Making Steel Flow

Date PublishedFebruary 24, 2016
CompanyPlains Fabrication
Article AuthorZac Bolan
Article TypeFebruary 2016 Issue
CategoryArticles, Oilfield HUB
Tags, ,
HUB SEARCHPlainsFabrication
PULSE Interactive

Making Steel Flow


I’ve always been a great believer in
collaboration with other companies in our industry,”
explains Chester Nagy, one of the founders and president
of Plains Fabrication. “Our facility is the proof of that.
We took what we’ve learned and combined it with input
from our employees, putting together all the good ideas!”

making-steel-flowThese good ideas have taken form in the recently built Plains Fabrication facility on the eastern outskirts of Calgary. By visiting other facilities and adapting best practices, Nagy and company were able to build the best possible facility embracing lean manufacturing practices and efficient flow of process and materials.

Founded in 1988, Calgary-based Plains Fabrication built their reputation manufacturing steel pressure vessels and piping for Alberta’s burgeoning oilfields. The following year Plains Fabrication set up shop in Ramsay near the Calgary Stampede grounds, where they remained until moving to their current southeast Calgary location in 2010.


“We originally started in the old Dominion Bridge plant (in Ramsay),” Nagy reminisces. “It was designed for large fabrication but over the years the city grew up around us.”

As Plains scaled production in their Ramsay plant to meet oil patch demand the company found that the inner city growth created significant logistical problems moving their product through the city. Additionally, the company faced challenges operating in a building that was designed and built in 1927.

“There was no flow, and inefficient productivity,” explains Nagy. “It was difficult to try and be profitable working out of a place like that. Then, about 13 years ago we began the lean manufacturing program of continuous improvement. That lead to five years of staff collaboration to design the kind of plant we would need to manufacture efficiently and in a cost effective manner.”

The design was realized when Plains Fabrication set up shop in a new high-efficiency 90,000 sq. ft production facility on Venture Avenue SE, near Technology Way on the eastern edge of Calgary. The impeccably organized 14.5-acre site also accommodates a 10.5-acre outdoor marshalling and storage area.

“Logistics is a big part of moving out to the east side of Calgary as we’re now only two kilometers from the high load corridor,” Nagy points out, “that is a big plus for us.”


“Flow is extremely important with everything we do,” explains Nagy. “We begin with a plan that considers the best way for the fabrication and assembly to flow through our plant, simplifying the process as much as possible.”

When touring the massive fabrication and assembly facility, it’s immediately obvious that Plains management and staff designed around the logical flow of materials and components the lean manufacturing process. Starting in the receiving area, each component is labeled and kitted for the specific project and procedure it’s being used in. Materials are acquired following the just-in-time manufacturing philosophy, with very little excess inventory.

With more than two acres of indoor manufacturing space to work with, Plains has the capacity to scale operations for projects of any size or complexity. Immense 30’ x 30’ doors enable effective and efficient outdoor access to the cavernous bays where tradespeople work at different stations undertaking a wide array of procedures such as fitting, welding, hydro-testing, assembly, blasting, paint, and quality control.

Multiple indoor bays, some equipped with 120-ton overhead cranes, are adaptable production space which can be reconfigured when the manufacturing flow is altered to best address the requirements of a specific project. A towering 75-ton mobile gantry crane drives between bays to pick up components or modules and move them to other areas within the facility or anywhere in the outdoor workspace.

The mobile gantry is also used to move components between the fabrication/ assembly areas and their state-of-the-art blast and paint operations. All blasting is performed using fully recyclable blast media in a spotless 5,750 sq ft airtight, zero-emission bay. In the adjacent 10,000 sq. ft coating area, the experienced paint team skillfully applies a wide array of both internal and external coatings.

Order, efficiency and safety are a part of the culture at Plains, where every aspect of the working environment has been considered with flow in mind. Tools are organized on carts and move with the tradespeople as their project migrates through the production process. Everyone is responsible to clean as they go making for a much tidier than normal manufacturing facility and a hazard-free workspace. As a result, Plains has earned an enviable safety record and a Partners in Injury Reduction Certificate of Recognition.

“You can walk anywhere in the 14.5-acres and not nd a single piece of wood or metal out of place. There are places for everything, and everything is in its place,” stresses Nagy.



While it’s easy to focus on the facility, the real DNA of Plains Fabrication is their people.

“I think the difference, and it’s still true today, is our collaborative and team approach to getting things done,” Nagy explains. “Our people work together for the greater good. Plains is the people who work here. At last count we have 39 or 40 people who’ve been here more than 10 years. And there’s a number of people on the shop floor that have been here since the start, 28 years ago.”

Plains Business Development Manager Herb Hammer concurs.

“From the leadership to the shop floor, there are people who’ve been here since day one – something very unusual in the oil and gas industry where workers can be enticed away for another dollar or two an hour,” Hammer adds. “Once people start work here, they stay.”

The company actively promotes from within, encouraging and supporting the professional growth of their employees. Plains removes the barriers between the shop floor and management, embracing the open concept workspace to improve interaction and collaboration. As a result, Plains’ staff operates with the passion of a team. This collaborative partnership within the company leads to efficient work flow, productive environment, mindful innovation and a culture of continuous improvement that benefits their customers.

The collaboration doesn’t end at the front door, either. Plains actively shares its best practices and innovations with other manufacturers – even competitors – while continually pursuing new insights from industry partners. Similarly, Plains extends the teamwork approach to their clients.

“We like to sit down with suppliers, engineering firms, and our customers early on in the process,” explains Hammer. “We work together to make it easier to fabricate the product they have designed. The easier the fabrication process, the less time it takes and the more money we can save for the client.”

“After 28 years we’re still looking for new and better ways to do things,” adds Nagy.

“I think the difference, and it’s still true today, is our collaborative and team approach to getting things done”


connect“When talking about our environmental practices,” Nagy emphasizes, “I don’t know of any other companies in our sector within this province that are doing as much to reduce their footprint as Plains – and we’ve been doing it for years.”

The Plains Fabrication approach to reducing environmental impact permeates every level of the operation from the offices and lunchroom to the assembly bays and state-of-the-art blasting and paint facility. The Green Team, comprised of employees from every level within the company, researches and implements recycling solutions for every scrap of potential waste. For example, all plastic is recycled, right down to ear plug bags.

Starting in the offices, every desk has its own recycling bin. In the spotless lunchroom all waste is separated by employees into paper, compostable or refundable recycling bins – only a very small container is provided for garbage.

“For a steel fabrication company, it is amazing the amount of cardboard we get,” explains Nagy, “so much in fact, that we have our own cardboard crusher and we make bales for recycling.”

The green passion for reducing the operation’s environmental footprint extends to every corner of the immense manufacturing facility. Modified shopping carts on oversize tires are used by tradespeople to collect recyclables as they work, ensuring workspaces are both uncluttered and safe. In addition to packing materials, and waste wood such as pallets, all manufacturing scraps are recycled.

“For a steel fabrication company, it is amazing the amount of cardboard we get,” explains Nagy,
“so much in fact, that we have our own cardboard crusher
and we make bales for recycling.”

But the Green Team doesn’t stop there – the water is collected from the roof of the facility, drained and stored in ground-level cisterns manufactured by Plains. An automated system then waters all the grass and trees with the rainwater. During the winter excess water is redirected into the ditches circling the property to avoid ice buildup.

Plains’ cutting-edge blast and coat operation is one of the most environmentally advanced systems of its kind. Formerly, blasting was done with sand, a medium that went to the landfill after a single use. With the new system, fine steel slag  is used to blast the components before coating. The steel slag can be cleaned and re-used as many as 250 times, then completely recycled when spent.

The air outside the blast bay is strikingly clear, thanks to 48 high-capacity filters that ensure virtually zero emissions. Only a very small amount of waste results from the new blast process – about a barrel per month compared to a barrel per day produced by old methods.

The paint bay also benefits from the elaborate air filtration system ensuring that no volatile organic compounds escape into the atmosphere. As a side benefit, up to 80% of the thermal energy generated by the blast and paint operations is captured read-our-story-on-PULSE-Interactiveand used to heat the paint area bay – reducing reliance on outside energy.

“During the first year in our new facility we reduced our waste by 200 metric tons over the old Ramsay facility,” explains Nagy. “If it can be reused or recycled our people will find out how so it doesn’t have to end up in a landfill.”


As the steel fabrication marketplace evolves, the Plains team keeps an eye on the horizon. From a business development perspective, Herb Hammer sees the company moving into different areas in the coming years.

“We’re a good sized company to adapt,” Hammer muses. “Being privately owned, it’s easier for us to transition from one industry to another and take on other types of work. We can build anything from steel pontoons used on docks in the Shuswap, to structural work such as building +15 walkways because we are a custom steel manufacturer.”

“I believe we now have the capability within the industry to take it to another level,” Nagy concludes. “I believe there are companies out there that want to collaborate, and others that realize they have to collaborate. I see Plains Fabrication as one of the major players and industry leaders in years to come.”







Originally published in the 

February 2016 Issue of Oilfield PULSE