Quality Manufacturing Begins at Home

Ottawa Citizen – “Podium”

OCM Manufacturing’s Chairman, Michel Jullian, penned this opinion piece in today’s Ottawa Citizen:

Based on the type of media attention it gets, the manufacturing sector in Canada seems to be dead – or at least on life support. Yet while we have seen some spectacular failures of late, as a country, we run a very real risk of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater if we write off manufacturing.

Electronics are a case in point. The making of high volume consumer electronics items continues to transition to Asian countries for an obvious reason – economies of scale. But while such goods make up one of the most visible segments of manufacturing, it is important to know that this is not the only game to play.

There are many examples of successful companies here that manufacture electronics products for targeted, niche applications and markets. These companies are worth our attention, and our government’s support, because they create jobs and innovations that cannot be sent overseas.

As a “contract electronics manufacturer,” my firm undertakes the manufacture of electronics products for just such companies that produce targeted niche products in North America. By the very nature of our business, we see a range of interesting and viable product designs come in our doors almost daily. Some of these products won’t make it past the prototype stage; some won’t make it to market; and of those that do, some will fail. But many can and will be successful – and many more could be, too, if the entrepreneurs behind the ideas received the business and marketing support necessary to bringing niche products to global markets.

The scale and sophistication of consumer electronics tend to twist our perception of what electronics manufacturing is all about. But if we as an industry and a country rethink this, we will quickly realize that there are hundreds – if not thousands – of legacy products in a wide variety of fields that are still based on mechanical, nonelectronic technology. Still more products are electronic but fail to embrace the new mobile, touch-interface, wireless paradigm. Every one of these represents an opportunity to develop new, innovative solutions. While these opportunities may not be global in scale or mass-market in appeal, they are a perfect match for the kind of innovation, design and manufacturing capability at which Canada excels. They are certainly substantial enough to help create companies or expand existing businesses.

Canadians are engineering innovators. We see it every day in our business. We see products that are designed and manufactured here in Canada, sold throughout the world, and which go on to create jobs, income and revenue in Canada. By and large, these products aren’t going anywhere else – certainly not offshore. There are a variety of reasons for this, including necessary quality controls (e.g. military and medical products), a level of design sophistication that requires a tight relationship between the designer and the manufacturer, low-volume production for which there is no business case overseas, the need for localized product support, and others.

As a city, as a province, as a country, this is how we can successfully compete with anybody. Rather than focusing on the loss of generic, large-scale, high-volume electronics product manufacturing to China, we in Canada are best to focus on markets and applications where no one else has yet applied microsystems and electronics engineering.

I am sure that the same principle can be applied in other fields as well. Innovation is not the sole property of electronics. Bright new ideas can be applied in any field and successful businesses can result from them.

Michel Jullian is chairman of OCM Manufacturing of Ottawa. He can be reached at michel.jullian(at) Podium is a column for views on business topics. We welcome submissions. Write to

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Shaun Markey