Home Month and Year July 2022 Sky’s the Limit

Sky’s the Limit

Growing North American aerospace industry big business for Calgary manufacturers

Optima Manufacturing’s partnership with Japanese company Hibiki-Seiki brings more opportunities to skilled workers in the Calgary region. “The realm of machining, programming and quality assurance, in general these areas are really expanding in Calgary,” says Optima president Duane Hertzer. Photo courtesy of Optima Manufacturing.

The horizon for Calgary’s manufacturing industry points onwards and upwards, especially for those seizing aerospace opportunities. Global corporations such as Japan’s Hibiki-Seiki and De Havilland Aircraft of Canada are recognizing the city as an ideal home base while creating strategic partnerships that diversify Alberta’s economy, create more skilled jobs and alleviate supply chain issues.

One year after entering partnership discussions, family-run Optima Manufacturing (Optima) announced their new partnership with Hibiki-Seiki in March. The joint venture brings a potential $5 million in new business as they manufacture and supply high-precision machining and components to North America’s aerospace industry. The successful launch shows growth potential in further investment as well as creating 10 new skilled job positions this year and up to 50 more over the next five years.

It’s an exciting development for Optima, launched in 1990 as an evolution of the Hertzer family’s precision machining roots established in Calgary in 1967 as Century Machine. “My father was already a skilled tradesman and machinist in Germany before he came to Canada in 1962,” says Duane Hertzer, president with Optima Manufacturing. “He met my mother here in Calgary and they started the precision machining company together, later adding a product line of instrumentation valves which still exists today.”

In 1988, the Hertzers sold the two companies, contemplating their next steps. “We took our background of the knowledge and great network we’d established in Calgary to create Optima as a small team of five in those early days,” says Hertzer. Since then, they’ve specialized in machining, assembly and kitting precision services for original equipment manufacturers (OEM) around the world.

Today, approximately 97 per cent of Optima’s sales sit within the international market space. “We grew into one of western Canada’s most diversified precision machining facilities, now serving our global customer base,” says Hertzer. “Our current market portfolio includes energy, transportation, aerospace and process control.”

That diversification is key here in Alberta where it’s no surprise energy clients have been foundational to the company’s success. However, “it’s always been our goal to expand into other markets beyond that energy-based sector,” says Hertzer. “Leveraging what we’ve done with some of our larger international clients, including the infrastructure, quality and the processes we’ve developed, lend very well to the aerospace market we’ve moved into [and actively pursued] over the past five years. That’s how we came about meeting with Hibiki-Seiki.”

In 2018, Hertzer was honoured to be included with nine other companies sponsored by the Alberta Government to attend the International Air and Space Fair in Santiago, Chile. “We made some key contacts down there, both industry wise and in terms of building relationships with the Invest Alberta team members who organized the show,” he says.

Among those connections was Invest Alberta advisor Michael Couch. He connected Hertzer with the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and client Hibiki-Seiki as they sought a small-to-medium sized North American precision component manufacturer aligned with their vision. “We began discussions to see if we could be that partner and portal Hibiki-Seiki was looking for to break into the North American market,” says Hertzer.

Since March 2021, Invest Alberta has worked with Hibiki-Seiki to land the strategic partnership. That includes identifying and providing introductions to multiple Alberta prospects, supporting negotiations, overseeing detailed information exchange, framing out terms and closing the deal, says Invest Alberta CEO Rick Christiaanse.

“Partnerships with companies in Asia not only help bring new expertise and jobs to Alberta, they also benefit many industries on a global scale by alleviating current supply chain issues,” says Christiaanse. “[This partnership] is an opportunity to introduce high-end Japanese technologies to Alberta, while helping the province expand its aerospace sector. Alberta’s central location, transportation links and young, diverse workforce also make the province a destination of choice for companies looking to manufacture here and expand into North America. ”

It’s a big win for the Hertzers who have come a long way since 1967 through consistent quality work and fostering strong relationships in Alberta and beyond. “We’re excited and having fun as a Calgary-based manufacturer working to make international waves and news,” says Hertzer.

They’re also working to attract more young talent and new Canadians into the industry. “The realm of machining, programming and quality assurance is really expanding in Calgary,” says Hertzer. “We continue to work with our education system including SAIT and their trades programs and we always have a couple of people working with us as they work towards their trade certification.”

The Hertzers are proud to help drive the industry into the future for the city that’s been their home for six decades. “We believe Albertans have a Prairie mentality. We’re resilient, innovative and hardworking, with a can-do attitude,” says Hertzer. “There’s a strong sense of entrepreneurship here with a sense of individualism that makes us unique in the world. It gives us a great platform to compete on the global scale.”

Also big news for Calgary’s manufacturing industry in 2022 is newly refreshed De Havilland Aircraft of Canada (De Havilland) moving their corporate head office to the city from Toronto to focus on engineering, sales and marketing.

“For Calgary, a new head office will mean opportunities across the company,” says Brian Chafe, De Havilland president and CEO, pointing out new positions stretch across skilled labour jobs, project managers, finance, legal and human resources specialists, and everything in between. “We estimate that once fully up and running and in production in Calgary, we will see our current workforce increase by up to 1,000 new employees in all corporate disciplines.”

It’s a development built upon the company’s nearly 95-year track record of building rugged, reliable and long-lasting aircraft in Canada, starting in 1928 at Toronto’s Downsview Airport. Since producing over 5,000 airplanes, the company has helped connect communities, support the WWII Allied effort and continues to protect people around the world.

Earlier this year, the organization amalgamated companies such as the Canadair water bomber program and aircraft produced by Ireland’s Shorts Brothers. They also united a number of companies including Viking Air, Longview Aviation and De Havilland Canada into one company. “This will be truly transformational for us,” says Chafe. “We will be able to harness the skills and talents of our employees to provide better customer service and meet the needs of our customers than if we were separate companies.”

New Calgary facilities setting up will produce the DHC-515 Firefighter, the latest in the series of Canadian-made water bombers used around the world for 50 years. “Countries and operators around the world have told us that due to the combination of an aging fleet and the impacts of climate change, this aircraft is needed now more than ever,” says Chafe.

Also assembled in Calgary and delivered globally are De Havilland’s DHC-6, or Twin Otters. “From the Canadian Arctic to the South Pole, to the African desert to oceanic locations around the globe, Twin Otter aircraft are linking communities and bringing people together,” says Chafe. “The Twin Otter is also a missionized aircraft and is used by civil protection authorities for search and rescue purposes as well as firefighting missions.”

Operating out of Calgary for several years now, De Havilland is familiar with the city’s business appeal, including its affordability and talent pool for highly skilled workers. “The graduates produced at SAIT, the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University are all some of the best young people in the country,” says Chafe. “We will be working with all of these institutions to ensure we have the right programs in place for them to have long lasting and interesting careers at De Havilland Canada.”