A Better Way To Build Custom Machines By Bringing It All Under One Roof

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BP Automation, Edmonton

When Randy Brandstrom was working as an electrical engineer for Schlumberger in the early 1990s, he noticed a market opportunity. He found that there was no one-stop-shop for clients to who wanted a custom machine designed and built. The client would have to contract with one outfit for the design and then various parts would be made by various companies and maybe somebody else altogether would put it together. “Then, once you have it, you have electrical engineers lay out the controls and a software engineer will have to control it,” he says. “You’ll have issues. Maybe on the drawing it didn’t specify where a part had to go, or the motor mount is out by half a centimetre, so it goes back and forth and everyone’s pointing the finger at each other, but at the end of the day it’s your fault as the lead to try and handle all these skill sets.” And God help you if one of the contractors gets caught up in another job and brings the entire effort to a screeching halt.

Brandstrom thought it all very inefficient and costly, so, together with his wife, Lynne, he founded BP Automation in 1997. The simple but time-saving goal was to bring all the skill sets together under one roof, driving up productivity and shortening the wait time for clients. So he’s created a vertically integrated company complete with industrial designers, electrical, mechanical and software engineers, three full-time electricians, a machine shop and more. He and Lynne have since grown the company to 25 employees.

The other key to improving productivity, he says, has been finding the right employees. BP only does custom work, he says, so there are no mindless jobs. They’re building machines from scratch, using robotics and advanced motion control systems. “To get the right trades who have the mindset that they want to do creative stuff and use their heads, that’s the key,” he says. “We don’t have the mindless jobs. Some people want that, but the people that work for us typically play at a different level. They’re top hands in their fields.”

To keep them there, BP has actively encouraged training outside the office, but in such a specialized field, that hasn’t proven to be enough. “Sometimes it has to be learned on the job because there’s nothing out there that can train you,” Brandstrom says. “We set the standard, so have to develop a lot of tech ourselves.”

And perhaps the greatest productivity gains resulting from the founding of BP flow to the company’s customers. Brandstrom is fond of telling stories about how his custom machines have saved clients time, including one about a company that cut kitchen countertops. “It would take them three and a half hours to cut a countertop with a front splash, side splash and back splash,” he says. “We designed a system that allowed them to do it in 90 seconds. They just put the dimensions of the countertop into the machine and this thing will take a flat sheet of Corian and make all these fancy cuts automatically.

Parting Advice

  1. Manage, don’t micromanage
    Sure, any group of employees needs to be managed, but they also need to be trusted and allowed to think and solve problems for themselves. Learn where to draw the line.
  2. Reward and recognize
    Something as simple as a, “Nicely done,” will encourage employees and keep them interested in their work. (Of course, don’t stop there – more monetary rewards will also be appreciated. Maybe a paid holiday or some time for professional development?)
  3. Tools and equipment
    It’s an investment, sure, but have you asked yourself (or them) lately if you’ve provided your people with the tools to do the job?

47% of Albertan businesses have four or fewer employees. Another 17% have fewer than 10

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