Large supporting cast key to making mines work – by Michael Riis-Christianson (Vancouver Sun – April 18, 2013)

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Resource industry depends on thousands of service companies for everything from metal fabrication to design to trucking needs

PRINCE GEORGE — B.C.-based metal supplier and plate processor A.J. Forsyth has two of Western Canada’s largest press brakes at its Prince George facility, machines capable of forming half-inch steel plate using nothing but brute force.

While these two massive pieces of equipment helped make the company a key link in the northern supply chain, they still weren’t enough to meet the rigorous demands of B.C.’s burgeoning mining industry. To do that, A.J. Forsyth had to purchase a giant, computerized plasma cutting station that could also produce custom-cut, drilled, and machined steel plate. Approximate cost: $1 million.

Making an investment of that magnitude wasn’t an easy decision, even for a company with nine locations in B.C. Yet according to Kevin McCormick, A.J. Forsyth’s Prince George branch manager, it proved to be the right one. Eighteen months later, the million-dollar plasma table is bring run three shifts per day, five days a week.

“It was a big decision for everybody,” notes McCormick, who at the time was trying to develop A.J. Forsyth’s business relationship with the mining industry. “We knew we were going to invest in a table, in a machine. We could have easily spent half the money and looked after our plate cutting, but we would not have been able to handle that whole other sector (mining), where everything is bigger. So we invested in a million-dollar table.”

A.J. Forsyth is one of several thousand B.C. firms that provide goods and services to big industry. A division of Russel Metals Inc., it’s been a fixture in Prince George since the 1960s and one of the North’s largest suppliers of bulk metal.

A.J. Forsyth’s fortunes, both past and present, have been closely tied to resource extraction.

Last month, the company’s largest single order — approximately 200 tonnes of steel — went to the Red Chris mine south of Dease Lake.

“Everything we sell is somehow tied to resource industries, specifically mining and forestry,” notes McCormick.

While sourcing enough steel to meet customer demand isn’t a problem, A.J. Forsyth — despite its investment in super-sized equipment — still sometimes finds it difficult to meet heavy industry’s product requirements.

“We had a project last year for material that was going out to the Rio Tinto Kemano project,” he recalls. “It was big, big plate rolling, and there are only maybe three or four places in Western Canada that can handle it. We struggled with it, and we had to ask for some support from a Vancouver processing plant…. It ended up being handled by a big fabrication company here (in Prince George), Northern Steel.”

As a seller of bulk metals, A.J. Forsyth often works closely with other supply and service companies such as the BID Group, a Vanderhoof-based consortium that specializes in providing design, fabrication, and construction services to B.C.’s resource industries.

Over the past 30 years, BID’S reputation for efficiency has made it one of the largest firms of its type in Northern B.C. What started in 1983 as a small, family-owned construction business is now an eight-company corporate group with approximately 400 employees.

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