Ebert Welding building a better groomer.
Not only is the machine economical to operate, but "it has been widely recognized as one of the most effective grooming systems out there," says Ian Auger, Ebert Welding's general manager.
This 60-year-old New Liskeard company began as a repair and structural steel erection business, run by Ken Ebert. In 1970, Martin Auger bought the business, where he continued to service the mining and forestry industry. Understanding the cyclical nature of those sectors, Martin foresaw the eventual economic downturn in the mid-80s. Consequently, he expanded and became an authorized dealer for New Holland farm equipment and Ford tractors, which united under one umbrella in 1986.
By the late '80s, the Ontario government announced it would take the tourism/snowmobiling industry to the same level as Quebec's well-organized trails.
Again, the potential of this untapped market led the business into manufacturing snow trail groomers by merging the company's structural custom-building, modifying and repairing expertise with its farm equipment sales.
"What called us to the market was that there were really no purpose-built snowmobile trail groomers," says Auger. "They were really all ski-hill or snow-travelling vehicles, which were adapted to groom snowmobile trails."
Today, the 25-employee company manufactures about 35 tractor-powered New Holland Sur-TracTM groomers per year in its 22,000-square-foot facility. It has a $1-million in-house inventory, and is the region's only New Holland and Case IH authorized dealer servicing all of Northern Ontario. Also, they have developed a rich export market where approximately 60 per cent of the groomers are shipped to the northern United States.
It was a logical step for the company to integrate the mechanical workings of the rear-grooming drag with the farm tractor's operational systems. With an 80- to 140-horsepower tractor leading the charge through dense brush-covered snow trails throughout the Canadian Shield, the groomer is built to withstand the demands of a constant load under adverse conditions.
The drag's performance design is based upon scientific principles that developed over the years with feedback from the company's customers, the Keweenaw Research Center, as well as trial and error.
The Sur-Trac groomer has six knives and a full rear-width finishing knife to help cut and churn the snow. The drag is controlled automatically at the touch of a button from inside the tractor's cab. It works independently from the pan (flat piece at end), which means the person grooming the trails can adjust the drag and its knives to the conditions of the snow and temperature, which constantly change.
"The versatility of the drag to adapt to varying snow conditions is key to our system," says Auger. "Consequently, it typically achieves results packing snow much harder than a standard drag."
The groomer has evolved to what it is today due to Ebert Welding's ability to listen to customer feedback. Follow-up service after the sale is of great importance to the company.
"We remain in very close contact with our customers ... so we learn a lot," Auger says, because they are open-minded about their customer's recommendations.
As the capacity and popularity of the groomers developed, Keweenaw Research Center, a division of Michigan Tech University that specializes in snow research, recognized the Ebert's Sur-TracTM groomer as a perfect fit for a government project in Antarctica.
Of the many countries involved in various projects at the South Pole, Keweenaw had been working for eight years on technology to enhance travel in Antarctica, one of their country's mandates. However, they lacked the equipment, facility and expertise to build their own machine.
When the lead scientist at the centre encountered Ebert Welding's Sur-TracTM groomer at a local club, he approached the company in 2001 to create a machine that would help the movement of vehicles across the barren extreme winter conditions of Antarctica.
Eager to learn more about the nature of snow, Auger obtained the particulars to build a prototype that incorporated two functions: a miller and a vibrator.
The miller shreds the snow into a powder-like substance increasing the bonds between snow particles, and the vibrator compacts the bonded snow at a rate of 3,500 blows per minute with an energy impact of about 3,000 pounds per blow. In combination, both actions groom a well-packed trail four times harder than a standard drag in order to make a road or landing strip for airplanes.
Presently, the prototype named the "Snow Paver," has been built, modified and tested, and is being considered for the project.
"Once we were affiliated with them, we gained a lot of scientific knowledge about snow," Auger says. "We were able to further refine our drags thanks to their information. It shed some light on the black art of making trails."
Consequently, the company has been able to incorporate the vibrator feature as an optional addition to the pan on the groomer. The starting price for a custom-built grooming drag is $21,000 and the average size is about 9 feet wide by 25 feet long.
As many as 18 options can be added to the machine, depending on the needs of the club.
Auger also provides a personal training session, including a four-hour Power-Point presentation with every New Holland Sur-TracTM groomer sold.
"I'll spend whatever time is required out and on the machine," he says, at no extra charge. "We cover everything from the introduction of the machine to how to operate, service, maintain, and use it in grooming."
He also provides refresher courses and seminars for clubs that have their machines.
As Ebert Welding Ltd. continues to custom build its groomers, the company may take a sideways step into building ice roads and ice runways, a future prospect. Their skills may prove valuable as more mining companies expand into Canada's rugged northland.
By ADELLE LARMOUR
Northern Ontario Business
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|Title Annotation:||SPECIAL REPORT: TEMISKAMING SHORES & REGION|
|Publication:||Northern Ontario Business|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2006|
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