Computers Prove Mettle of
Calgary Firm's Parts

From The National Post - Entrepreneur
July 12, 1999
By Monica Andreeff

"People at the annual general meeting just couldn't believe it," says David Grant.

After-tax profit per employee at Calgary-based Omni-Lite Industries' California plant amounted to $300,000 last year, on gross sales of $2.8 million

Every second, Omni-Lite manufactures a couple of small, precise parts - used in cars, running shoes and weapons - from ultra-strong, lightweight metals. It does this with machines networked to a single computer.

"The parts are made so fast that no human being can do the quality control," says Grant, president and chief executive officer.

Omni-Lite's output is skewing manufacturing productivity statistics. In Canada and the United States, says Mr. Grant, the annual average output is $100,000 per worker. At omni-Lite, it is $650,000.

A computer on each machine manages the equipment, doing its own quality control. One operator can run a few machines, which all "talk" to a central computer that measures manufacturing performance.

"Having machines do the checks from the start is a way to establish precision," says Mr. Grant, who started Omni-Lite in 1992 in his home with $1,500.

A University of Calgary engineering graduate with experience in the aerospace industry, he became familiar with composite metals, blended to maximize strength and minimize weight. "I had the feeling these might have some use commercially," he says.

The company's first big break came with ultra-light ceramic running shoe spikes that boast the strength of steel, but are one-third the weight. Michael Johnson won the 200 and 400 metre races at the 1996 Altanta Olympics in them. The spikes are now used in 90% of all track shoes on the market.

The products are fabricated under intense, cold-forming pressure. When the manufacturing is complete, the composite is almost impossible to cut.

When he bought the first of the computerized machines that drill the material to make the parts, it cost him $450,000. Today, Mr. Grant has 10 of the machines working for him, and has tripled the plant to 8,000 square feet.

Here, his eight employees pump out 500,000 parts a day.

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