There’s more to a log than meets the eye: how a local debarking company contributes to producing quality products in BC and around the globe
Do you ever wonder what goes on in that mustard building next to the Victoria International Airport in the West Sidney Industrial Park? Well Nicholson Manufacturing makes some of the toughest and most reliable machines for the British Columbia and global forestry industry.
They bend, cut, mill and weld steel into a line of Nicholson debarkers and Madill loader/yarder machines right here on the Saanich Peninsula. As I continue to tour the various businesses in Saanich North and the Islands I celebrate what we create here.
Forestry is one of the four foundational industries of British Columbia.
Along with agriculture, fishing and mining, forestry is at the heart and soul of many communities throughout our province.
From wood fibre we create thousands of products. But first, logs need to be debarked – and that is where a majority of mills in British Columbia and worldwide turn to the Saanich Peninsula and the call goes to Sidney based company Nicholson Manufacturing.
“All around the globe, wherever there is a forest products industry, you will find Nicholson equipment in operation. Nicholson’s Ring Debarkers provide the user with exceptional production potential, superior debarking quality, unequaled up time, ease of maintenance and decades of reliable service.” Nicholson Manufacturing
The Madill loaders and yarders are prominent in the cutblock, while the Nicholson debarker starts the process in the mill. The amount of value that can be derived from a log is really incredible. I am a strong proponent for innovation and using every last fibre of every tree we cut down.
The 150+ people working at the state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Sidney are of the most highly trained engineers, fabricators and millwrights in the business. They design all of their products on site and partner with local foundries who assist with some aspects of the fabrication.
While their products are tough, like the terrain that they are designed to work in, they do require maintenance and replacement parts. So that is why Nicholson maintains small manufacturing and warehouse facilities in the United States, New Zealand and Europe. Their customers operate in a highly competitive marketplace. They cannot afford to have their machinery sitting idle, so they always keep spare parts in stock.
The workplace is evolving.
Automated racking systems feed crude, dull steel into the CNC robots that machine it to shining discs and arms ready for assembly somewhere else in the facility. It highlights an evolving workforce as well.
The plant in West Sidney is extremely busy. Place an order with Nicholson today and you will have to wait 14 months for delivery. Finding skilled workers is difficult. Competition is fierce and the market is strong. The labour market challenges are complex. It is more than just the fact that we have been training few machinists and fabricators. It is now that there just are not enough people available to recruit into the trades. The prime target for Nicholson is a 55+ skilled worker from Ontario looking to retire on the Saanich Peninsula but wanting to work another five or ten years.
Their plant is becoming increasingly automated. CNC machines are already working over time as is the robotic welder. When we think about automation and increasingly roboticized workplaces we often think of the jobs that will be lost. The tour of Nicholson highlighted for me that in some, if not many, cases, automation will fill labour gaps that just cannot be filled with workers in the trades.
A billion reasons why…
There is good reason to celebrate the manufacturing industry on the Saanich Peninsula. Nicholson is one of many incredible companies who quietly create world-class products every day. Overall, the sector generates nearly a billion dollars each year to the economic output of the Capital Region.
So I welcome the opportunity to visit, listen, learn and advocate on their behalf. Their investment, innovation and inspiration contributes in countless ways. They are important part of fabric of our community.
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View the most recent edition of Championing Local Business focussing on Epicure