Operating since 1961, Moncton’s APEX Industries began life as a repair machine shop servicing heavy industry. Today, with over 250 employees the company has become a highly-diversified manufacturing, distribution, and product development company serving clients in aerospace and defence, marine, optical, construction, food and beverage, and more.
APEX’s capabilities range from the manufacture of aerospace components and aerostructures to complex machined and fabricated components to custom hollow metal, security and detention doors. More recently, APEX has developed a proficiency in providing turnkey product development and automation solutions; from design and prototype development to the complete manufacture of finished equipment all in house. Over the last few years, APEX has had significant success in the optical equipment space, developing and manufacturing complete automated Optical Coating systems with sales globally.
Opportunities NB (ONB), as part of our continuing look at great companies seeing global success from New Brunswick, wanted to learn more about APEX and its success. To do so, we spoke to Keith Parlee, CEO, who oversees operations for the company.
ONB: With nearly 60 years in business, why continue to call New Brunswick home?
Parlee: While Moncton’s Millennium Blvd. (formerly Pacific Ave) has been our manufacturing base for almost 60 years, it hasn’t been without both challenges and blessings.
The most obvious challenge is not being in one of the main manufacturing clusters for any of our units. Aerospace group, for example, has a huge base of companies in both the Montreal and Toronto markets in that sector, and we don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of those types of market synergies; including skilled labour challenges. In addition, covering the cost of shipping across North America can also be a geographic logistics challenge.
Yet I would suggest the positives far outweigh the challenges with our close proximity to the American market, the strong loyal culture of Atlantic Canadians, and the great work-life balance we can offer our team. This gives us the upper hand versus other parts of Canada and we are proud to call New Brunswick home.
New Brunswick is home but you’re serving clients across the globe. How have these business relationships developed? What role has ONB played?
Simple — we have never let the cost or the time it takes to travel, stop us from getting on planes to get to a prospective customer. Before Covid, it was common to see several other APEXers in the airport early on a Monday heading to Texas, Ottawa, or out west, all headed on different ventures for different reasons – with one goal – securing long-term strategic work. It’s in our DNA.
We believe there is no greater value than getting to know the people we do business with. It is not uncommon to hear how much that is appreciated by those on the receiving end, knowing how far we had come just to meet with them.
We stay connected in other ways too. Associations, events, and trade shows are great ways to stay up to date in your sector and meet with customers and vendors. We have utilized the B2B formats that are a part of most events these days to get into real opportunities or explore a bid opportunity and that has often proven successful.
We have utilized various government agency partners to help with relationships in other parts of Canada or outside Canada. ONB, ACOA, and the Federal Trade Commission have all been important in that pursuit, and their help has been very much appreciated.
How does APEX look at automation/productivity improvements?
Improving productivity must be ingrained in everything we do in our manufacturing, distribution or product development businesses. Because we compete nationally and often globally for many of our projects, it simply isn’t good enough to do it the way it was done 20 years ago. You won’t be successful or competitive, and there will be limited opportunities to grow the employee base, which is a huge part of our mission.
We have engaged in Industry 4.0 practices to make ourselves more competitive. We have pursued significant machine automation with several large investments, utilized 3D printing and artificial intelligence, and, most recently, used the information we get from the machines to make better and more informed decisions. These all lead to crucial productivity improvements.
Thinking more holistically, we embrace several strategic steps in conjunction with Industry 4.0 measures:
- Being prepared to act quickly to adapt to changing market realities;
- Where possible, be involved with intellectual property development to help drive new opportunities;
- Engaging with customers by becoming an integral part of the manufacturing process; and
- Not losing sight of the soft stuff. Even if we have the best products in the world, if our employees are unclear or not all headed in the same direction, our chances for success are greatly diminished.
What’s been the biggest factor in APEX’s growth and success?
There is no magic formula. We’ve tried many things over our long history including being in several different sectors to find our best option. But some practices that have continued to remain constant include:
- Focus on being a learning company curious about ways we can improve;
- Being willing to invest in great people and give them a great culture to work within;
- Being eager to adapt to changing and improving workplace practices – including technology, machinery, and other advances; and
- Being willing to take a chance with outcomes unknown. This is probably the toughest, as putting an investment in front of a sale is always a challenge. But without that first step, you are just standing still.
In summary, having great people and providing them with interesting market opportunities to focus on, generally leads to positive results, and it has for decades at APEX.
Learn more at ApexIndustries.com.