Windsor manufacturers harness the winds of change
A new cooperative venture spearheaded by two Ontario tooling industry veterans and other local volunteer executiv...
A new cooperative venture spearheaded by two Ontario tooling industry veterans and other local volunteer executives is hoping to go big by servicing North America’s growing renewable energy sector.
XAG Energy, founded by five Windsor, Ont. business leaders – among them Ed Bernard, formerly of Bernard Mould; and Cy McGrath, recently retired as Canadian general manager of Progressive Components – is intended to provide a single source of access to a network of Southern Ontario manufacturers, assemblers, construction professionals, and service providers capable of manufacturing such renewable energy products as wind turbines and other equipment.
According to Ed Bernard, now working for BDO Dunwoody, the consortium is intended to take advantage of the skills and resources of moldmakers and others that have been hurt by the slowdown in the automotive industry. “Our network currently includes companies that specialize in moldmaking, metal cutting and forming, injection molding, composite forming, and many other specialties, as well as logistics capabilities, and service providers such as surveyors and contractors,” he said. “Also, we have access to extensive and surplus plant capacity for assembly of major and minor components, many with large overhead cranes and climate-controlled facilities.”
Bernard and the other founders of XAG Energy – “XAG stands for ‘ex auto guys’”, Bernard said – have set their sights on wind turbines business as an early area of interest. “The average turbine can have up to 8,000 separate parts, from enormous turbine blades made of plastic to small interior components made of metal, and each part offers manufacturing potential for any company that has experience making precision components for the auto industry.”
The decision to focus on wind turbines was dictated partly by market demand, and partly by geography, said Dave Woodall, another of the consortium’s five founders. “Wind power has amazing potential; the use of turbines in North America is doubling every year, but the vast majority of turbines used here are imported from Europe, and this gives domestic manufacturers a real edge,” he explained. “Also, the Windsor area is considered one of North America’s best regions for wind power, and is ideally positioned in respect to the Great Lakes shipping system.”
XAG Energy set up headquarters in Oldcastle, Ont. in late April in the facility formerly occupied by Bernard Mould. Cy McGrath is the first full-time, albeit unpaid, employee. Over 110 companies have joined the consortium, Ed Bernard said, with 31 of these having signed contracts for exclusive representation.
The organization is making its presence known in a variety of ways. “We’re now members of CanWEA, which is the Canadian Wind Energy Association, and have volunteered to have XAG representatives active within the CanWEA Manufacturing Caucus,” Bernard said. Organization officials have also met with Green Party leader Elizabeth May to explain their vision, and with wind farm investor representatives, turbine and solar panel designers. “We’ve also been working with two certification agencies with whom we’re negotiating certification procedures for accessing the capabilities of our contracted members,” he said.
Given the potential volumes predicted for wind power, Bernard said, XAG Energy isn’t overly concerned about finding enough work. “Our combined capabilities should allow us to complete projects quickly and at low costs,” he continued. “Getting ourselves organized before our U.S. competitors do is a genuine challenge, however, and one that we’re focussing on right now.”
In the end, Bernard and Woodall see alternative energy manufacturing as more than merely a way of keeping tooling shops and others busy while they hope for the auto market to recover. “This is a market that has enormous potential for growth, and it’s looking for suppliers,” Bernard said. “The collapse of the automotive sector in North America was a perfect storm for us in the negative sense; the opportunity for Southern Ontario shops that serviced the Big Three automakers to transition into manufacturing for the wind-power sector is a perfect storm in the positive sense. We have the skills, the resources, and the location to grab a huge share of the North American alternative energy market.”