S&C Electric Co. started in 1911 from a groundbreaking idea for electric utilities. One century later, the company continues to be a leading supplier of equipment and services for electric power systems, offering innovative solutions for enhancing grid reliability, capacity and efficiency.
The Chicago-based company was founded when electric utilities were rapidly expanding, but breakdowns in substations were regular occurrences because the technologies for interrupting currents were inadequate. After a major fire in 1909 at Commonwealth Edison’s Fisk Generating Station in Chicago, the utility asked engineers Edmund O. Schweitzer and Nicholas J. Conrad to find a better solution for taming high-voltage arcing.
The pair developed the liquid power fuse, a spring-loaded fuse inside a glass tube filled with a fire-suppressing liquid. When a short-circuit current melted the fuse, the spring was released. The spring stretched the arc, quenching it inside the tube. Once the faulted circuit was repaired and a new fuse was installed, the old fuse could be rebuilt. The duo took their breakthrough idea and formed Schweitzer and Conrad Inc., known today as S&C Electric.
Today, utilities face different problems, such as integrating renewable energy sources, addressing peak loading issues and managing the demand aberrations of plug-in electric vehicles. S&C Electric is working to develop new technologies for the transforming power grid.
S&C Electric Canada Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary based in Toronto, manufactures high-voltage switch, fuse, automation and protection products for mainly utility companies, but also government facilities, Vice President of Toronto and Curitiba Production Operations Bob Arbuthnot says. “We are an innovative organization and very customer-focused,” he adds. “We don’t just sell the product, we provide customer service and care after the sale also.”
S&C Electric Canada has proven its dedication to customers this past year. The company was a major contributor in the efforts to restore power in Toronto when an ice storm hit on Christmas Day last year and flooding struck Calgary in August 2013. “We supplied the products that customers need,” Arbuthnot says. “Our people know when there’s a disaster, we have to go the extra mile, regardless of the date or time.”
S&C Electric Canada’s 200,000-square-foot manufacturing plant performs metal fabrication, machining, assembly and product engineering. The products it manufactures need to operate reliably in the field for decades. “Think about your house and how often you change the switching – not that often,” Arbuthnot explains. “That’s the idea.”
The company is always looking to make operational improvements to increase productivity and efficiency. “We do it by applying lean concepts,” Arbuthnot says. “We are in the middle of a lean transformation right now. It saves on cost and increases productivity.”
S&C Electric Canada uses a four-step problem-solving strategy to identify the root cause of a product problem and provides solutions, not just containment of the problem, Arbuthnot explains. He adds that the other way S&C Electric Canada is implementing lean manufacturing is by using the acronym “TIM WOODS” to reduce waste. The acronym stands for: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, defects and skills. “We are looking at our fabrication and assembly and using this model to drive those eight wastes out of the processes,” Arbuthnot says.
Although lean manufacturing is a priority for S&C Electric Canada, the company does not sacrifice on safety to achieve cost reduction or greater productivity. “Safety is No. 1 at S&C and right behind it is quality,” Arbuthnot says. S&C Electric Canada’s safety program includes an orientation for every employee, regardless of his or her position within the company, and ongoing education talks and classes.
S&C Electric recently opened a new facility in Curitiba, Brazil that will focus on manufacturing Vista Underground Distribution Switchgear products for the South American market. “Exciting times,” Arbuthnot says. “We are localizing the manufacturing in Brazil for better pricing in the market and reduced lead time.”
Although it is “exciting” to expand in a new location, Arbuthnot says it is also a challenge because Brazil’s culture, language and tax laws differ quite a bit that of Canada and the United States. S&C Electric started the factory from scratch and continues to hire and train manufacturing employees. “We have good people and our environment is fun to work in,” he adds. “It’s easy to get up and come to work. Someone always comes through when you need help.”
Moving forward, S&C Electric Canada continues to look at automation and energy storage opportunities while focusing on building capacity without increasing cost. “We continue to develop innovative products to meet our customers’ needs,” Arbuthnot says. “We strive for excellence through innovation.”