primarily based in Canada and the U.S.
“Metal Pless is growing exponentially in North America. Quebec and Ontario are significant strongholds. The United States market is growing at an incredible rate coast to coast. We are also growing markets in Europe, Russia and China,” explains Whittemore.
Metal Pless can trace its roots to a firm founded by Luc Vigneault in 1976 that did machining work. Iron railings and steel structures were among his specialties.
“He did a little bit of everything. In the late 1970s, he was asked to build a snow pusher. As a result, interest increased, creating a demand to build more. Throughout the eighties and nineties, we built all sorts of stuff,” recalls Whittemore.
In the mid-2000s, the company decided to concentrate on snowplows, and by 2011, Metal Pless was uniquely building snowplows. Luc Vigneault’s son, Jimmy, is the current company president.
Whittemore says what makes Metal Pless unique is that the company is dynamic, “constantly innovating. Metal Pless is one of those companies that is best known for innovation. You take all the competitors out there, look at their blade twenty years ago, and look at their blade today. It’s the same darn thing, nothing much has changed. We are constantly making changes, and those changes are influenced by operator feedback. We’re one of the few companies out there that listen to the needs of the snow removal industry. Every year, we make improvements – new products or the same product being made better, more efficient, more durable, and requiring less maintenance.”
Whittemore points to multiple breakthrough products produced by Metal Pless as evidence of the company’s creative mindset: hydraulic wings, zero impact soft drive trip edge and the Live Edge technology. The concept for hydraulic wings was developed by Luc and Jimmy Vigneault in the 1980s. Their idea was to make a versatile piece of equipment that can push, windrow and/or back drag, using the hydraulic wings that are operated individually for more efficient snow removal.
“Metal Pless was the very first company worldwide to manufacture hydraulic wings,” states Whittemore proudly.
This was followed by another major invention called Live Edge. This product was developed to address an issue that has long plagued snow removal efforts. A straight snowplow blade going over an uneven surface will almost certainly miss a few spots, whereas the Live Edge features a segmented edge with moveable parts that is designed to remove snow from uneven surface areas.
“Basically, we take the cutting edge and divide it into sections. Each section can float up and down by three inches and oscillate by two inches side by side,” explains Whittemore.
The result is that “one hundred percent of the time,” a blade edge will be touching the ground he says, adding, “When you use Live Edge, you will have bare asphalt behind you.”
Metal Pless developed Live Edge about ten years ago and was soon mass-producing the product. The main benefits include time and cost savings and safety, says Whittemore. Then, there is the fact Live Edge blades have carbide cutting edges which last longer under punishing conditions and do not need to be constantly replaced.
There are also environmental advantages to using Live Edge or other efficient Metal Pless plows. “We’re killing the environment with salt use. Drive anywhere in the snow belt from the northern USA to Canada, and look at the side of the road. The vegetation is dead. Lakes, rivers, ponds and forests are negatively impacted. They’re dying because of the amount of salt being spread,” says Whittemore.
“Because I scrape bare asphalt after each pass, I don’t have to go back and do a second pass. With a normal twelve-foot blade on uneven asphalt, I might leave up to two inches of snow in some areas and might have to give a second pass. With Live Edge, one pass, and it’s clean,” he states.
Leaving debris behind can set up a dangerous scenario in which the wheels of a snow removal vehicle lose traction and spin. Because Live Edge scrapes so efficiently, wheels are always in contact with bare asphalt and do not lose traction.
Metal Pless has a design team who works closely with Jimmy Vigneault. “Every concept that’s on the blade comes from Jimmy Vigneault’s mind. They just draw it and make it happen. The initial idea comes from him. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on the drawing board right now. We have been testing Live Edge 2.0 and 3.0 for the past couple of years. We keep a low profile because we want to make sure it’s perfect before introducing to the market,” says Whittemore.
Having that team of designers and a creative, hands-on president helps Metal Pless come up with new ideas, but the company’s standardized wares make it easier to maintain consistent quality. “We only have three main blades, but they are different sizes and configurations. You don’t have a million different products to test,” he says.
“Each blade produced is inspected. We have two chief inspectors. One inspects during manufacturing and assembly. Prior to shipping the second inspector double checks the assembly, fastening and hydraulic routing. They also verify that the correct cylinders and attachments are in place, thus ensuring our highest standards are in place on all our products.”
Metal Pless benefits heavily on word-of-mouth for promotion. “Some of the best salesmen out there are our customers. They go on social media, put out videos, pictures. They are so amazed by the efficiency, quality and strength they get from Metal Pless, they brag about it. Others take notice and end up buying our products. We have very few unhappy customers,” says Whittemore.
On top of this, Metal Pless takes a proactive approach to the tradeshow front. “We do about thirty-six trade shows a year. We are everywhere. We just like talking about our products. We’re not huge on advertising, however. We do some advertising in brochures and magazines, but that’s not our driving factor.” He notes that extensive marketing is unnecessary because of the quality of the product. “People see it; they use it; they talk about it.”
Right now, Metal Pless has a core staff of fifty to sixty employees. That figure doubles when people contracted to work on parts and components are added. The company is currently experiencing rapid growth, with annual sales increasing each of the past eight years. Overall revenues have leapt eightfold since 2011, and according to Whittemore, this has been prompted by high demand for products such as Live Edge technology.
The company plans to continue expanding, particularly into Europe. “We’ve just dabbled there so far,” he says. This is not to say Metal Pless is going to ignore its North American customers. In fact, Whittemore sees business doubling in Canada and the United States within five years.
“There’s lots of room. We want to grow the municipal side, the [Department of Transportation], the highways. There are so many roads out there that are unsafe – accidents caused because roads are not cleared properly,” he states.
Having proven itself, the company has no plans to alter its direction. “Our main market will always be the snowplow,” says Whittemore.