In manufacturing, is cheaper automatically better? Does volume always trump value?
These questions – and some unconventional answers – are key to the philosophy that drives CEO Dan Bergeron and his colleagues at SigmaPoint. This niche electronics manufacturer based in Cornwall is making big waves by going head-to-head with low-cost competitors in places like China – and winning.
“About 15 years ago, we decided to differentiate from big, tier-one players with what we call a lean enterprise,” says Bergeron. “Our pitch was rather than taking the waste associated with manufacturing and going to a low-cost economy – China or Vietnam or what have you – why don’t we have a system that removes the waste so that we greatly increase efficiency, quality and responsiveness and simultaneously reduce lead time?”
SigmaPoint specializes in rapid prototyping and end-to-end assembly, offering a full suite of engineering services applicable across industries. Clients have included NASA, the Canadian military and producers of medical devices.
Considering recent manufacturing and economic trends wherein observers see great value in reshoring (i.e., bringing the industry back to Canadian shores), it’s easy to see how SigmaPoint was ahead of its time – and how their foresight is paying off.
Last year the company made national news when the COVID-19 pandemic created an urgent need for respirators. SigmaPoint joined forces with Canadian aerospace leader CAE and the federal government to produce 10,000 ventilators for distribution across Canada in just three months.
“People in North America have realized we’re really depending too much on foreign companies,” explains Bergeron. “So it just makes sense that we start bringing manufacturing back into our own country.”
‘Manufacturing never left’
SigmaPoint is a leading light in the reshoring trend but the company is far from alone. Observers such as Bob Peters of Cornwall Economic Development see a growing manufacturing shift in many industries across Canada.
Once reliant primarily on plants and mills, Cornwall’s economy has diversified in recent years and local manufacturers have evolved to remain a viable force.
“Cornwall’s manufacturers had to become more efficient, more globally competitive, and now have stronger operational and business plans so they can weather both dips and surges in demand,” says Peters.
Noting how the SigmaPoint success story has shed new light on the agility of Canadian manufacturing, Peters adds, “There’s been a growing recognition in the last year that has taught us that manufacturing never left. It never left Canada, it never left Eastern Ontario, never left Cornwall. It’s still here.”
SigmaPoint made the news again this March when the company received a $1 million funding boost from the federal government. Bergeron says the company will use the loan to grow its workforce and add process technology in pursuit of even greater efficiencies.
“We’ve been at it for 15 years,” explains Bergeron on the company’s determination. “And to be honest with you, I want to have jobs in Canada. We need to create jobs.”
A reshoring story
Key moments in SigmaPoint’s strategy for greater manufacturing speed and efficiency:
2006-07: SigmaPoint leadership commits to a “lean enterprise” philosophy to reduce waste, maximize efficiency and compete with low-cost manufacturing done overseas.
December 2017: SigmaPoint invests $1M in new technology to accelerate prototyping, leading to new contracts with Kontron Canada and others who transfer production lines away from China.
September 2020: SigmaPoint partners with the federal government and Canadian aerospace leader CAE to produce 10,000 respirators for distribution across Canada.
March 2021: SigmaPoint receives a $1M loan from the federal government that it will use to add employees and introduce analytics for increased efficiency and capacity.