Sixty years ago, in 1953, George Kelk was an engineer in Toronto working for a notable aerospace company called Avro Airplanes. His job was to test wings and engines and he became an expert on string gauges and measuring stress in mechanical parts.
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When the factory he worked at closed, he, as so many entrepreneurs before him, founded a company in his garage to build custom products and devise technical solutions for many different applications: For a government study on the effect of waste on the shore, he developed products that would measure the height of waves. For another company he created products to locate minerals underground.
In the 1960s the Dofasco Steel Company asked Kelk if he was interested in repairing load cells built by a company in the U.K. The cells had to be sent back every three to four weeks for rebuilding; the idea was, instead of sending them back, to build them in Toronto. Kelk built them so well, they didn’t need rebuilding. His company grew so that he came the go-to authority on designing and building custom load cells – at the time his biggest competitor was ABB Group.
In the beginning of the 1960s Kelk decided to build sensors for loading mills on a request from General Electric, at which point the company’s output began to include optical systems for rolling steel.
Today Kelk is an ISO 9001:2008 certified organization, specializing in the design and manufacture of state-of-the-art electronic measurement equipment used mainly in steel and aluminum rolling mills, paper mills, and mining applications around the world. Its products offer solutions for roll force, tension, fluid pressure, displacement, width, plate outline, velocity/length, crop optimization, metal detection, and weighing.
From its start in a garage, the company has grown to more than 160 employees who operate from a modern plant located in Toronto, housing head office, engineering, manufacturing, research, sales and service functions for the company.
Good for the Long Run
Kelk’s group of 10 sensor products don’t come cheap, but they come with a guarantee that you’ll never have to repair them or replace them, says George Oprea, vice president of sales and marketing.
“Our sensors are expensive,” he said, adding that the company wins customers “through the quality of our products. We’re known as having the highest quality equipment. Our parts last years.” Because of this, he noted, the company has extended its warranty for five years because the need to repair is non-existent.
“We try to convey peace of mind. We make sure equipment is installed as per design. Even if something happens to the cell, if it’s dropped, for example, we replace or fix it for free. There’s no cost on the customer’s side for five years. That’s how we convey the quality of our products.”
Competitors, he said, normally offer a one-year warranty – “five years is very rare.”
Kelp exports 99 percent of its production – only 1 percent goes into Canada, Oprea said. “We import to practically every region of the world.” Most of the business in the past years, he said, has come from Greenfield projects and modernizations and upgrades/changes in existing rolling mills, with 30-40 percent of the company’s income from granular mills.
One product of distinction in Kelk’s portfolio is its crop optimization system, which features the company’s two-fold aptitude in engineering a system that can precision cut and also save companies millions of dollars.
With temperatures reaching up to 1300 degrees Celsius in the steel-rolling process, sometimes the steel, moving at 1 to 2 meters a second, can disfigure into different forms while it is being cut. “The moving bar creates a problem for operators,” Oprea said, adding that some will cut more than they need to be on the safe side.
This was the case with a company in Russia, which was rolling six million tons, often cutting 300 millimeter extra. “They didn’t think a lot about it,” Oprea explained, “but when we calculated, we said would could cut that to 25 millimeters, saving on the cost of steel and scrub. They’re now saving $18 million a year.”
The rate of return upon installing Kelk’s crop optimization solution? Eighteen days. Oprea said the company has used the system for the last 12 years.
Kelk, he pointed out, is the number one supplier in the world of crop optimization products, with over 100 installations across the globe.
“We will always offer savings to our customers,” Oprea said, adding, “There is no accuracy close to ours in the world. The system will pay for itself in a year. We’re so sure, we’ll let you use it three months for free. Then you pay us back 75 percent of what you save. We’re 100 percent sure our system will work and you’ll make money.”
In 2012 Kelk, a private company, was sold to Vishay Precision Group, or VPG, an internationally recognized designer, manufacturer and marketer of, among other products, sensors, and sensor-based systems specializing in stress, force, weight, pressure, and current measurements.
Kelk itself designs, tests, builds and sells from its facilities in Toronto and also employs 35 agents across the globe. Its average sales over five years have reached between $25-$30 million USD.
At the upcoming Metec Europe show in June the company will unveil four products, including an upgrade of its laser velocimeter, which is easier to maintain and service and needs no calibration.
“We invest a lot in research to create newer and better devices,” Oprea said. “We’re always looking at new ideas.”
These new ideas will continue to set standards in the steel industry, guaranteeing that Kelk, along with its roster of superior products, will remain a fixture in its customers’ operations.