In Canada, with its sprawling land and varied climate, we are no strangers to shovelling, plowing, construction, and road maintenance. Earthmoving equipment like graders, excavators, plows and loaders have greatly improved over time, leaving us less at the mercy of Mother Nature. While even the toughest of equipment may stand up to snow storms or heavy lifting, it is no match for wear.
Wear is one of the primary challenges affecting earthmoving equipment. Whether in mining, construction or road maintenance, wear can significantly limit the usefulness of equipment, leading to repair time, loss of work, and frequent and costly replacement of wear parts.
Black Cat Wear Parts started its journey in 1968 as the “blade division” of Union Tractor Ltd., a prominent parts and repair company serving the heavy construction machinery market in Alberta. In 1993, they added manufacturing capacity in Selkirk, Manitoba which expanded to a second facility in 1996. In 2004, the firm expanded its product range and entered the bucket tooth business. Finally, in 2008, Black Cat started a blade plant in China to support its international customers and further compete in the ground engaging parts industry.
At this time, staying ahead of other competitors was not an easy task. Black Cat was already a supplier to companies around the world. With its vast network of dealers, it saw the potential to market new coatings based on customer demand. An entire team was devoted to the research and development of an alternative hardfacing process to enable low-cost overlays and advance Black Cat’s technical knowledge and product offering.
To substantially reduce the cost and amount of the raw material, and improve the wear life of components, the team had to compare and study three overlay processes such as gas metal arc welding (GMAW), submerged arc welding (SAW) and plasma transferred arc (PTA) welding. The challenge was that these processes required more investments and resources than expected, which lead the company to turn to the NRC IRAP for help.
Together, two NRC IRAP Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs), Robert Roy and Rajeev Chadha, reviewed Black Cat’s R&D projects, analysed growth opportunities, and proposed a commercial welding system prototype. They also connected the company to Alberta Innovate’s lab for testing and to the NRC’s Energy, Mining and Environment Research Centre for assessment and advice.
“Our ITAs were more than helpful in connecting Black Cat to local and national research organizations for advice,” said Rob Forgrave, Vice President, Product Management. “Rob helped us focus on innovative wear-resistant materials while Rajeev helped us focus on cost reduction and process optimization to improve wear components’ life in the long run.”
In early 2009, Black Cat Wear Parts was starting its first project with NRC IRAP, “the beginning of a new era” for the team, according to the Vice President of Finance, David Holubitsky. NRC IRAP enabled them to adopt new technical processes while providing them with experts and specialists in the field.
"In the crucial economic times, NRC IRAP has been a great support to Black Cat to pursue R&D on the hardfacing of wear parts. Black Cat has been able to focus and invest more on research and development."
Targeting a broader market
Black Cat’s business has grown significantly, as sales doubled from 2005 to 2015 with expansion in the USA and plants in China. With approximately 120 employees, Black Cat’s Edmonton plant produced 25% of its total shipments worldwide. Of the Edmonton products, over $10 million were sold with Black Cat’s overlay. Since 2010, Canadian construction companies have been equipping their toolboxes with improved wear parts using the resistant and low cost GMAW overlay coatings that can help extend their lifespan.
Black Cat won the 2015 Canada's Best Managed Companies program award, which is Canada’s leading business award, recognizing excellence in Canadian owned and managed companies with revenues over $15 million.
“Black Cat Wear Parts is a progressive enterprise with a vision to grow through market-driven technology innovation,” says their ITA Rajeev. “This was a great opportunity for NRC IRAP to assist Black Cat Wear Parts with their R&D and bottom-line improvements to achieve top-notch business results.”
Rob Forgrave is planning Black Cat Wear Parts’ future with optimism. He believes the company will continue to grow, increase market share and improve opportunities to extend its overlay products into other markets.