Williams & White Machine Inc.

Matt and Justin Williams, Williams & White Machine | BCBusiness
Brothers Matt (left) and Justin Williams with a robotic arm.

Congratulations to Williams & White Machine, 2013’s #6 Most Innovative Company in B.C.

Mention “robots” and one of two things usually comes to mind: evil technology gone awry, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or futuristic servants catering to our every whim, à la The Jetsons.

Automated industrial manufacturing may not be quite as sexy as movie and TV robots, but neither is it the stuff of science fiction: it’s here, and it’s boosting manufacturing productivity. And one Vancouver firm is on the cutting edge of robotics innovation.

Williams & White Machine Inc. is a Burnaby company that got its start in 1957 fabricating bridge and construction components. It branched into sawmill components and about a decade ago it spawned a new division, called Remtech Systems, specializing in industrial automation. Under a company reorganization now underway, the fledgling division is about to be launched as a stand-alone company under the Williams & White group of companies.

One of Remtech’s early clients was Ballard Power Systems Inc., which about six years ago contracted Williams & White to assemble a fuel-cell stack, for which Remtech also designed a virtual testing environment.

A more recent Remtech client is 2012 Innovators of the Year winner Canada Metal (Pacific) Ltd., which makes small metal discs that attach to the underside of boats to help prevent corrosion. Williams & White CEO Justin Williams explains that “they were originally pouring molten zinc into casting moulds by hand.” The process was not only slow and laborious, but dangerous. Remtech designed and installed a fully automated robotic conveyor system, eliminating human interaction with molten metal, and increasing output by up to 300 per cent.

“They were able to ramp up productivity to the point where they are competitive with China,” notes James McCartney, a research associate at BCIT’s Applied Research Liaison Office who has worked with Remtech on similar projects. McCartney adds that Remtech’s true innovation lies in the software it develops to tie all the hardware pieces together: “It’s really digital automation where companies gain efficiencies. You can get all the parts to work together and you can find out how to make it run faster. It’s a collaboration of analysis and software optimization and Remtech definitely has the expertise to deliver on a solution.”