BY IAN HARVEY - When engineers and architects talk steel, they're usually referring to the structural components of their designs, but an Alberta business is pushing them to see steel for its aesthetic qualities.
Lenmak Exterior Innovations of Edmonton has been quietly transforming itself into a unique and innovative manufacturer of architectural steel components over the past year.
The company is about to mount a campaign to raise its profile among the design community with products like NaturClad, StrataClad and EnvaTherm.
From foam insulated back pans for curtain walls to exterior steel panels “printed” to mimic the natural grain of wood or to add whimsy and colour to an otherwise dull concrete slab façade, Lenmak president and CEO Ray Turner has forged a journey to this point by thinking differently.
“I like to quote Wayne Gretzky who said he skated to where the puck wasn’t because they would get it to him,” he laughed.
“We go where there is no business and find business.”
Turner, who started off managing golf courses, said he never wanted to be in the spotlight.
“We started out in 1996 just wanting to make accessories for other companies like a private label,” he said.
“We’d make it and they would put their name on it.”
The company’s core focus was manufacturing, taking raw materials and bending or folding it to create value-added products for resale.
His first offshoot was to venture into the roofing industry and convince them that he could make aluminum trim in various colours to make soffits.
Next, Lenmak added some CNC folding machinery, which could handle thicker gauge metals and opened the door to handle steel as a material.
“It allowed us to make prefinished and galvanized steel products,” he said.
As with any CNC system it took some adjustments, he said.
“We had to learn how to talk to it,” he said.
“Originally we had to have a different drawing for each piece. Now we can go from CAD.”
Soon, Lenmak was able to step up and work with master coils of steel, which are 10,000 pounds each and serve as inventory for just about any job.
Little by little, Turner brought the components together so that Lenmak can bend pieces 26 feet long while other plants are limited to 10-foot lengths.
By differentiating their offerings and capabilities since 2008, Lenmak has positioned itself for launch as a branded supplier of components and that’s the next step said Turner.
In 2009, driven by Turner’s desire to be able to make four sided bends like a cookie tray on large items, the company added more machinery.
It opened up an opportunity to go after business in the curtain wall sector.
Turner said Lenmak wanted to attack the curtain wall sector and start making spandrel backpans. They got that in 2010 with the addition of a robotic system, which could feed a sheet of aluminum or steel and notch out material, label and bend it.
“There’s nothing like it in western Canada,” he said.
“We can make a finished four sided panel with no human intervention every 90 seconds.”
Last year, was the latest piece in the plan with the addition of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, which allows managers to get a better handle on what orders are in the system, how long they will take, where they are in the process, what inventory is on hand and where there are backlogs or bottlenecks.
The company has spent the last year fine tuning the system and developing a better understanding of how it works.
Turner has also secured patents on their technology and products such as StrataClad and EnvaTherm, which will allow the company to license panel production.
They’re also environmentally conscious making them attractive components in a LEED targeted project.
StrataClad is made from recycled materials and EnvaTherm’s foam is 100 per cent water-blown.
Lenmak sees a growing market for the insulated EnvaTherm panels, not just in new construction, but in retrofitting highrise buildings to be more energy efficient.
With the ERP plugged into the plant’s automated production, Turner sees a new road ahead and he’s now working to raise the company’s profile among building owners, architects, engineers and others.
While he sees a growing market for insulated steel panels in curtain walls for both new and retrofit applications, he is also getting interest in the “paint printed” steel panels used as siding in both residential and commercial projects.
NaturClad steel panels are literally printed with a paint to give them a natural wood finish, which he said is combined with the resilience of steel and ease of installation.
“The steel rolls are first painted in Toronto by Metal Koting which uses their RepliKote process,” he said.
Metal Koting boasts it can produce any finish from wood to stone to precious metals.
The finished rolls are shipped to Edmonton for use and it is Lenmak’s ability to bend, fold and punch the steel, once painted, which creates a wide range of applications.
Even just the aesthetics of adding colour on the façade at the Edmonton Marriott Renaissance Hotel can dramatically change the look, said Turner.
“It changes colour as you drive by because the panels have different paint on different sides,” he said.
Lenmak is also supplying about $600,000 in architectural steel to the Sawridge Best Western in Fort McMurray and features for the Sports Chek at West Edmonton Mall.