As the leading manufacturer of custom refrigeration equipment in Canada, RefPlus has its sights set on achieving that designation throughout North America with its high-quality and energy-efficient products. “Our product line of equipment is very efficient in terms of energy costs and protecting the environment, and innovation is always top of mind at RefPlus,” President Mathieu Cardinal says.
For more than 20 years, the St. Hubert, Quebec-based company has specialized in custom-built refrigeration equipment that meets its customers’ specific demands. As a privately held company, RefPlus says its product customization and use of top-quality components set it apart from larger competitors. “From the order process to engineering and production, we have everything set up so we can efficiently build custom equipment that our customers’ desire,” Cardinal says.
In June 2012, Cardinal and a team of investors purchased RefPlus and injected a significant amount of equity into the company to modernize it and increase productivity. “We hired key, industry experienced people, purchased new equipment and employed the best consultants to help us be more efficient and improve productivity,” he explains. “We instituted lean manufacturing procedures in the plant and in the offices so we could accommodate a lot of the growth that’s happening now. The goal for the next couple of years is to keep improving productivity through lean manufacturing and by acquiring the latest manufacturing equipment that’s available.”
RefPlus has developed its own quotation software to give customers access through an online portal to design and price their own equipment. “We train them how to use it and the platform allows them to change the number of tubes or the size of the equipment, for example,” Cardinal says. “There are a lot of options that you can add or remove and all these options include the latest technologies available in the market.”
The company’s technical sales support team has intimate knowledge of every product and technology available to assist customers in adding or removing pieces, as well as the limitations, if any. Once the customer is finished customizing their product, the engineering department finalizes the design and produces a bill of materials for production.
In the production department, RefPlus operates a line for standard equipment and another for custom equipment. “We designed the plant with our lean manufacturing consultants so that we have all the parts available and close to the workers on the line of production to increase efficiency,” Cardinal says. “Three to five weeks is the average turnaround time for a customized product while standard products are either stock or can be turned around in a two-week average.”
Superior Materials and Components
Maintaining close relationships with a core group of suppliers is vital to RefPlus’ operation. “In our modern society, refrigeration is very important. There is a lot at stake if the equipment goes down, so most of our customers are more comfortable using equipment manufacturers that utilize only well-known, best-in-class North American suppliers,” Cardinal says. “Some of our competitors try to improve profitability by outsourcing some of the key components in their equipment to relatively unknown suppliers in low-cost producing countries. Our competitors are large – they can afford to do that and can deal with the consequences. As a smaller company with a reputation for superior equipment, we choose to equip our units with higher quality parts and components.”
RefPlus’s first level suppliers produce components and stock them in their warehouses for the company based on a forecast developed by RefPlus and shared with suppliers to meet production needs. This transparency and strong working relationships allow suppliers to approximate RefPlus’ needs in advance. This comes in handy during suppliers’ busy seasons, but also comes with the understanding that raw material and component needs can fluctuate.
RefPlus stocks components from its second-level suppliers in its warehouse and orders on an as-needed basis. “We know what their lead times are and order when we need it,” Cardinal says. “When it’s custom and we order a special part for certain products, that’s ordered just-in-time for lean production.”
Cardinal says RefPlus also partners with the best suppliers available to ensure its products use the latest technology in terms of digital and energy efficiency. “When a supplier comes up with a new part that we approve, we include it in our options as soon as possible,” he adds. “For example, we like to manufacture and supply equipment that is very efficient. To accomplish this and to differentiate ourselves, we use the latest technology, European-style motors, which have to be more efficient because the cost of electricity is more expensive in Europe. We try to be at the cutting-edge of energy-efficiency standards.”
RefPlus is the leader in CO2-type equipment in North America and was the first to sell CO2 gas coolers. “We are doing CO2 cooler projects right now with several large grocery chains and we are also one of the first equipment manufacturers to deal with digital equipment like compressors,” Cardinal notes. “The use of CO2 combined with our efficient units provides for wonderful opportunities for customers while meeting the upcoming energy efficiency requirements.”
Moving forward, RefPlus plans to acquire greater marketshare in the United States and Canada because of its high-quality and efficient refrigeration equipment. “We see ourselves as the leading supplier of this equipment,” Cardinal says. “We are the leading supplier in Canada and we are well on our way to becoming one of the main ones in North America. We have such high-quality and robust products that once customers get to work with our equipment, they are usually very satisfied and want to work with us on their next project.”