Belair Office Products Inc. is levelling up. This year, the furniture and home furnishings manufacturer upgraded its workshop equipment in the company’s ongoing efforts to boost productivity and expand its portfolio.
“Back around 2019, we bought a HOMAG B300 panel saw to replace one we had been running since 1992. The uptick in efficiency we saw from that first replacement was so good that, three years later, we saw the benefit of doing the same replacement for another panel saw we had been using for over 20 years,” recalls Scott Vanderform, Vice President of Design and Development with the London, Ontario-based woodworker.
“That’s not an insult to the old machine,” he quickly adds. “Those machines ran well up until the day we unplugged them. But after all those years, the technology had become far better and wanted to take advantage.”
While excited to make an upgrade, the Belair team wanted to make doubly sure they were making the best investment. So, while Vanderform and his business partner, David Larmer, had trust in the HOMAG brand, they also did their research and conducted product testing so they were confident the investment would suit the business’s needs.
“One thing we’ve learned from all these years of upgrading our equipment is that you need to study what the gains will be,” adds Vanderform. “Don’t just buy new machines for the fun of buying new machines; make sure you know that it will do what you need it to do.”
Belair’s approach to technology investments has paid off. Since replacing its panel saw earlier this year, Vanderform reports that the new equipment has resulted in a 30 per cent increase in capacity. Moreover, the new equipment has accelerated the company’s plans to expand its catalogue of office and home products.
For example, says Vanderform, “We’re starting to get more into acoustic solutions for the office. If you picture a typical office environment, there’s usually a lot of open space with a lot of sound that people want to reduce. So that’s why we brought on some new equipment and updated some of our woodworking products to handle the production of acoustic materials.”
Belair has long believed in leveraging technology to gain a competitive advantage. This focus has become even clearer since Vandeform and Larmer assumed ownership of the company in 2020 after both managing the company for over a decade prior.
“Ever since we were given the opportunity to buy the company from the previous owner, Larmer and I have made the commitment that we will continue to update our technology regularly. We both knew that staying up to date brings gains to both the business and our employees; and that once we started seeing those gains, everything would only build up from there.”
There are also the risks of avoiding technology investments to consider. Over time, says Vanderform, old technology eventually becomes a liability, requiring too much time and money to maintain or repair on an ongoing basis: “And then, if that old piece of equipment goes down, you’re probably in big trouble because that equipment is so old that there aren’t near as many people around that can service it.”
In the last eight years alone, Belair has replaced ten of its machines. Moving forward, the manufacturer aims to continue updating its machines, buying new technology when it makes sense, and keeping an eye on technological trends, all in its ongoing bid to stay at the cutting edge of the woodworking industry.
Matt Bradford is a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge, publishers of Wood Industry e-digest and magazine. He has spent years reporting on the wood and construction industries and values the opportunity to provide insights into the secondary wood manufacturing community’s successes, challenges, and opportunities.