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When you live and work in Alberta fortunes rise and fall with the oil patch. Having lived in the Edmonton area his entire life, Paul Chissell, president of Wynn Machine & Manufacturing, has experienced the up and down cycles before, and he's confident this current dip in the local economy will recover again. Chissell is the second generation to run the custom machining operation that was started by his father Ernie in 1976. A machinist who emigrated from England in 1962, Ernie worked in Edmonton area shops before opening up his own one-man operation. He named the business after his mother-in-law, whose last name was Wynn. "Apparently she was quite a lucky woman," says Paul.
After 10 years on his own, growing the business and renting out larger spaces, Ernie finally set up the shop in at the company's current location in the Coronet Industrial area just south of downtown Edmonton, home to multiple machinery and equipment operations.
Starting with one bay in the multi-unit building, as the business grew Wynn Machine continued knocking through walls to the point where shop now occupies all eight bays on the site. To accommodate even more growth, when a building next door became available the company moved in, giving the business at total of over 30,000 sq. ft. on about 3.5 acres of land.
"Growth has been steady since the company started," says Paul. "Here [in Alberta] we have these hills and valleys, and right now we're in a valley, and it's been a challenge," he admits. "But, you've got to weather the storm. We're established, which helps." The company has had as many as 28 employees when times were flush; their current count is 16.
The oil and gas industry has been the mainstay for Wynn over the years. "It's been the bread and butter," says Chissell. But the company has been diversifying more than ever, acquiring customers in the food services industry and other areas to keep the machines busy.
As a jobbing shop, Wynn makes parts to order and has aligned itself with some of the bigger oil and oilfield service companies. "We do one-off parts to full production-level runs, just to try to grab as much of the market as we can and to be fluent in all aspects," says Chissell.
Most of their work is for the drilling fields, which happens to be the flattest side of the oil and gas business right now. "I started here when I was quite young, so I've gone through a few of these cycles, and I remember job sharing and reduced hours. Some of the young people around here don't understand, but I've had to explain that it's a vicious cycle around here and when it's good it's good, and when it's not good it's terrible."
Growing up around the shop, Chissell graduated from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in 1987 as a machinist. "It was a time when CNCs were just starting to come on, and I was interested in that. So I just kept on going, and I'm glad I did. It's been a good career for me so far."
He's very proud of company's durability as a family-owned business. His two sisters work at the company, and their longest-serving employee has been around almost 20 years. Taking a long view of the business, Chissell has made changes in the past few years to take advantage of the good times and be prepared for the slowdowns.
One the most recent accomplishments was achieving American Petroleum Institute (API) License Certification earlier this year, including the API Spec Q1 license and the API 5CT license.
"I decided that instead of being forced into it, let's be proactive and get the certification, because I know that some oil companies are only going to be able to purchase from API licensed shops in the future," says Chissell. "If you don't have some type of certification you can be overlooked." According to Chissell, getting over the API hurdle also sets the company up to take on other opportunities in the future, like potentially taking on some licensed threading projects.
In addition, last year the company installed a custom-built stainless steel phosphating tank. The application of a zinc phosphate coating provides a corrosion resistance for the threading casings, couplings and connectors it sends out to the field. It's a process the shop used to farm out, but bringing it in-house provides an extra level of control over quality and timing. Wynn has built a strong reputation on its ability to turn around projects for its demanding oil field clients on a dime.
In order to handle its varied workload the company maintains a diverse line-up of machine tools on the shop floor. Collected over the years, there are many different brands and styles in the shop with a primary focus on turning and threading. Of 15 CNC machines, only two are mills. "My plan was to buy one or two machines every year and keep replacing the fleet—keeping everything current," says Chissell, explaining, "A machine's like a car, if it's old and parts are hard to find it starts costing you more money. But the CNC machines being built now are much more reliable than they used to be."
The most recent addition, installed in 2014, is a Mazak turning center with live tooling.
A more impressive move was made two years ago with the installation of a robotic cell in the new building. The automated system feeds two turning centers to allow constant machining of pipe joints getting threaded on both ends. With additional floor space still available in the new building, there is a possibility of adding another cell in the future as demand picks up.
Adding robotics is a testament to company's focus on always looking ahead. "You can't be stagnant in this industry," says Chissell, who adds that while some questioned the expense of adding robotics to a shop like theirs, he looks at the purchase as a long-term investment.
"I like growing, but slow and steady wins the race," he says. "I've seen so many shops go from 20 people up to 80, and then all of a sudden the bank comes in. Maybe it's been bread into me from my father, but we don't overextend. Grow a little at a time, and the reward is at the end of the road."
Aside from a commitment to manufacturing quality products, Wynn also takes pride in keeping its customers happy. "Keep it fair, be competitive and make a good quality product and customers will return, and they have," says Chissell.
"We've come a long way since my father started the business, and I'm optimistic for the future," he says. "We'll get rid of this down cycle and start climbing another peak."
His father Ernie, who is retired but still comes into the office on a regular basis, agrees, noting, "The business is in good hands."