A proud member of EMC and the Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge Consortium
By Arlene Barr
KW Record on June 15, 2012
Celebrating 50 years of business, Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG) is proof that hard work, innovation and belief in making opportunities, lead to great success. "Drive and dedication underscore the way we do business," Joerg Stieber, Chairman of the Board at ODG, says. These key attributes have taken this business from small beginnings to the world stage and propelled it to a position of leadership.
In 1962, Joerg Stieber's father was invited by the Kitchener Chamber of Commerce to come for a visit from his native Germany. He was so impressed with what he witnessed in Kitchener he immediately bought a property on Fairway Road. With an already very successful business in Munich, Germany, Mr. Stieber Sr. began a subsidiary machine shop here, manufacturing gears. ODG quickly grew to include making transmissions for all-terrain vehicles and by 1967, the young business decided to build its own all-terrain vehicle. And so the world-renowned ARGO was born.
Having taken on a life of its own and outgrown its Kitchener space, ODG became an independent company in 1970 and moved to New Hamburg. In 1983, Joerg Stieber's father sent him and his brother to Canada. Stieber took over the management of ODG in 1985 while his brother joined the Canadian Space Agency. "Canada is the land of the future," said Stieber enthusiastically, clearly excited by the possibilities and opportunities that lay in ODG's future. As a corporation, ODG is divided into three business units - the Vehicle Division, the Gear Division and the Space Robotics Division. "In the early years, the divisions were under one roof and all the ODG gear capacity went into the ARGO," Joel Wright, General Manager, explains. "In 1985, a strategic decision was made to look for other external customers that fit in a similar manufacturing niche as the ARGO."
That decision took ODG from a company with 45 employees and under $5 million in sales, to an industry leader with the Gear division boasting sales of $25 million and 115 employees in 2001. It also meant that in 2001 they needed to build a new building. This serious commitment to the Gear Division meant they expanded once more in 2007 and now they find it is getting tight again. In all, ODG employs 230 people, or as
Stieber prefers, "supports 230 families." Total sales in 2011 reached $55 million. ODG can make that claim not simply because it offers jobs; it makes careers. "We are one of few companies in the industry where people can make a lifetime commitment and career. We have 35-year employees," Stieber states. "We have a smart workforce but also one that is highly skilled and motivated, that wants to stay and wants to grow. Our workforce is very loyal and people live their careers here."
As happy as Stieber is with the employees he has, there is always room for more talent and new vision. Representatives from ODG regularly visit schools or invite shop and tech teachers to the plant. They are eager to discuss the great career opportunities in new manufacturing and digital manufacturing where strong skills in math and geometry are vital. "You can do anything from assembling ARGOs to designing rover concepts." Stieber asserts.
That fact is not only good news for ODG, it is great news for New Hamburg and the local economy."Every dollar into manufacturing produces three in spin-off effects, or support industries," Stieber explains. The unique combination of amphibious and all-terrain vehicles makes ARGO the most visible and easily recognizable of ODG's industry applications. "ARGO vehicles are sold in over 70 countries through an extensive global network of over 400 dealers," says Michael Eckardt, CEO.
Its main application is still with hunters, both local and upscale such as in Africa, Asia and Europe; and with recreational enthusiasts. Both ARGO's commercial sales and usages have surged. Because of its amphibious capabilities and environmentally sensitive tread pattern and low ground pressure, it is the vehicle that can go where others can't. Search and rescue teams, industrial applications such as mining, utilities and exploration, as well as surveyors, forestry managers and the defence sector all benefit from the unique design and versatility of the ARGO and robust and durable CENTAUR. Their reliability also makes them industry stand-outs. "With the ARGO and where it goes," Wright states, "there is simply no room for failure."
ODG's core competencies encompass not only gear manufacturing but also complete power-train solutions, Joel Wright explains. "We are uniquely positioned as an advanced gear shop. Very few gear manufacturers can say they design, manufacture, assemble and test. Better yet, we can offer this in a low volume, niche market." The intricate understanding of gear design possessed by ODG engineers has propelled them to a position few companies can attain.
"We have been promoting green technologies through our gears for many years," Stieber continues. Even before it was fashionable and now industry-demanded, ODG was a leader in green technologies. From simple measures such as banning Styrofoam in the staff room more than 25 years ago, to building quiet gear boxes for hybrid buses, Stieber has made sure his company leads with innovation and by example. His high standards are noted and rewarded.
ODG is one of only 106 suppliers worldwide for a highly-regarded multinational manufacturer of large machinery such as road graders. "This company is very demanding on the environmental side and will only give contracts to companies with ISO 14000 environmental certification," Stieber explains.
"It was easy for us to satisfy these requirements. We've always been 5 years ahead." With most of their gear machinery coming from Liebherr and Kapp in Germany (similar to the Mercedes of cars) ODG is a leader in the gear and power train industry, supplying gears for industrial forklifts and log skidders for a forestry equipment manufacturer. Another important growth sector is the design and manufacturing of gears for Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicles (TAPV) for the military. On Saturday, the Canadian Government announced a 500 vehicle contract award to an Ottawa company which specified ODG components for these vehicles.
But ODG also specializes in small precision gears for usages such as orienting satellite dishes on news vans. "Our claim to fame is that when Osama Bin Laden was caught, our gears were in the drive systems of the news vans there," Stieber says with pride. "The pictures the world saw were brought to them by our gears."
Being an industry leader on Earth, ODG now has its sights set on Space working with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA. "We are designing and building high tech rover platforms for the Artemis project [which will send] a rover to the moon," Stieber continues. "We are one of a few companies who can build components and assemblies for these. We are building space vehicles for the future." "Our on-going innovation and product improvement is driving the company forward in all divisions," Eckardt echoes.
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