From Alberta to the World Stage

LJ Welding Automation
Written by Allison Dempsey

With cutting-edge industrial facilities that include two buildings with 60,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space each and more than five acres of property, Edmonton, Alberta-based LJ Welding Automation has been providing high-quality welding equipment to the Canadian and international welding and fabrication industry for decades.

The company’s offering includes welding automation and material handling equipment.

Armed with a highly skilled engineering department that includes qualified mechanical engineers, CAD technicians, controls engineers, and computer programming engineers, the company’s robotics and full CNC machining centres maximize productivity, resulting in cost savings for over 4,000 customers located across six continents and 53 nations.

Originally a small but profitable oil and gas service company, LJ was acquired by Ryan Holt, Adam Carpenter, Tim Robinson, and Brian Carpenter, who saw a great opportunity for growth, growing the company nearly 20-fold in the years to come.

“We immediately started getting into exports and other industries,” says Holt. A first big break included a project in Japan for power generation equipment where, after discovering they enjoyed the adventure of dealing with different industries, the owners started to diversify out of oil and gas.

“We were trying to get into things like wind and green energy and solar facilities,” says Holt, adding there were numerous other areas they looked at as well. “We got into the aerospace industry. So with some of the profits that came out of that, we were able to reinvest and diversify.”

Today, aerospace is LJ Welding Automation’s largest single industry served and one the largest pending projects in company history is within that field.

“There’s so much volume there in terms of scale and size that we could justify doubling our footprint,” Holt says.

Despite the company’s success in aerospace, however, the diversification and growth away from oil and gas does not mean it’s the enemy, Holt mentions. “It’s just not our primary focus,” he says. “Our passion is helping North American fabrication facilities be the most productive in the world, whether it’s a railcar or oil and gas facility or rocket ship or wind tower. They all require quality metal fabrication equipment, so you have to be able to build these things. And it has turned out to be an exciting industry because you can touch everything everywhere. We see things we have had a hand in, including high-rises, for instance. These are covering virtually everything.”

The company’s growth has included a 15-year partnership with Linde, a USA/German global Fortune 500 company that now handles the U.S. side of LJ’s business. “Our partnership with Linde is a perfect dovetail, a really good fit, and we’ve been partners ever since. They spotted us when we were small and saw something in us and now we’re their specialized material handling and welding automation equipment provider.”

Working with a multinational company with experience and a presence, and with a focus in the USA, LJ Welding Automation’s most recent development involves cobot welding systems—aka collaborative robots—a technology that has revolutionized the automation world and one that Linde has entrusted to LJ. “They’re quite happy now because six months ago they were just bringing it to market and we were the catalyst to finish this,” Holt says. “Now we’re building these advanced machines nonstop because our customers need this equipment to combat the well-known skilled welder shortage plaguing North America.”

While continued growth is on the horizon, Holt says the company needs to be cautious about how much it takes on and the scope of the work.

“I think now we’re at a point where we’re less obsessed with growth and more excited about running our operation better,” he says. “On the other hand, we have got new opportunities that would force us to grow. So we’re not trying to grow for the sake of growing, but as you get out there and do more projects, you build a reputation.”

A good, solid reputation means more work coming along, even without advertising or marketing, Holt adds. “LJ is very specialized in our field, definitely at the leading edge of what our customers need,” he says. “One thing leads to another kind of thing. That’s how it happened in aerospace.”

Although Holt is unable to give the company’s name, LJ’s work with a major space company—directly related to a rocket launch—has led to 85 subsequent contacts. “Suddenly you’ve got 15 aerospace companies in your portfolio and all of them want to deal with you because you treat them well and you do what you say you’re going to do,” says Holt.

And growth is always good, of course, as long as it’s handled properly in both scope and scale.

“It’s just a matter of pacing ourselves, because we take on projects that are extremely challenging, and we always deliver on them, so we’ve never had an issue with delivering,” Holt continues. “Maybe to a fault, because we sometimes do things we shouldn’t even have to do and we essentially fund projects with our own resources to make sure we go above and beyond. You take on projects that are very complicated, and sometimes you just have to deliver at any cost, even if it requires using our own resources.”

That ongoing commitment and dedication to stellar customer service are key, and one the company takes to heart, especially because the work LJ does is so customized, which means clients can count on the work being done and being done properly.

“They have to take a chance on you,” Holt says. “If somebody gives us an order, they are saying, ‘we trust you; don’t let us down.’ Our business is not letting people down.”

He notes that this level of commitment and service leads to word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business. “The old adage is: if you make someone happy, they tell one person; if you let them down, they tell seven or more.”

This may entail taking on fewer projects or simplifying and not trying to shoot for the stars every single time, he adds. But what also sets LJ apart from competitors is its relentless pursuit and never giving up, which is a testament to those who work at the company.

“When we do an aerospace project, our engineers are giddy with excitement,” Holt says. “These projects are amazing. You go down there, and you see astronauts walking around and you’re dealing with space engineers who are young and ready to give all their waking hours for a cause. It is an intoxicating thing.”

The companies LJ works with know this, too, and it’s part of the reason they like working with LJ—the excitement and investment in success, whether it’s building things that directly relate to a rocket launch, a complete prototype of a 3D-printed rocket, or touring aerospace facilities in Los Angeles to see their handiwork firsthand.

Reaching for the stars doesn’t mean they’re forgetting where they came from, however, says Holt. “Some of the best customers that we have are right in Alberta, but we’re just looking to the future and staying on the world stage,” he says. “We just decided we wanted to try and do something different. It’s not the easiest thing to do because Alberta was a very high-cost place to run a business.”

Creating an infrastructure that’s relativity expensive to operate from means trying to be cost-competitive in the world, and trying to operate in a place where costs are so high isn’t easy, he adds. “So, you need to hire really smart people, and get out of their way. That’s how we not only compete, but win.”

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