Canadian OEM of fast-speed feeder machinery prospers with leading-edge input from automation partners
May 12, 2015
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor; Photography by John Packman
Caption: Pineberry Manufacturing Inc.’s western sales manager Dan LaForce (left) and president David McCharles have plenty to smile about, thanks to the successful design, manufacture and integration of feeder machines that have helped propel the company to international renown.
Huddled away in a light industrial hub in Oakville, Ont., about a 40-minute drive west of Toronto, lies one of Canada’s one-time best-kept secrets in the packaging OEM (original equipment manufacturer) sector.
Known as the company that has been around since 1984, Pineberry Manufacturing Inc. has long enjoyed a solid reputation for its daring problem-solving one-off equipment.
But it wasn’t until a new kid on the block purchased the business in 2009 that Pineberry has seen some tremendous growth, both in physical size and in its customer base.
Not that it was the proverbial hole-in-one for the current company president and chief executive officer David McCharles.
A native of Nova Scotia’s scenic and famed Cape Breton Island on Canada’s east coast, McCharles graduated from university with full intentions of becoming a golf pro. But after a short introduction to the business, he soon changed his mind and decided to go back to school for further education in sales and marketing.
“What I loved about Pineberry Manufacturing when I first joined them in 2004, was that the guys already working here were brilliant,” McCharles told Canadian Packaging magazine during a recent visit to the company’s Oakville facility.
“Being the new sales guy, I surprised the current owner one day by telling him I was going to buy the company from him,” he continues.
“And five years later at the ripe age of 34, I did just that.”
McCharles says that the original owner still comes in to work on some projects with Pineberry. While McCharles still holds him in high esteem and respects him tremendously, he thinks that he was perhaps so consumed with the design and manufacture of machines, that he was unable to put in the necessary resources and energy to grow the business.
While McCharles modestly concedes to being a decent salesperson, he says the quality equipment Pineberry fabricates actually does a lot of the selling for him.
“I’ve surrounded myself with guys with great technical expertise, allowing me the opportunity to market ourselves aggressively,” he states.
Marketing itself as a feeder designer and manufacturer, Pineberry designs and builds equipment that delivers one packaging component inside or onto another packaging component.
“Basically, we manufacture robust automation solutions for the printing, packaging, pharmaceutical, food and plastic card industries,” explains McCharles. “Whether you need an off-the-shelf friction feeder, or a more complex automation solution, we have the experience to make your project a successful one.”
When McCharles purchased the company, there were three employees working in a 1,200-square-foot footprint.
Over the next six years he expanded the facility to its current 12,500-square-foot space with 17 staff while continuing to grow by leaps and bounds.
“The year 2014 was a big growth year for us,” extols McCharles, “but so far in 2015, we have already done more business than all of last year.”
While McCharles links some of that growth to the weaker Canadian dollar that allowed Canadian companies like Pineberry to pick up more American clients, he notes that one still has to ‘walk-the-walk’ to maintain its high-quality equipment design and integration competencies without any drop-off in order to keep its hard-earned respect within the industry.
“I think what separates us from others is the fact that we are unafraid to take on the projects no one else wants to touch,” says McCharles.
“We won’t just provide a solution. We will key that solution specific to what the customer wants and needs right now and for the future.”
According to McCharles, Pineberry generates about 65 per cent of its revenue from the U.S., 25 per cent in Canada, and the remaining 10 per cent coming from customers situated from every corner of the world, which includes a current multimillion-dollar deal with a Swiss partner.
“Of course, we still do a lot of business within our own borders,” remarks McCharles. “In 2014 we did more business for Canadian customers than in all the years combined.”
“So we aren’t sacrificing Canada for the world, rather we have just found more success from serving all corners of the globe.”
The impressive speed at which the company’s fortunes have grown is only eclipsed by the remarkable operational speeds achieved by Pineberry’s friction feeders.
According to company vice-president Dan LaForce, Pineberry’s machines have the capacity for so much speed, that they often have to recommend against cranking it up all the way.
“Every prospective customer will ask us, ‘How fast can you make it?’, to which I reply, ‘How fast do you need it?’
“Apparently that’s never a good enough response, until I explain that Pineberry can make machines like the friction feeder so fast that they are going to need to hire additional manpower at the end of the line to handle the output, negating any line efficiencies we can provide from our high-performance machinery,” continues LaForce.
“So I repeat, ‘How fast do you need it?’
“If you want speed, we’ve got speed, and accuracy to boot.”
LaForce says that the key focus for Pineberry has always been to manage the customers properly: not to just give the customer what they want, but to ensure they get what they need.
“I like to think that we have used the experience of all our past projects to help us come into our own now,” says LaForce, adding that participating in trade-shows such as Pack Expo have helped it gather a lot of new business.
“Once prospective customers see the machines in action, they are hooked,” he states.
McCharles points out that Pineberry is not a typical design and manufacturing company.
“We do not create machinery based on cost as the primary motivating factor,” he explains. “While we prefer to build the project completely to customer satisfaction, we are good enough that we only have to measure once and cut once—meaning our projects are not as expensive as one might expect them to be,” he notes.
“Quality and innovation wins out every time.”
As proof of this self-confidence, LaForce points out that Pineberry is perfectly comfortable with showing off its products to the public at large.
“We put all of our equipment out on YouTube,” begins LaForce, “because we are not afraid of ‘giving away’ our technology.
“We’re confident that our innovation and quality will win out over would-be pretenders.”
Both LaForce and McCharles acknowledge that the company’s success continues to be achieved through the great partnerships it has cultivated over the years.
One of those partnerships includes automation components manufacturer ASCO Numatics, a division of Emerson Industrial Automation, who supply Pineberry projects with the pneumatic cylinders that help move the product.
ASCO Numatics is a combination of two entities: ASCO providing fluid control, commonly used in the process applications such as combustion, steam, nuclear, oil-and-gas, and water. In addition, Numatics offers a comprehensive array of fluid power for automotive, automation and packaging product applications.
“We are the world’s leading manufacturer of quality solenoid valves,” says ASCO Numatics technical sales specialist John De Luca. “In fact ASCO, founded in 1888, was the original inventor of the solenoid valve, and now we have over 50,000 different solenoid products on our menu.
“Numatics was founded in 1952 and introduced the floating spool and sleeve valve that could perform over a billion actuations over its lifetime,” says De Luca, citing the global parent company’s staff of over 4,000 operating from manufacturing and sales facilities in 42 countries.
In the Americas, ASCO Numatics’ nine manufacturing plants and 200-plus distributors provide a powerful infrastructure that delivers the reliable products.
Headquartered in Brantford, Ont., ASCO Canada employs over 75 people across Canada, providing local market support with over $2.5-million in parts inventory, as well as manufacturing pneumatic cylinders, manifolds and FRL (filter, regulator, lubricator) assemblies, testing and repairing anything it sells.
Says De Luca: “We have a pretty good relationship with Pineberry. Quite often they tell us about their project, and then we provide our recommendations on what products we possess that will best help the project to a successful conclusion.”
De Luca relates that after initially discussing the type of business Pineberry did, he began to discuss with McCharles on the point of ‘why they do things the way they do.’
“Like many of our customers, Pineberry was focused on the big picture and not about every little component of their business,” relates De Luca.
“Since we are experts of our own products and solutions, we felt we could take some of the heavy lifting off their hands by optimizing the right components for their designs.”
He says that ASCO Numatics was able to reduce the air consumption in Pineberry equipment and recommend the best fit-for-purpose solution for its applications, often offering helpful advice on how Pineberry could be even more competitive in its market segment.
“With a fresh set of eyes on how they were building machines, we were able to introduce other ideas,” explains De Luca. “An example of this was when we performed some sizing calculations using our proprietary Numasizing tool that is based on thousands of pneumatic applications.
“Using that tool enabled us to determine that although the existing valves being used would work, they were actually oversized for the application.
“By downsizing the valves, we not only saved on equipment costs, but were also able to reduce the requirements for air consumption.
“The Numasizing tool makes it easy to determine what the ROI (return on investment) would be if you were to modify the pneumatic application,” offers De Luca.
Pineberry’s LaForce adds: “We are dealing with products and customers around the world, and ASCO Numatics being a multinational firm is very important to us, but so is knowing they are able to work quickly to get us what we need, when we need it.
“From the time we design a machine, we have to push our suppliers; and ensuring they all have local distribution plays a role in helping us meet our project deadlines.”
Adds McCharles: “It’s not about the speed or maintaining the speed on our machines.
“It’s more about accuracy and durability—key factors we demand when we are building pick-and-place automation.”
Other Pineberry business partners include:
• Hewlett-Packard, whom McCharles notes that his company is actually an OEM supplier to them, having worked with their engineering team for the past 18 months;
• Cognex, bringing verification and accuracy satisfaction when printing or reading 1D or 2D barcodes;
• Schneider Electric, providing motors and controls, such as its Magelis PLC (programmable logic controllers);
• Robatech Gluing Technology, whose adhesive systems help reduce overall glue consumption and waste;
• Technical Adhesives, described by McCharles as a very competitive and consistent manufacturer of premium packaging adhesives;
• Coding Products of Canada, Domino Printing Solutions, ID Technologies, Markem-Imaje and Matthews—all described by McCharles as “key partners on the marking side.”
Working with Pineberry, ASCO Numatics’ De Luca describes his company’s ties to Pineberry as a ‘symbiotic relationship’ beneficial to the end-user.
McCharles agrees: “They can focus on growing their business and we have a reference that allows us to share tangible, working examples for new customers who may not be familiar with what ASCO Numatics products can provide.”
“It’s been a pretty exciting time for all of us at Pineberry,” says McCharles, adding the company is planning to expand its workforce.
“With the growth we have seen in the past five years and especially in the past 12 months, I am excited to be an entrepreneur,” he sums up.
“Our innovative thinking and ‘we-can-do-anything’ attitude allows us to manufacture and employ here in Ontario. This is very important to me, especially coming from Cape Breton, where the loss of industry devastated the local economy.
“I would say that having great OEM partners has definitely helped us move along to the next level of design and manufacturing, and with the continued teamwork, the sky appears to be the limit for us.”