Under the Glass
Vision and execution
By Patrick Flannery AND Colleen Cross
At Ferguson-Neudorf, the installer is the customer.
By Patrick Flannery AND Colleen Cross
Amid the vineyards in Beamsville, Ont., between Hamilton and St.
Catharines, about an hour south of Toronto, sits one of the great
success stories in Canadian glazing.
Amid the vineyards in Beamsville, Ont., between Hamilton and St. Catharines, about an hour south of Toronto, sits one of the great success stories in Canadian glazing. Growing from the merger of two iconic glaziers of the 1960s and ’70s, Ferguson Glass and Ontario Glass Craftsmen, Keith Ferguson and Peter Neudorf built a custom architectural glazing company with the capabilities to take on any project, and to push the envelope of what is possible in building envelope construction. Their enterprise stands today as a model of organized technical expertise, with each element meshing precisely to address every detail and let nothing slip. Built on a first-hand understanding of how to execute the highest standards in glazing, Ferguson-Neudorf is turning away business in favour of taking only the most challenging, spectacular and lucrative projects in North America.
|Ferguson-Neudorf runs four 200-foot glazing lines permanently, but is not reluctant to set up more lines or even whole remote plants as necessary. On one project for Manitoba Hydro, the company set up an entire assembly facility in Winnipeg to minimize the distance the finished modules would have to travel.|
The company was born in 1986 of the synergy between two very different personalities. Ferguson, a business graduate from the University of Western Ontario, began his career in 1953. He was recruited by Canadian Pittsburgh Industries (CPI) and worked out of its Windsor branch and was known for his methodical approach to solving problems at other branches. In 1967, he founded Ferguson Glass.
|Location: Beamsville, Ontario with engineering office in Toronto|
No. of staff: 205
Plant: 88,000 sq. ft. in Beamsville
Products: Design, fabrication and installation of aluminum curtainwall, skylights and building envelope systems
Ferguson-Neudorf is a custom architectural glazing company that specializes in design-assist projects, unitized curtainwall, punched windows, structural glass walls, terracotta, and other technologies.
Neudorf, self-educated, humble and hardworking, born in the village of Neuanlage in the German Mennonite community of Hague, Sask., began his career at Niagara Glass Ltd. in St. Catharines, Ont. In 1956, he started Ontario Glass Craftsmen, which became one of the largest glazing contractors in Ontario. In 1984 he founded Neudorf Glass Industries.
The two met while bidding against each other on the National Art Gallery project in Ottawa, and instead chose to join forces on the project as Ferguson Neudorf Glass Inc.
Today, Ferguson-Neudorf would like to concentrate on custom unitized building envelopes. “Almost everything we do is unitized,” says Doug Lilja, director of sales and pre-construction services, who has been with the company three years, after an 18-year career with Fulton/Oldcastle. “It gives us the flexibility and the control over the build process that we need.” Lilja says all the projects the company is involved with in the U.S. and those they’re just finishing in Canada – many of which entail high standards for thermal, condensation and U-value – are design-assists. The company takes on the most technically challenging projects without hesitation. It recently designed and built from scratch an adjustable photovoltaic sun shade that attaches to the module mullion so there is no break in the envelope. The shade had to meet tough standards for snow and wind load due to its location in Halifax.
To work this way, you need a good track record and it’s a “somewhat open book,” says Lilja. “You’ve got to have a level of trust and good faith in each other and you’ve got to be committed.”
Ferguson-Neudorf is possibly unique in the glazing industry in its willingness to set up semi-temporary remote locations for its operations, sometimes even just to address a specific project. “Part of what makes it feasible to set up a remote plant is we’re a unitizer,” says Lilja. We ship our extrusions to Winnipeg and we can turn more on a dime because we’re there. We have a dedicated crew who’s working on that project and it makes sense and we’re not losing three and four days in trucking. We can be more responsive and therefore we can do it with less people.”
In the case of jobs that require fast turnaround, being remote helps because they are shortening a lot of the timelines of moving materials. As long as they keep the stock and do the engineering and paperwork at the main office, he says, the process is effective.
KEEPING IT IN THE HOUSE
The company, which has many highly experienced, longtime employees, has a policy of severely limiting the use of subcontractors.
|Labelling and tracking are something of an obsession at Ferguson Neudorf. Quality inspectors have the power to pull any part out of production and delay shipment until issues are resolved. |
“We believe that at the end of the day, we own our commitments and the execution,” says Lilja, “and whether we do it ourselves or we can do it through a third party, it falls on us and we’ve learned through all the different experiences that when it falls on us, the best way to get it done is do it yourself. And it allows us to say that we’re self-performing.
“Depending on jurisdiction and union requirements or just our manpower availability, we may blend crews but we will never have a crew that’s not led by our team,” he notes.
EXECUTION, EXECUTION, EXECUTION
Moving through the Ferguson-Neudorf plant, it is easy to see that all elements in the production process are carefully organized, thought-out and monitored. Lifters are in convenient positions, the four 200-foot glazing lines are well spaced and supplied with up-to-date equipment. Everything is bar coded, with the codes relating back to all the relevant production data including machine programs. If an order has too few of a certain piece, the CNC operator can scan one of the pieces to call up the right program, load up a blank and make a new one without ever going back to drawings. That said, there is not much problem with going to drawings because Ferguson Neudorf probably has the most drawings on the production floor of any fabricator in the business.
|Ferguson-Neudorf does all its own machining on a variety of CNC equipment.|
Each supervisor’s station in the plant has a full set of documentation for each project and for several that are not there yet. Glazing line stations have elevation drawings of the complete building with the part the glaziers are working on marked off so they can see how their work will fit into the finished whole. Once the untized modules are complete, they are carefully palleted, labelled, shrink-wrapped and stored in the copious yard sometimes weeks before shipping.
What becomes clear in all this careful attention to process detail is that everything at Ferguson Neudorf is done in order to make sure the final installation of its modules proceeds swiftly and on time with no disappointments related to performance or appearance. Lilja credits Peter’s origins as an installer with the company’s culture of making sure everything is about the final experience at the job site. “It’s a family business,” says Lilja. There’s pride involved. And it’s hands on. You know, Peter Sr., he started as a glazier. He was cutting steel windows in the cold 70 years ago. He’s been through good and bad and then he’s brought people in here and they’ve always been a company that was doing bigger projects because they’re very good at execution and really, really good field people. With lots of work in the pipeline, including a couple of really big jobs that won’t start until 2015, Ferguson Neudorf can afford to cherry-pick. Part of being successful is being able to say “No.”