Somewhere in between the hustle of Metropolitan Toronto, and peaceful cottage country of the Kawartha Lakes, is Canada’s ‘Electric City’, Peterborough, Ontario. This small city may be unknown to many outside of Ontario, but it is home to some of the country’s largest manufacturing facilities including big names like Siemens, Rolls Royce, and General Electric (GE). In fact, GE builds some of the largest motors in the world out of their facility in Peterborough.
For a small manufacturing business these big names present a big opportunity–if they can get their attention. Steelworks Design is a small engineering firm based in Peterborough that offers customized solutions for automation, fabrication and construction.
“We had set our sights on GE a long time ago,” said Rhonda Barnet, President of Steelworks Design. “A company like that can be a game changer for your small business, but it takes a lot of trust and relationship building to get into their supply chain.” Even though Steelworks is in GE’s backyard, proximity won’t get you a contract with an industry giant.
Steelworks isn’t your typical engineering firm. Husband and wife duo Rhonda and Don Barnet learned from their experience in manufacturing that the wider your experience, the more innovative projects you can tackle. “Our focus is really on design, but we also build parts, and we have an engineering shop. This allows us to connect with engineering teams of our clients and really get a full understanding of their needs.”
This specialization means Steelworks rarely creates a duplicate product. They’re not building on an assembly line; they’re building completely tailored solutions. “Because we offer such specialized solutions, we’re usually doing things for the first time every time,” says Barnet. “It can be a hard sell. That means that trust and reputation is critical to growing and sustaining our business.”
Steelworks gets a foot in the door with GE
Steelworks got their big break in 2008 when GE ran into trouble fixing one of their milling machines in Peterborough. Steelworks was able to provide customized tooling at the last minute, demonstrating their skill and reliability. From there they were offered more contracts, and more specialized opportunities, building everything from small clamps, to large scale piling systems.
“GE is such an innovative company, and now we are helping to support that innovation,” says Barnet. Since that first contract six years ago Steelworks has been brought on to support GE Global Research on a number of projects, advises on product development, and works with five GE divisions around the world.
“Now we are brought in to take care of the most complex problems,” says Barnet. “We have really established trust with GE and it’s been great for our business.”
Making big moves
Steelworks was recently selected to participate in Export Development Canada’s (EDC) mentoring program, developed to help small- to medium-sized enterprises (SME) grow their international sales. EDC selected 170 Canadian SMEs that showed growth potential and are now providing them with resources, connections to industry partners, risk planning and training.
“We were recently in Mexico with EDC and the mentoring program,” says Barnet. “There are some great opportunities to meet new market players in the region and broaden your business reach.”
“It’s still early days for Steelworks in the mentoring program,” says Chris O’Donnell, EDC Account Manager. “Given their unique offering, engineering expertise and craftsmanship, combined with manufacturing demand in Mexico, I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the future.”
On that same trip, Steelworks was invited to meet with three of GE’s 27 plants in Mexico specializing in locomotive motors, and high tolerance design fixtures. Given their track record with the GE, Steelworks is being considered to provide customized solutions and product development expertise for the Mexican plants.
“It’s great to see our reputation and track record paying off,” said Barnet. “We’re excited to be bringing this relationship we built at home to other markets.”
For more about how to grow your business in Mexico click here.