April 19, 2010
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor
Cornering the market for any manufactured goods rarely happens by chance or happy accident, and there is nothing remotely accidental about the way that Montreal-based Etalex Inc.–manufacturer of metal fixtures, modular shelving, wood furnishings and heavy-duty racking systems for grocery and convenience stores—has come to earn an estimated 80-percent share of the Quebec market, along with making solid inroads in western Canada, Maritimes and the eastern U.S.
Having been in this fairly niche business for nearly 44 years, the wholly-owned subsidiary of commercial steel products and equipment consortium SJM Industry Group owes its success largely to all the time-honored virtues of hard work, formidable engineering expertise, keen customer service, leading-edge product innovation and all the other traditional bread-and-butter attributes that have enabled it to build up a loyal and growing customer base, along with a widespread industry reputation for high product quality, according to Etalex plant manager Jean Piuze.
“I believe our customers really trust us, and their ongoing ‘word-of-mouth’ endorsement of our products in the market has made it easier for us to gather new customers,” Piuze told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview.
“Not only do we manufacture and install a great product, but we also respect the customer’s delivery dates—always proffering professional, on-time solutions for all of our customers’ shelving requirements.”
Manufactured at the company’s sprawling manufacturing, shipping and administrative headquarters facility measuring over 300,000 square feet, the company’s products and assemblies can be found at most of the major Canadian supermarket outlets operated by the likes of Metro, Sobeys and Loblaw, according to Piuze, as well as at countless drugstores and convenience outlets.
FULL LINE-UPAlong with a popular standard product line assembled there, the plant’s 150 employees also design and fabricate a range of industrial warehousing and material handling solutions such as the Drive-In racks for high-density storage applications; Pallet Flow material handling systems for automatic FIFO (first-in, first-out) stock and inventory management; and the self-supporting Cantilever Systems for storing and handling exceptionally heavy or odd-sized big items needing extra shelf-space, without frames getting in the way.
Despite the company’s well-earned customer respect and loyalty, Piuze stresses that this is not a market that tolerates complacency for long—meaning that Etalex must always be on the lookout for new ways to improve its operations and keep developing innovative new products to retain the company’s competitive edge.
“Markets across North America are dominated by a few major manufacturers who have well-established national sales and distribution systems, complemented by smaller regional manufactures,” Piuze explains. “So while we are proud of that fact that we supply shelving solutions to all the major grocery stores in Canada, our market and margin positions are constantly under threat from shelving manufacturing giants in other parts of North America, with much larger manufacturing and distribution capabilities.
“To help ourselves combat that gap, we are always revising our production methods,” says Piuze, citing the plant’s continual investment into industrial robotics in order to automate as many manual operations as possible.
Since purchasing its first model R-2000/165F robot from Fanuc Robotics America Inc. in 2004 to operate a punch-press and to do some spot-welding when needed, Etalex has gone on to purchase four more Fanuc robots to handle various arc-welding and assembly tasks—including a fully-automated workcell equipped with an ARC Mate M-710iC/20L arc-welding robot that works in conjunction with an R-2000iB/210F parts manipulation robot.
Already this year, Piuze relates, a brand new Fanuc model M-710iC/50 was added to the plant’s robotics arsenal to operate a press-brake, along with a model M-10iA robot hooked up to the original R-2000 robot to manufacture critical shelf parts by bending the metal to create base footing for shelving, and then welding all the beams and uprights to hold the racking together.
“For each of the robotic cells, we purchased all of the ancillary equipment and did our own integration to optimize the machine’s performance,” Piuze points out. “We also integrated them to run through a single programmable logic controller.”
With each piece and component of Etalex-made products constructed from high-quality steel and then surface-treated with an electrostatic coating system to ensure a durable and picturesque finish in a vast range of different colors, maintaining that premium look throughout all the subsequent distribution and transport stages is naturally of paramount importance, which is why the plant invested in some robust, high-quality stretchwrapping machinery in recent years—namely three Defender RT stretchwrappers manufactured by Samuel Strapping Systems—to complement the plant’s JK-5 strapping machine from StraPack, Inc.
Headquartered in Toronto, Samuel Strapping manufactures and supplies a full line of plastic and steel strapping, edge protection, stretch film equip
ment and consumables, as well as standard and custom-engineered unitizing equipment.
Piuze recalls: “We purchased a pair of Defender RT stretchwrappers back in 2008, and we were so satisfied with the quality and the performance of the first two machines, that when we decided to speed up our end-of-line production again, we bought a third one at the beginning of 2010.
“Our workers like to work with the Samuel Strapping machines because they are easy to operate,” relates Piuze, recounting that he talked to other companies already using Defender RT systems to assure himself of the machines’ productivity attributes.
PRICE IS RIGHT
Along with the competitive pricing, Piuze says he was also very impressed by the customer service provided by Samuel Strapping, which operates its four Canadian locations in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, as well as regional U.S. offices in Woodridge, Ill., Heath, Ohio, and Longview, Tex.
“Samuel Strapping went beyond the simple act of selling us a machine,” Piuze states. “They also provided valuable suggestions to us on how we could maximize our pallet wrapping jobs with their technology.
“After purchasing the stretchwrappers, we were immediately impressed by the on-time delivery as promised by Samuel,” he expands. “Not only that, but the installation was done very quickly, it was done very well, and Samuel Strapping also provided in-depth training to our employees on the machines’ use.
“I can assure you that Etalex has been very satisfied with the service it received from Samuel Strapping,” says Piuze, complimenting the machines for ensuring full product protection for its palletized product loads right through to their delivery to customers, as well as helping maintain the busy pace in the plant’s end-of-line operations.
“We produce a high-quality product here—better racking than our competitors make,” Piuze sums up. "Our standard Etalex shelving system requires less space in transportation and time to assemble than other major competitor systems—and this is always very important for customers who constantly alter their shop-floor.
“I look at it as something much more than ‘just’ shelving—it’s a décor and a system. And I’m sure that frame of mind is appreciated by our customers too.”