Taking manufacturing to a new level

December 1, 2013

The MX Manufacturing Centre in Edmonton, winner of the Alberta Construction Magazine Top Projects Award in the Industrial—Under $50 Million category, is proof that you do not have to go offshore to manufacture products efficiently.

Owner Packers Plus Energy Services Inc. describes the plant as the first of its kind in the world and its largest manufacturing centre worldwide. The plant includes the world’s first robotic assembly of its type and a testing and torquing system that includes a proprietary traceability method developed by Packers Plus in conjunction with one of its key suppliers.

“Some companies manufacture in China and ship to Canada,” says company president Dan Themig. “We manufacture in Canada and ship to China.”

Packers Plus invested over 10,000 hours of engineering into crafting the automated set-up producing its open-hole multistage frac stimulation tools. While humans are still an important part of the operation—between offices and the factory floor, the 20,000-square-metre building houses 200 workers—the robotic arms on the ship floor do much of the manual labour.

Capable of building 240 tools per day, the automated assembly robots form the core of the production process. They are fed by a computerized storage and retrieval system that tracks an inventory containing up to 6,000 crates. Constantly learning and adapting, the system is intelligent enough to change how it stores items based on demand.

The final step in the process involves testing the tools at pressures of up to 10,000 pounds per square inch. Four or five staff members monitor the two torque-and-test robots, compared to 15 employees working in the manual testing area. The automated system can handle about 26,000 tools in a month, while the manual system might process 1,800 in the same time, according to Marlon Leggott, manufacturing director.

The new facility was designed to address concerns about attracting and retaining a skilled workforce. As well, Packers Plus had the building constructed larger than its current needs to accommodate growth.

The office area is brightened with colourful designs on the windows, and the hallways are laid out in jagged, asymmetrical lines meant to mimic the pattern of a frac. Employees have access to a yoga room and fully equipped gym. There is even a recreation area containing televisions and video games.