Janice Gable Bashman reports on Independent Electric & Controls Ltd., a fast-growing company that grew from three to over 200 employees in just five years by servicing the gas, oil, mining, sawmill, and commercial industries.
Getting laid off can have a great upside. For Todd Guy, Brent Erickson, and Brad Turnbull, the founders of Independent Electric & Controls Ltd. (IEC), that upside led to the start of their company in May 2003. With over 96 years of experience between them in the oilfield and gas industries, Guy, Erickson, and Turnbull decided to start IEC, located in Drayton Valley, Alberta, Canada, after two of them were laid off and wondering what to do with their futures. The logical answer lay in the gas and oil industries and the independent electric and controls industry, areas in which the men were highly trained and possessed a thorough working knowledge.
The company may have started out small, but within a year it employed 12 people. Today, after five years in business, IEC employs over 200 people and provides high-quality industrial electrical instrumentation and automentation services, primarily to the gas, oil, mining, sawmill, and commercial industries. “We’re the guys that can build your facility from the grass roots up,” says President Todd Guy. “We can do everything in gas and oil production facilities, remote sites, electrical instrumentation, and automentation.”
So how did this company grow so quickly and achieve such success? Through good old-fashioned hard work. “We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve attracted some very skilled individuals to help us grow,” Guy says. “Our customers realize that, and we all work together to achieve our goals.
IEC began by working for mid-size producers. By 2004, the company started to diversify and move into different branches of the industries it served. This strategy proved advantageous for IEC because work is often inconsistent in the oil and gas industries, so servicing multiple branches of those industries keeps the company busy. Diversification also enables IEC to cope with negative economic trends and spurs growth even during a slow time.
Word of mouth about IEC’s success quickly spread, as people in the electrical and instrumentation industries heard about the company and desired to be a part of it. “That just goes to show you the strength of the individuals we have working for our company,” explains Guy. “People hear about what we are doing and want to join us. We’ve got some of the most talented people in the world who have worked worldwide. And, once our customers build a working relationship with us they really appreciate the strength and abilities we have to increase their production and lower or maintain their off-cost.”
IT’S ALL IN THE RELATIONSHIPS
IEC works for major gas and oil producers, including BP, Petro-Canada, EnCana Corporation, ConocoPhillips Canada, Devon Corporation, and others. In addition, IEC has forged close relationships with smaller oil and gas companies, such as Trident Explorations, a coal bed methane company. IEC worked closely with Trident to help the company automate its facilities and maintain them. “Coal bed methane has typically gotten a bad rap for not being environmentally friendly,” says Guy, “but Trident is one of the most environmentally friendly companies out there.”
IEC is working very closely with Arc Resources on a Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) project – taking an existing oil facility and adding and implementing communication and equipment to enable the facility to monitor and manage its wells remotely. The improvements in communications and equipment also will enable the company to automatically report production and revenues to the appropriate agencies, all monitored in real time.
To help its oil and gas customers, IEC is experimenting, at its Athabasca location, with heat cells and how to use them in facilities. Right now, the company is using a generator to power its furnace, which in turn heats the heat cell. The heat cell stores energy, and as the building requires heat, it draws that heat from the heat cell, so that the heat cell warms the building. IEC intends to store enough energy in the heat cell that it may sell power back to the power grid at optimal times. Ultimately, what this means for IEC’s customers is an energy-efficient and cost-effective means of generating heat.
STRIVING TO BE THE BEST
IEC’s Drayton Valley facility is 12,000 square feet and contains a meter proving bench and in-house manufacturing of electrical instrumentation, including full-blown automation capabilities for transmitters for programmable logic controllers. “We can also maintain or build remote well sites on the electrical instrumentation side,” Guy says. “We’re very experienced at automation, and that experience shows in our work.” In addition to the Drayton Valley facility, IEC has nine other locations, each strategically located throughout the western basin from Saskatchewan, Canada to the Yukon Territory and ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 square feet.
The company implemented lean production in the second quarter of 2008 to improve its services and processes. It also is working toward volume buying of parts and materials, so that it can pass on the reduced costs to the company’s customers. “Since we are geographically located throughout western Canada and through to the Yukon, it presents some issues to make sure we are buying properly,” explains Guy. “We are moving toward a perpetual inventory management process which should reduce overhead, reduce costs, and make us a more efficient and better run company.”
The fluctuating economy has forced IEC to review its processes and find ways to provide steady and reliable yet cost-effective service to its customers. For example, the cost of oil was quite high recently. As a result, IEC searched for ways to maintain a steady cost to its customers. Now that oil prices have dropped, the company is looking for ways to increase production and lower operational costs.
PRIDE IN QUALITY AND SAFETY
Workmanship quality and safety are important issues for IEC, and the company works hard to maintain its high standards in these areas. IEC has obtained its Certificate of Recognition for Alberta and British Columbia, in recognition of the company’s health safety and environmental performance. The company’s orientation program also meets the Industry Recommended Practice (IRP) #16 regulations, which identify industry standards for safety training in the petroleum industry. “Without some of those certifications, we wouldn’t be able to go on some of the major oil sites,” says safety coordinator Lana Pangracs. “We are members of both Canada HSE and ISNetworld, which are Internet data providers that provide safety statistics for the oil and gas industries. Companies can access the database to see health, safety, and environmental information about a company to ensure the company meets safety requirements.” Guy adds, “We’ve been awarded work based solely on our performance, which is a really good for our company.”
Whether it is servicing electrical equipment in gas plants, automating pressure monitoring processes, minimizing power requirements in the mining process, reducing waste in sawmills, or replacing and updating equipment, IEC meets its customers’ expectations on a constant basis. “Our customers like dealing with us because of our people and our abilities,” Guy says. “We are very fair, and our customers get a good day’s work out of us for a fair day’s wage.”
With high-quality workmanship and safety at its core, it’s no wonder Independent Electric & Controls Ltd. has grown so quickly in the past five years. Who knows where this company is headed, but its future looks great.