Home Month and Year April 2023 Our people are the lifeblood

Our people are the lifeblood

How Compass Bending has grown both in and out of Western Canada’s energy sector over 20 years

Photo by Riverwood Photography

Compass Bending has come a long way en route to its upcoming 20th anniversary. In fact, president and general manager Colin Maskey jokes they didn’t even own a screwdriver when they first opened the company’s southeast Calgary facility in early 2004.

Yet as Compass prepares to celebrate nearly 20 years in business, it is now a well-known commodity within the energy sector and beyond as one of the largest bending and rolling service providers in Western Canada.
“We started with nothing, and we grew fairly quickly,” says Maskey, the son of a draftsman from the UK who later owned his own steel fabrication shops as the family moved around Canada. Though born in Calgary, Maskey got his first taste of the trade at the young age of 14 working in one of those steel fabrication and erection businesses when the family lived in the Maritimes.

“We’ve seen amazing growth over the years. At times, it’s come quickly and easily.”
Spread out over two locations in the Foothills Industrial Park, Compass Bending primarily services Alberta’s energy sector by offering quality and quick-to-market pipe bends in a variety of sizes and radii – up to 16-inch pipe and at 20D – as well as ready-to-ship transition pieces and pipe elbows that include sch40 and sch80 bends at 45 and 90 degrees, 3D and 5D.

Between those two shops, Compass has a total of 28,000 square feet of production space on three-and-a-half acres of land. Maskey says the extra yard space comes in handy for stocking kilometres of pipe for quick turnarounds to customers. It also allows them, when combined with their efficient processes, to take on large projects which can reach hundreds of oil and gas bends for one order. The record for Compass is 1,400 pipeline bends in a single month.

The company’s mandate of being versatile also means its machine operators can take on nearly any project, which allows the company to offer material rolling, draw bending, coils, fabrication, coating and more.

Maskey says the lifeblood of Compass Bending is the people. The company has grown from just three employees in the beginning to as many as 50, depending on workload. All of them bring years of unique experiences from a variety of backgrounds.

“We’ve built up a really good group of people who have those skills,” says Maskey. “It’s not just about the mechanical knowhow. It’s also the diverse experiences that these individuals bring with them that allows us to develop creative ideas that meet our customers’ needs, whether that background be in furniture making or working on boats.

“It’s cliché to say we’re a family, but in many ways we are. Part of that magic is we have many people here who are related to one or more other staff members.”

The other star at Compass Bending is the equipment. Between the two shops, Compass boasts more than 60 pieces of rare machines that have either been strategically purchased over the years from around the world or built from scratch at Compass’ facility, some manual and some CNC.

“It’s because we have developed a wide range of machines and skilled people to operate them that we are now able to offer such a wide variety of services. As a result, we are often people’s first call because they know we seldom say no,” says Maskey.

“We’re not only able, but we’re willing to do things that other shops might not.”

Perhaps quite naturally then, Compass’ portfolio of work has started to evolve in recent years to include many industries outside of Alberta’s energy industry, whether that be agriculture, food processing, forestry, aerospace or cannabis.

Often, the work is unique – for example, playground structures, movie sets or helicopters. In some cases, the company’s handywork travels even overseas to places such as Saudi Arabia, South America and the Antarctic.

This “natural diversification,” as Maskey calls it, turned out to be a blessing in disguise recently as it helped Compass navigate some particularly lean years in Alberta’s energy sector.

“Since opening our doors, we’ve gone through all the normal ups and downs, but nothing as extreme as 2016. It took us a couple years before things started to feel normal again,” says Maskey, referring to a plunge in oil prices that brought many projects in northern Alberta to a halt.

“And then the pandemic hit, which, again, sent the oil patch into the wilderness for a while. But by that time, we were in full swing with this other type of work. We were fortunate that we had enough years in the business that we had built up the clientele for all this other work to bring in enough to keep the doors open.”

Maskey says, today, the company does a variety of work for a variety of people in a variety of places.

“I challenge you to name an industry that uses metal in any way, however insignificant, that we haven’t done work for,” he says. “I’ve been in the forming business since 1987, and I still haven’t seen it all. It seems every day there’s something new to figure out how we can do it.”
That versatility is one reason why Maskey believes Compass continues to be successful in an increasingly competitive landscape. Yet he also points to other benefits such as the company’s practice of maintaining higher-than-average inventories, which reduces turnarounds for clients in all industries.

“In the energy sector, whether it’s planned or an emergency, a plant shutdown can cost many thousands of dollars a day,” says Maskey. “By having pipe in stock and tested, we can eliminate the lead time of having to find the pipe, order it and wait for a load time, which can take days or even weeks.

“It’s put us in good stead with our customers because we can dip into our inventory at a moment’s notice and turn stuff around pretty quickly. We also make finished product on spec and at our cost for customers who order repeat items, so we have them on hand whenever those customers place orders.”

Compass also operates its own fleet, which includes trucks with gooseneck trailers that allow staff to deliver right to the site, as well as a highway truck with a 58-foot flat-deck trailer for shipping large orders of pipe bends and pilot vehicles for wide loads.

Looking ahead to the next 20 years, Maskey anticipates Compass will continue to diversify its portfolio into other areas.

“Some of those might be variations on a theme, but some of them might be completely different,” he says. “So, yes, it’s expansion. Yes, it’s growth for the company. But it’s also diversification.”

At the same time, Maskey reinforces the company’s commitment to Alberta’s energy sector.

“What is Alberta without the energy industry? It’s an intrinsic part of the provincial economy. It’s part of Compass Bending. It’s in our DNA.”

7320 30 Street S.E.
Calgary, Alberta Canada T2C 1W2

(403) 279-6615 • (800) 708-7453