CANADA STAMPINGS LTD.
The history-filled boardroom of Canada Stampings Ltd. gives visitors a clear sense of the Southwestern Ontario manufacturing firm’s extensive heritage. The metal stamping company’s past, present, and future are inextricably tied to the community of Woodstock, Ontario—and to all of Canada. It is not every day, for instance, that one sees a beribboned seal denoting Queen Victoria’s approval gracing a company boardroom. Unearthed from a forgotten corner of a previous owner’s attic, the document affirms the incorporation, in 1898, of “The Castor and Metal Stamping Company of Woodstock Limited.”
Over a century ago, Canada Stampings made components for the local horse carriage and buggy industry, before evolving to make castor wheels. Like many manufacturers during the war First World War, the company rose to the country’s defence; parts for London’s Mosquito Fighter Bomber plane were manufactured in Canada Stamping’s facility.
Located on the main street of Woodstock in the 1950s, Canada Stampings both influenced and was influenced by the wave of heavy industrialization that washed over the city at that time. In 1965, the Hewitt family purchased the business. Dave Hewitt, the firm’s current president, joined the business in 1994, before taking over from his father in 1997. Canada Stampings has seen massive growth under Dave Hewitt’s leadership. The company’s facilities are a far cry from the dirty, dimly lit shop floor traditionally associated with the stamping business; on the contrary, the facility is light, airy, with high ceilings and metal platforms overlooking the shop floor below.
Canada Stampings’ annual sales reach upward of $17 million. Ninety per cent of these sales are to the automotive industry. The company is a tier two supplier, meaning it sells to the suppliers of large automakers. The remaining 10 per cent of Canada Stampings’ sales are in the health care sector (e.g., metal legs for hospital beds). Exports comprise 70 per cent of the firm’s business, most of which are to the United States, as well as China, Mexico, Turkey, and Germany.
With so many customers in the United States, there is push for the company to move south, but Hewitt says, “I don’t foresee that in our future.” Even though he enjoys visiting other countries, he has no desire to live in them. After spending the past 23 years learning about Canada’s structured manufacturing environment, Hewitt is reluctant to learn the ways of an unstructured one. “It’s a personal decision,” he states. “I was born and raised in Ontario.”
In an increasingly competitive market, Hewitt attributes much of Canada Stampings’ success to staying technologically innovative. The low Canada/United States exchange rate also helps, since now he can quote the 25 per cent difference as an advantage to prospective customers. However, the company’ greatest advantage, according to Hewitt, is the productivity of its Canadian labour force. “We’re competitive because of our people,” he asserts.
ALTHOUGH CANADA STAMPINGS MUST COMPETE WITH COUNTRIES THAT PAY LOWER WAGES AND BENEFITS (SUCH AS MEXICO), WHICH CAN THEREFORE OFFER LOWER PRICES, HEWITT SAYS HE WOULD NEVER RELOCATE TO THESE PLACES, SIMPLY BECAUSE HE COULD NOT BRING HIS 48 EMPLOYEES WITH HIM.
Nonetheless, Hewitt does worry that constant exposure to screens has robbed younger generations of the ability to work with their hands. He feels that younger hires no longer possess the requisite level of basic technical know-how. In his words, “For the most part, high school graduates nowadays wouldn’t know a nut from a bolt.” For instance, upon revisiting his old high school, College Avenue Secondary School (CASS), Hewitt was devastated to see that in the place of the auto, electrical, machine, welding, and woodworking rooms, a daycare (for teachers’ children) and computer lab had been opened. There was not a single trace of the spaces where he and his classmates once created things with their own hands. He soon found that many Woodstock high schools had undergone similar developments.
Never one to be intimidated by something as easily overcome as a global generational shift, Hewitt set out to instill more hands-on skills in students. Along with four other local manufacturers, he co-founded the Oxford Technical Training Centre. Further, in partnership with the Thames Valley District School Board and Fanshawe College, the five manufacturers used their own funds as well as government financial resources to reopen the educational tech wing at CASS. The technical program at CASS is rapidly gaining popularity among local teenagers: it processes 800 students through tech courses each year. Hewitt’s own son transferred there for the program, and many of his classmates have done the same.
Meanwhile, the lines of giant metal presses at Canada Stampings methodically rise and fall to a steady beat; they have done so for decades, and will likely continue for many more—a testament to the enduring strength of Canadian manufacturing.
Connect with Canada Stampings by visiting their website.
“Pressing on,” Canada Stampings provides custom metal stampings and assemblies using modern equipment and leading industry manufacturing techniques. Canada Stampings is a Tier Two supplier of the automotive industry.
Headquarters: 1299 Commerce Way, Woodstock, Ontario, N4V 0A2
- Dave Hewitt, President
- Jim Myer, Production & Engineer Manager
Year established: 1898
Number of employees: 48
Revenues: 18 – 19 million CAD
Line of business
NAICS: 332118 – Stamping
Custom precision metal stampings, as well as value added services such as MIG welding, resistance, projection and spot welding, riveting, tube bending, in die tapping, de burring and robotic assembly.
Customers: OEM (original equipment manufacturer) industry
Automotive – 91%, healthcare (bed legs), natural gas regulators –9%
- 70% of sales
- Mostly to the United States
- Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, actively pursuing other states
- 3-4% to Brazil, Mexico, China, Germany, and Turkey
R&D, Skills and Educational needs
Mostly need employees for operations – no specific skills required, just good work ethic
Need manufacturing managers, office staff, industrial, manufacturing and electrical engineers, tool and die tradesmen.
Currently, there are 28 people on shop floor, including 2 engineers and 9 tradesmen
The company started in 1898 as “Castor Wheel and Stampings of Woodstock Ltd,”making components for the horse carriage and buggy transportation industry. They then forayed into castor wheels, also building parts for London’s Mosquito Fighter Bomberduring the war. In the 1950s, Canada Stampings both influenced and was influenced by the wave of heavy industrialization. In 1965, the Hewitt family purchased the business. Dave Hewitt, the current president, joined the business in 1993, before taking over from his father in 1997, expanding production and changing the name and facility location to their current form.
Many competitors in Ontario, Canada, and worldwide; challenge competing with countries (esp. Mexico) facing lower labour costs.
- Some involvement in government programs: SR&ED; FedDev SMART Grant program, administered by CME, which grants up to 100,000$ to cover 20%-30% of new technology capital costs.
- Dave Hewitt is a founding member of Oxford Technical Training Centre at College Avenue Secondary School in Woodstock, restarting the only educational tech wing in the region. The Centre partners with Fanshawe College and the Thames Valley District School Board.
- Natural hedge, with proportion of both input costs and sales in USD
- Productivity and work ethic of employees, esp. older generation with decades of instinct and experience
- Integrated manufacturing system allows for efficiently managed schedule or order changes
- Mature/declining industry
- Sheltered: company culture is to “mind their own business,” with lower interest in new opportunities and partnerships
- Current (2015) low Canadian dollar allows them to quote to their advantage
- Automation can allow company to take advantage of Canadian skilled labour
- Low labour costs of emerging economies