Mulgrave firm carves out niche for success

Call it the little metal fabrication company that could.

Four decades ago, Mulgrave Machine Works Ltd. got its start making custom metal products for industries along the Strait of Canso.

At the time the biggest customers hailed from the booming forestry sector, with a smaller amount of orders from the quarrying and mining industries.

But as times changed, Mulgrave Machine Works changed too, which might explain why it survived when so many others failed.

Fast-forward 42 years and the company is now mainly servicing the oil and gas sector, with most orders coming from Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta.

“We’ve been very successful at anticipating changes in the economy and adapting to those changes to try to be ahead of the curve,” Bert Lewis, the company’s business development manager, said in an interview Thursday.

“We have carved out a niche in the design and fabrication of pressure vessels. We design and fabricate pressure vessels for industries such as refineries, offshore oil and gas, food and beverage processing facilities and mining.”

But keeping up with the times can be costly.

“We have to make substantial investments in order to maintain and grow our market share,” Lewis said. “We maintain at quite a cost certifications that allows us to work on pressure vessels in the offshore industry, in particular, but also all industries where safety is a primary concern.”

The provincial government is expected to lend the company a hand, however, during a funding announcement at Mulgrave Machine Works today.

Although the specifics of the financial support have been kept tightly under wraps, Lewis agreed with the suggestion that new high-tech machinery would be a boon for the company.

A computer plasma cutting system would “improve productivity and make us more competitive. It would lead to growing the business and employing more people here in Nova Scotia.”

Mulgrave Machine Works currently employs 40 workers, from machinists to welders, a number that is expected to grow to about 60 within the coming month, said Lewis, who unsuccessfully threw his hat in the ring to become MLA for Inverness as an NDP candidate in 2009.

A past principal of the Nova Scotia Community College Strait Area Campus and past president of the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, he was later appointed to the board of Nova Scotia Business Inc.

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