Structural Panels Inc. (SPI) is a Baltimore, Ontario-based manufacturer of high-quality, steel-skinned insulated sandwich panels that are ideal for walls, partitions, ceilings, and value-added projects. With its mission to provide its clients with customized products, solutions, and support for all their building needs, SPI has experienced substantial success, especially since it is the only company in the region of its nature, size, and age.

SPI is an all-Canadian, family-owned and -operated company, with Lee Rogers and his brother Kyle running day-to-day operations, and their late father’s wife acting as the company’s chief executive officer. The firm’s long history began in 1987, when SPI was founded as Isowall Inc., a division of Laird Plastics. The Rogers family first became involved in the company when Lee’s father was asked to manage the Isowall division. Several years later, Lee’s father bought out the company and it became a sole proprietorship. During this period, SPI moved from its Toronto location to Baltimore (its third location), where the company is currently located.

Initially, SPI established itself by manufacturing Isowall® panels, designed for architectural applications where thermal efficiency and/or a controlled atmosphere is required. Use of these panels began in the food and food services industries as Canada’s Food Production and Inspection Branch (now the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)) approved the use of Isowall® panels. Over the years, Isowall® panels have continued to meet and exceed CFIA criteria, making this product the primary choice for projects where insulating, sanitary, and/or washable walls or ceilings are required.

After building its reputation as a premium manufacturer of insulation panels, SPI decided to expand its product line with the development of Rockwall™ panels in 1997. The company created the product in response to the demand for a fire-resistant, aesthetic, high-performance, steel-faced building or wall system at the time, as well as a future growth in demand due to increased building regulations. Both Isowall® and Rockwall™ panels are now recognized as industry-leading panels. To further address customer needs, SPI has also developed a comprehensive line of standard and custom accessories to complete installation of both Isowall® and Rockwall™ panels in order to ensure a consistent aesthetic appearance.

SPI performs R&D internally with the aid of NorthBridge Consultants, committing approximately 1–2 per cent of revenue to research and development (R&D) annually. Rather than dedicating the majority of R&D funds to product development, SPI uses most of this funding to find operational problems and solutions within its current production systems. NorthBridge Consultants offer solutions that are then implemented by SPI staff. SPI is continuously looking to improve operations, and is currently working on nine R&D improvement projects. The firm uses the Canadian government’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) Tax Incentive program to help cover half the cost of its various projects.

SPI separates its business into three categories: industrial, commercial, and residential, which represent 65, 33, and 2 per cent of its sales, respectively. The company’s customer mix is comprised of architects, general contractors, building owners, food and food service business owners, mining companies, restaurants, storage companies, engineers, facility designers, retail establishments, and “do-it-yourselfers.” In the past, SPI’s sales were seasonal but in recent history, sales have been more consistent throughout the year.

The niche market that SPI competes in encompasses only 30 companies worldwide, but the threat of competition still exists. SPI differentiates itself from its large competitors (e.g., Metl-Span, Kingspan, and Norbec) by keeping a “small company and family values” mentality at the forefront of its business model. Some of the initiatives executed to maintain this mentality include providing quick turnaround times and extensive one-on-one post-sale support to those who need it. In this way, Lee proudly emphasizes, when customers call more than once, they get to know the whole SPI team and do not “fall down the cracks.”

SPI truly values its customers and places great importance on addressing their needs. To this end, SPI has spent the past two years revamping its website’s structure and makeup. The renovation has resulted in numerous changes made to address specific customer concerns, such as making documents easier to access and creating a “frequently asked questions” section for customers to self-educate. The website has also been mobile optimized so customers can contact SPI and conduct research with even more speed, ease, and convenience.

As noted, SPI differentiates itself by providing quick turnaround times of two to three weeks—about half the time of its direct competitors. The company is able to do so by utilizing manual scheduling, as well as generally operating at 75 per cent capacity. Because of these efforts, SPI can accommodate urgent orders for quick delivery while maintaining its premium quality and handle peaks in demand without compromising its promised quick turnaround times. An efficient production process also aids in the firm’s fast turnaround times. With effective production planning, SPI is able to optimize panel output every day.

Even with these quick turnaround times, quality is not sacrificed: SPI performs numerous quality-management procedures. Three tearback tests are conducted for each batch run to ensure full adhesion, as well as fit tests and visual inspections of the steel. Another procedure, referred to as a time test, involves leaving panels in the yard overnight with another tearback conducted the next day as a final test of the shipment’s quality.

Factory employees are essential to SPI’s production process because they are directly responsible for the quality of each panel. Lee is in charge of hiring, and he states that no formal education is needed. However, he does prefer that employees be mechanically inclined and have prior forklift training or experience as these two skills are on display daily in the factory.

SPI partners with educational institutions to develop talent outside and within the company. The firm currently employs a co-op student from Port Hope High School who is involved with the manufacturing process. In addition, SPI recently partnered with Fleming College for the development of its manufacturing efficiency program, in which workers attended sessions to learn how to manage a factory and reduce waste more efficiently. The end of the program required participating workers to implement solutions to make their factory more productive and less wasteful.

No industry is without challenges, and material prices represent a significant challenge for SPI. Material prices can increase quickly and unexpectedly, and stay up for months at a time. Prices may also decrease as suddenly as they increased, making it difficult for SPI to determine when to adjust its own prices to customers. SPI values its customers and seeks to provide fair prices while remaining profitable; therefore, creating a business plan that incorporates these volatile prices poses an ongoing difficulty.

At the same time, SPI’s sales and customer demand are increasing year after year with continuous growth expected for the future. The company is actively working on expanding its product line, with a new panel model and steel accessories expected to be available in the next year or two. Current industry trends also favour SPI’s growth as more and more buildings (either those being constructed or renovated) are following specifications that call for a fire rating and/or continuous insulation to meet their standards. Moreover, the company is not operating at 100 per cent capacity, and has the ability/space to expand with a second machine if required. Clearly, SPI is poised for growth.

Company Profile

Overview

Structural Panels Inc. is an all-Canadian, family owned and operated manufacturer of high-quality, steel-skinned insulated sandwich panels that are ideal for walls, partitions, ceilings, and value-added projects.

Their products have been successfully integrated into countless commercial, industrial and residential projects across the country and overseas. Available in a wide range of core thicknesses and colours, their custom-made Rockwall™ and Isowall® panels are particularly well-suited for industries requiring clean rooms, fire resistance (1, 2 & 3 hours), controlled temperature rooms and high wash-down areas. They also offer a complete range of associated and accessory materials to complement our products and support a complete installation.

Key Facts

Headquarters4741 County Rd 45 N, Baltimore ON K0K 1C0

Executives:

  • Monica Sheridan, CEO
  • Lee Rogers, Business Development Manager

Year established: 1987

Number of employees: 16-18

Line of business

NAICS: 332311 – Prefabricated Metal Building and Component Manufacturing

Products

Rockwall™: Fire rated wall panels consist of a unique Roxul mineral fibre core called Conrock with laminated sheet steel permanently bonded to both sides. Once Rockwall™ panels have been installed according to the specific Intertek/Warnock Hersey certification guidelines, the assembly provides 1, 2 and 3 hours of fire resistance with a 4”, 5” and 6” core thickness (respectively).

Isowall®: Insulated wall panel systems consist of a rigid EPS (Expanded PolyStyrene) foam core with laminated sheet steel permanently bonded to both sides. A finished Isowall® building, ceiling or partition wall provides a strong and reliable thermal performance system that can be installed quickly and easily by almost anyone.

Isowall® panels are energy efficient and feature an aesthetic profile that will look good for years to come. From small coolers to large commercial buildings, soffits to demising walls, ceilings to partitions, Isowall® insulated wall panel systems provide the ideal energy efficient and economical continuous insulation solution for any building project.

Markets

Customers: Customers include other manufacturers, food storage, mining operations, restaurants, warehousing, electric generators and many others

Exports: About 1% of total sales to each the US, Mexico, and Cuba

R&D, Skills and Educational needs

Skills: prefer to hire employees with mechanical inclination

R&D: currently 9 active projects underway largely to do with improving efficiency of the manufacturing process. Works with Northbridge consultants to achieve best results.

Education: prefer employees to have forklift training. Company sent a number of employees to undergo program at Flemings College to train workers to think about improving efficiency

History

The company’s long history began in 1987 when SPI was first established as Isowall Inc., a division of Laird Plastics. Lee’s family first became involved in the company when his father was asked to manage the Isowall division.Mr. Lee bought out the company and it became a sole proprietorship. During this period SPI moved from its Toronto location to Baltimore, where the company is currently located in its third location.

Competitors

Competitors include Metl-span, Kingspan and Norbec.

Partnerships

  • Member of Northumberland Manufacturing Association (NMA)
  • Member of Northumberland Central Chamber of Commerce (NCCoC)
  • Member of Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)
  • Member of Advisory Board for Manufacturing Operations Certificate Programme Development – Sir Sandford Fleming College, Ontario
  • Chair for Northumberland District Kawartha Skilled Trades & Technology Centre Project
  • Member of Business Success Faster Forward Program – Northumberland County, Ontario
  • Participant in Fleming College  Leadership Initiative – Cobourg, Ontario

GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS

Takes advantage of the SHRED to help fund R&D products

Has used high school co-op program and partnered with Port Hope’s high school

SWOT Analysis

Strengths:

  • Very quick turnaround compared to competitors
  • Very good reception from past clients
  • Impressive and easy to use website design likely to help generate sales
  • High Supply of labour available, easy to hire seasonally

Weaknesses:

  • High cost of inputs, notably steel
  • Low levels inventory kept on site
  • Machine takes long time to get started and cool down

AWARDS

Northumberland Central Chamber of Commerce (NCCoC) Business Achievement Award – Manufacturing Category – 2010

Northumberland Manufacturing Association (NMA) & Sir Sandford Fleming College (SSFC) – Investing in Employee Development Award – 2015

Northumberland Central Chamber of Commerce (NCCoC) Business Achievement Award – Manufacturing & Agribusiness Category – 2016

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Sponsor of United Way – Northumberland County, Ontario

Sponsor of Northumberland Hills Hospital Foundation