Prodomax Automation

Automated manufacturing solutions

Located in Barrie, Ontario, Prodomax Automation specialises in all areas of automated manufacturing solutions. Every part of the process—design, assembly, welding, machining, materials handling, and laser cutting—is handled in-house by Prodomax’s highly skilled technicians and engineers.

While Prodomax has built a solid reputation servicing the automotive industry, the company is also capable and experienced in producing a wide variety of manufacturing systems for other industries, such as telecommunications, agriculture, electronics, solar energy, mining and consumer products. It is this diversity that really sets Prodomax Automation apart from its competition.

Becoming Prodomax

Prodomax Automation began in 1971, at a time when there were only a few manufacturing companies in the Barrie area—Northern Telecom (Nortel) and West Bend. “There was a need for a small, special purpose machinery builder to service mechanic needs of local companies,” says Don Leslie, Director of Sales & Marketing.

Prodomax was founded by a former Nortel employee who was also a tool and die maker. He saw an opportunity for a niche in the market and went for it. In the beginning, the company was made up of only three people and won Nortel as its base customer. The company went on for several years, slowly building a name for itself and experiencing moderate success. But it wasn’t until 1995 that Prodomax really took off.

“In 1995, new owners arrived,” recalls Leslie. “One owner was from the automotive industry and the other came from the public accounting sector. It was a good complement to the business. They immediately restructured the company by adding a lot of highly skilled people, including designers, project managers, and sales and applications engineers. At that time, the company rebranded itself from a small, special machine builder to what we now call a ‘vehicle under-body specialist’—that branding has been the substantial factor in the growth of the business. Now, we have established our niche. There are a lot of competitors who build custom machinery in North America, but we’re one of the few who call ourselves an under-body specialist. This also distinguishes us.”
Before 1995, Prodomax Automation was doing well, but sales were certainly below $10 million. Only eight years after new ownership, the company was seeing numbers increase by nearly ten-fold. How has Prodomax grown so significantly? Besides offering a range of capabilities and expertise, Leslie says success has come through word of mouth.

“We don’t do a lot of marketing,” he boasts. “All of our business has come from our reputation. We work with our customers that we continue to service with warranties and spare parts and training. Most of our projects are from repeat customers. We do have a business development side where we look to break into new markets and get new customers, but it’s not a primary focus, because 90 per cent of our business is repeat business.”

Turn-key solutions

Since expanding its offerings, Prodomax is among a small group of manufacturing companies that can provide a range of full in-house capabilities. “We provide our customers with turn-key manufacturing solutions,” beams Leslie. “Customers come and say ‘here is our product,’ and we go from a blank sheet of paper and come up with what is the most efficient and cost-effective manufacturing solution.”

“We have competitors that do the same type of work, but with cost pressures, a lot of competitors will outsource to design houses,” he continues. “Our engineers are in-house, so our customers benefit from the depth of resources.” To be clear, it’s not that Prodomax never outsources, but it only happens as a last resort, when the team has reached maximum capacity and needs to service its customers in a timely manner. What is important is that Prodomax can and does process its customers’ requests from beginning to end.

Leslie explains that right up-front, Prodomax has a team of engineers with extensive processing and manufacturing expertise who look after sales and applications. When a new opportunity comes in, those engineers assist customers in defining their needs and sorting through a number of options that could work. Once the team books a job, the company leverages its 40 engineers, fabrication shop and machine shop to get the job done, and that includes onsite installation. “We’re there from the idea to full production,” says Leslie.

Surviving turbulent times

For a business that deals mainly in the automotive sector, Prodomax was certainly affected by the recession. Fortunately, the company predicted the tough times ahead and was able to act proactively.
“Five years ago, we started seeing the pressure to reduce costs and schedules,” says Leslie. “The OEM part of our business is with the auto manufacturers, and we started seeing projects get pushed back. It challenged us to look at our internal processes to try and identify inefficiencies. Activities that once were in series had to be in parallel, so we had to move things around. We also had to create standardised products—we still customise but we have various modules that we use and reuse, particularly on the electrical or control side of the equipment.”

As for the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies, Prodomax also saw those coming and started making relationships with new domestics, such as Nissan, Toyota and Honda. “It used to be that 80 per cent of our business was with ‘the Big Three,’ but now GM and Chrysler represent about 10 per cent and Ford has 20 per cent,” Leslie explains. “The rest are new domestics.”

Even though Prodomax was able to escape the bankruptcy fallout, its customers still had a lot of business with GM and Chrysler, so it did affect the company. People with money tied up in those companies stopped spending and the industry took a hiatus. “We went through a period where things weren’t really happening,” says Leslie, “which forced us not to rely so heavily on the auto market.”

After weathering the economic storm, the company has amped up its pursuit of non-automotive businesses, such as solar energy, agriculture and mining. Today Prodomax Automation remains in good standing for success.