MACFAB THEN AND NOW: Part Two in a 2-part feature
In early 2016, as the company gets settled in with its new location and expanded facilities and resources, founder David Macmorine and current president, David’s son, Chris, look back to the company’s humble beginnings and discuss their plans for the future.
In Part One, David and Chris Macmorine described some of the ups and downs that preceded the official formation of Macfab Manufacturing. In Part Two, they give an overview of the company’s growth since then.
PART TWO: RETOOLING THE BUSINESS
Macfab founder David Macmorine endured many setbacks before his business came into its own as Macfab Manufacturing in 1987. There would still be more obstacles to overcome, of course, but clearly the company was now heading in the right direction.
In 1989, David moved the company, moving from its 1,400-square-foot location to a 3,000-foot space in a multi-unit industrial complex. Before long, he took the adjacent unit, then added another, then another. When son Chris came onboard as general manager in 2004, the company occupied five 3,000-square-foot units; by 2014, Macfab had taken over eight of the available units and before long was looking for more. From there, in its biggest move yet, the company relocated at the end of 2015. The new plant had double the floor space. Its Quality Assurance lab facilities and clean room assembly resources increased four times over. Just as important, plenty of space was available for future expansion in all areas, from production to assembly and administration.
The company’s growth happened one step at a time – new machines, new capabilities, new people – all predicated on the company’s ability to attract new customers and break into new markets, both in Canada and internationally. But while the scale changed, the business strategy hasn’t. When Chris took over as president upon David’s retirement in 2012, his top priority was to stay the course, resisting the all-too-common tendency of new leaders to “fix what ain’t broken.”
“The whole foundation of my father’s ideas – of prototyping through to production, developing products here in Canada, always trying to challenge ourselves – I knew these were good ideas. All I’ve done is just massaged and tweaked the path.”
– Chris Macmorine
“Our core values are our core strengths”
Both father and son attribute Macfab’s achievements to three longstanding core values:
Service excellence, the ability to adapt and respond quickly to customers’ needs and challenges. This, too, traces back to David’s first job, at the University of Toronto’s Department of Experimental Pathology, and his innate talent as “the facilitator,” the ability to communicate the needs of the customer (in this case, doctors and lab researchers) to the machinists. It’s what Chris describes as Macfab’s role today as “the intelligent interface.”
“We can talk to engineers at their level. Part of it’s understanding the industry. Whether it’s medical or nuclear or trace element detection, every industry has the same needs with their product development – having a manufacturer that’s able to understand where their parts are going and what they’re used for.”
Strategic technology investments: Investing in technological innovations that accelerate operational performance and drive customer satisfaction. From David’s earliest days working out of his basement right through to Macfab’s most recent equipment purchases, nearly every investment decision has been based on a specific customer’s requirements. “The reason we built a clean room,” Chris explains, “was that one of our customers said it would be really fantastic if we could do that for them. Same with the micro-machining, which at the time was fairly new for us. Since then, and especially with our new facilities, we’ve strengthened this capability quite significantly.”
People: Attracting and retaining the most talented people. “I looked at the employees as our most important commodity,” says David. “To hell with capital – you can always get capital if you’re doing a good job. The employees are our livelihood, they’re important, and I’ve always done whatever I could for them.”
That sense of dedication to staff is something that Chris learned at a very early age. “I would definitely say it’s my upbringing,” he acknowledges. But it’s a lesson he saw again – or more accurately, what he didn’t see – during his career before joining Macfab.
“I worked for a multinational engineering firm where I was just a number. And I worked for a publicly traded company where it was all about the shareholder, and they’d really lost sight of their employees. That’s something I’ll never lose sight of, and I know my father never lost sight of. It’s all about the people. You have to surround yourself with good people, then you have a good company.”
– Chris Macmorine
All business leaders talk about how much they value their people, but for David and Chris these are not merely corporate platitudes. A strong talent base has always been fundamental to Macfab’s success. “When you’re doing prototypes,” David says, “if you want to make one part, you need top-end manual machinists. Today it’s very difficult to find key people that can do manual machining. A top-end CNC machinist that can make one part efficiently is extremely rare.”
Chris agrees on this point, too: “I think technology change, with software changes, and machinery changes, they’re basically taking the craftsman out of the machining industry. The technology is picking that up, of course. It’s taking that knowledge base and making sure everything that what’s in that machinist’s head is in the software, but you still need the mechanical aptitude. You have to have it.” Macfab does indeed have it, by virtue of a hand-picked team. “Most machine shops have one or two very strong skilled machinists and 20 or 30 machine operators. We’re a reverse model of that: our skill level is very top-heavy.”
Back to the Future
To anyone who knows David or Chris, or has worked with anyone on the Macfab team, it will come as no surprise to hear that the future of this company is going to look a lot like it does today. As Macfab’s history demonstrates, when you learn how to solve your customers’ problems, and you put the best available technology in the hands of an A-list team of machining specialists, great things will happen. There will be differences in its scope and scale of operations, and the business will continue to change in response to evolving technological and market trends. But as Chris Macmorine explains, these differences too will be customer-driven.
“The direction I’m taking the company is to become more of a one-stop shop, right from the prototype to the final production, and that’s the way we’ve always grown. But I’m adding to it where we can do the full turnkey – to provide a customer with a finished sub-assembly or assembly. Another area is to build an engineering team and be able to do design-build – taking on a project where we take a customer’s existing assembly or help them design a new assembly, and then bring it through to final production with our own engineering team.”
– Chris Macmorine
As described in a news release in late December 2015 (click here to read the story), the company’s relocation to larger premises is designed to fulfill exactly that kind of strategy. Along with its expanded or newly added resources, the plant also leaves ample room for more growth – more equipment, more people, new capabilities. In short, as David Macmorine puts it, “It’s still the same challenges. It’s development. It’s prototypes. It’s short-run and production. It’s still basically the same business except our opportunities are bigger…”
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If you missed Part One of this story, you can see it here.