Opinion: L-D injects Canadian creativity into global supply chains

Inside a nondescript industrial building on the outskirts of Stittsville, co-owner Lawrence (Laurie) Dickson and sales manager Ken Toews sit down to describe the 22-year odyssey that saw L-D Tool & Die grow from a startup to a custom injection moulding company with eight-figure revenues.

An initial investment of $30,000 from Mr. Dickson and engineer Dave Tait was all the equity capital L-D Tool & Die ever needed. The rest came from operations, which meant if it had no customers, it had no cash flow.

Like every entrepreneur before them, they had to hustle. They’re still doing it two decades later.

Mr. Dickson immigrated to Canada by way of South Africa, England and Israel. He’s proud of his adopted homeland and believes Canada can compete with any nation, even mighty China.

The secret? Co-operation.

“We do all the mould design here in Canada, but work with our Chinese partners on building them there,” Mr. Dickson explains. With his Chinese partners paying $3 an hour and Mr. Dickson travelling to China every two months, L-D Tool & Die “can beat out Mexico and Romania – not to mention China itself – on price. And in terms of quality control, there is no comparison.”

Clients also come to L-D Tool & Die for its design skills and willingness to take on difficult moulding assignments. For example, the firm plans to make a special specimen jar cap for a large gene technology firm. L-D Tool & Die will make hundreds of thousands of the product, which allows a technician to take a DNA swab and easily seal the sample inside.

Other customers include Calgary-based SMART Technologies, which has an operations and research facility in Ottawa.

Not all products L-D Tool & Die manufactures are complicated. One, called the Airtab, looks like an inverted three-dimensional “V” and is about the size of a man’s hand.

A series of Airtabs, screwed around the rear of a tractor trailer cab frame, change the airflow over a truck body, not unlike what dimples do for a golf ball. This reduces suction and drag and saves drivers eight per cent off their fuel bill.

Another product line includes firearm holsters for Glock, Browning, Makarov, Sig Sauer and Yarygin pistols that sell for around $250 each. Designed for police officers and soldiers carrying loaded automatic and semi-automatic firearms, these holsters enable the user to draw and discharge their weapon without undoing a strap – all in 0.38 seconds, instead of 1.8 seconds. This is a big difference in a firefight.

The costs of materials such as polycarbonate are 10 to 40 per cent cheaper in Canada than overseas, thanks to automation efficiencies and cheap prices for natural gas power, which makes up a huge proportion of plastic resin costs.

This means that for many jobs, it is economical for the Stittsville plant to be more than just a design shop and serve as a fabrication facility as well.

Also crucial to clients is that L-D Tool & Die warranties all its products in Canada, which is not always the case with products sourced overseas.

Mr. Dickson is a passionate Canuck. He lives in Almonte and, despite his near-constant overseas travels, says he put 500 kilometres on his snowmobile last winter.

He has no plans to retire, despite his achievements and diverse product line. Instead, he’s focused on continued growth and doubling the size of his company once again.

Prof. Bruce M. Firestone is entrepreneurship ambassador at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management; founder of the Ottawa Senators; executive director of Exploriem.org; and a broker at Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc. Follow him on Twitter @ProfBruce.