Volume 13 | Issue 1 | Year 2010

You might expect that a company called Timberland Equipment makes forestry products. Indeed, back in 1947 when it started in business making drag line winches and skidders, that’s exactly what it did. However, Timberland ceased manufacturing forestry and logging equipment back in the 1970s. As one of five independent companies of the privately held Timberland Group, a provider of engineered solutions for various niche markets, today Timberland Equipment focuses exclusively on heavy-duty custom engineered pulling and lifting solutions for construction and mining, marine and conductor handling customers. These include equipment such as hoists, winches, towing machines, pullers, cable laying gear, derricks, hose reels and hawser systems.
As Shakespeare said, what’s in a name? You’ve got to love it whatever you call it.

“While our roots were in the forestry industry, over the years, we’ve had discussions about whether to change the company name,” says Richard Cole, business development manager. “But, the fact is that in the industries we serve, Timberland is a well-established recognized brand for high quality engineered lifting and pulling products and service. After more than 30 years of success in developing customer solutions with lifting capacities ranging from 10,000 pounds to more than a half million pounds, there doesn’t seem much reason to tinker with the name now.”

Timberland sells internationally, with about 10 percent of its business in Canada, where it has headquarters in Woodstock, Ontario, another 50 percent in the United States and the remainder around the world. “We’re seeing more international growth, particularly in the construction and mining segment,” Cole says. “As countries become more industrialized, the need for infrastructure grows, and with that the need for our lifting and pulling solutions.”

Indeed, notes Lawrence Clark, construction and mining product manager, “While the global economy may be in a recession, we’re experiencing close to a record backlog in demand. We have about 8,000 projects underway, and even that may be understating it, with completion dates of up to two to three years out. We keep waiting for the boom to fall, but so far we don’t see it.”

He adds, “Right now, business is pretty evenly distributed among our customer segments. Marine is very much tied to the price of oil; as the price of oil goes up, there’s further incentive to explore and drill new fields, which means more projects that need derricks. Same thing with mining. When the cost of a particular resource is down, there’ll be fewer new projects and less potential business for us. Right now, nickel is down, but that’s counterbalanced because, on the other hand, potash and gold are up. At the end of the day, the success of our business is tied to the success of the commodities produced by the end-users of our solutions.”

SOLUTIONS THAT MANAGE RISK
In most cases, Timberland sells directly to the end user. “While we do have some product that we can assemble from inventory, in the majority of cases we’re designing and building a custom product for a specific project application,” Clark explains. “Consequently, developing a direct relationship with the end-user project managers is essential. We work to really understand what the end-user issues are and the situations under which they exist to design an optimum solution. We’re talking about environments where there’s a considerable amount of risk involved – both in terms of expense and resources – and we work to understand these risks and help clients manage them. It goes beyond just what something costs to make, but how it needs to perform under what conditions and when it needs to be operational.”

“What enables us to manage these risks better than some of our competition is that we do everything under one roof,” Cole emphasizes. “There’s seamless interconnectivity among all our departments, from initial evaluation and design to manufacture to ongoing project management throughout all phases of the project as well as post-installation. This not only ensures an optimally designed solution manufactured precisely to client needs, it also keeps the project moving along to meet desired deadlines. Any of the development issues that typically arise in large custom manufacturing projects can be resolved immediately and effectively through direct one-to-one communication on the shop floor. When you don’t have to rely on outside sources to get your work done, you have more control.”

The one roof in Ontario where this is performed totals 50,000 square feet and is ISO 9001 registered. Timberland employs about 125. “Because we are a custom manufacturer, we do require and rely on skilled trades people,” Cole points out. While in many situations, skilled workers in traditional manufacturing roles are sometimes in short supply, Cole notes, “One advantage we have is that we can offer people who have the skills we need a challenging work environment. It’s not just doing the same thing day in, day out.”

CHALLENGING OPPORTUNITIES
He adds, “That holds true not just for our shop floor personnel, but the engineering staff, as well. For any given project, about 25 percent of the cost is the design. Our engineers are presented with interesting challenges on every project. At the same time, our engineering capabilities mean we can frequently reduce costs up front in the design phase so that subsequent issues don’t have to be resolved in the manufacturing stage or, worse, after installation.”

To keep a project on track, without compromising quality, Timberland employs TOC (theory of constraints). “Basically, we seek to identify any limiting agents that could hinder any operation. Whatever is hindering the flow of work is what we want to correct. Basically, it’s a tool to make sure the right resources are focused where they need to be focused.”

If current business is good, the future holds even weightier prospects. “Over the last 10 years,” Clark says, “we’ve seen the need to lift heavier loads. The size and class of equipment are generally bigger than they’ve ever been.”

“This is an example of the type of ‘cool’ engineering problems we love to solve,” Cole notes. “To find more oil reserves, our clients have to drill deeper. Offshore vessels are now moored in much deeper water; where they used to be in 200 to 300 feet of water, they’re now going down 7,000 to 8,000 feet. Same thing in mining. Sometimes you’re going down 10,000 feet before you strike a worthwhile deposit. Obviously, the greater the length you have to pull something, the heavier the weight of the rope, which means the heavier the load the equipment has to bear.”

Most equipment Timberland makes is project-specific and has an expected service life of the project; once a project is disbanded, however, the equipment can frequently still be put to use in other applications. Timberland does rework its own equipment to extend life cycle and retrofit to other applications. To make sure equipment is always in good working order, Timberland has a full parts and service department with highly trained and experienced technicians ready to address any customer’s needs. “While typically the end-user installs the equipment as part of the overall project installation, we can and do dispatch technicians to supervise the integration of our products into the overall infrastructure,” Clark says. “When a customer purchases custom equipment, they can expect custom service to go with it.”

So when it comes to who can do the heavy lifting, Timberland is the name to choose.