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Inside one of Canada's most competitive factories

Dortec's turnaround holds lessons for other Magna plants as the company puts its so-called world-class manufacturing system in place at more than 300 auto parts plants around the world. Dortec is the plant Magna points to any time a chorus of “Canada can’t compete” breaks out. But the factory is also a beacon for other Canadian manufacturers that are struggling to stay competitive as they contend with a high dollar and globalization. At stake are 1.5 million jobs and the billions of dollars those jobs contribute to the economy annually.

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An employee at Magna Closures Dortec Industries in Markham. The threat to Dortec Industries at the turn of the century could be summed up in one word: China.

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Magna opened a latch plant in China in 2001. But they kept Dortec open in Markham as well – the boom in North American auto production in the first half of the 2000s ensured there was enough business to go around.

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Dortec is defying the notion that low-cost countries have sounded the death knell for manufacturing in Canada – so much so that side-door latches assembled in Newmarket are shipped from “high-cost” Canada to auto makers in China, Thailand and other low-cost regions.

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Dortec is the plant Magna points to any time a chorus of ‘Canada can’t compete’ breaks out. ‘If you’re efficient, if you’re world class, you can compete and your customers will want to use you in high-cost countries to supply their product,’ says Frank Seguin, president of Magna Closures.

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Upgrading all Magna operations to meet world-class manufacturing standards represents a key pillar underpinning the company’s future in the hyper-competitive auto parts business.

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John O’Hara, vice-president, North American operations of Magna Closures Inc., during a presentation at Magna’s Dortec facility in Markham. The plant established standard practices ‘so that we produce the same product the same way across multiple shifts or multiple lines,’ Mr. O’Hara says.

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Magna adopted an element of the Toyota production system for use in its world-class manufacturing program – employee suggestions. In 2009, employees offered 27 suggestions to streamline production processes, improve ergonomics or eliminate waste. By last year, that number had grown 17-fold to 473 ideas – more than 98 per cent of the workers on the factory floor had contributed.

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Magna CEO Don Walker at Magna Closures Dortec Industries in Markham. ‘At the end of the day, we’re paid by our customers to make parts,’ he says. ‘We’re not paid to run any office anywhere, so really all value added comes from the shop floor.’

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Magna CEO Don Walker at Magna Closures Dortec Industries in Markham. Mr. Walker has kicked off a program to examine every action taken at the company’s head office in Aurora, Ont., studying why activities are done, whether they can be done more efficiently and if overhead costs can be cut.

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