2007 Winner: Outstanding Achievement In Applied Technology And Innovation Sponsored By SAIT
Calgary-Based Firm Manufactures World Renowned Climate Control Systems
Doug Smith is Albertan. He exudes the pioneering spirit, determination and hard work that have become our province’s hallmarks. That’s one reason he’s so proud of Conematic, his Calgary-based firm and the world’s top manufacturer of integrated heating, cooling, and domestic hot water systems. You see, while he and his team have developed a range of exciting, innovative climate-control technologies that have no equals anywhere, they’ve done it by resurrecting a company that was founded in this province more than 70 years ago.
The firm languished for a decade until ’99, when Doug saw an opportunity and took hold. It’s been a wild ride made possible, in part, by the 2003 SARS outbreak. He explains, “In 1999, I had a notion to build a heating package and took an old cone, put together some piping, stuck the result in a wooden box and dumped the whole thing in a case with wheels. I was invited to go to China in July 2000 as part of a trade mission and my ‘notion’ ended up being the biggest hit of any Canadian tradeshow in China in 25 years. Of course, it wasn’t built properly and wouldn’t have worked.” He continues, “By March 2003, the company had grown and I was preparing to go to return to China. But SARS hit and I couldn’t go. If I had, we wouldn’t be in business today. The delay allowed us to sit down and figure out what we needed to do. And that step has been directly responsible for the success we’ve enjoyed since.”
What his first trip to China taught Doug was that there was definite interest in his concept. SAIT was at the same seminal tradeshow and offered to work with him to develop and commercialise the product. The first two years of this partnership saw Doug handle “R” and SAIT manage “D.” All is now handled by the Conematic team but there is still a strong association with the school. In fact, more than 35 staff members and students have worked on this cutting-edge technology. Doug knows that none of his team’s rapidly growing success would have been possible without SAIT. They provided both focus and credibility.
Now boasting 26 employees, Conematic’s name is credible all by itself. The company provides climate control systems throughout Western Canada and is involved in early-stage market development in a number of eastern US states, as well as Missouri, Colorado, and Washington State. In fact, their reputation has become so solid that in a recent sustainable housing project funded by the State of Missouri and the US Government, the latter insisted at least one-third of the 12 homes being built use Conematic technology. The kicker? No one from the firm has ever been to Missouri.
Ahead of the Curve
Doug notes that his company’s products are already seven-to-nine generations ahead of anything else on the market. Maintaining that status at the head of the pack means his team will refuse to rest on its laurels. In fact, the next generation of products will set the bar to a level far exceeding even those current industry-leading standards. How will Doug and his team manage yet another leap forward when their existing leading edge includes being able to service their products by remote, in real time, from a computer in their Calgary facility? Hard work, dedication, and a commitment to innovation and excellence.
Those traits plus an ever-growing reputation that has allowed Conematic to build alliances with eight of the world’s top 10 component manufacturers. This effectively means manufacturing and development are not conducted in a vacuum. Rather, they are the result of collaboration with other industry leaders—the best of the best all working together to create integrated heating, cooling, and domestic hot water systems unmatched anywhere. Period.
Discovering a Solution
Doug is a native-born Albertan; a second generation Calgarian whose grandfather emigrated here from England in 1904. Following his graduation from Western Canada High School, he began studying engineering but was forced to give that up when the family moved to Medicine Hat. He spent many years working in construction and real estate development but that engineering bug never quite went away. It’s what led him to notice that while most parts of a building tend to last quite well, heating systems often break down. He felt there had to be a solution. And he was right. Conematic has never had a system fail, which may be the company’s most impressive statistic among a list of remarkable achievements.
So how does this grandfather of toddler Ella and four-year-old Jackson account for his success? First, there’s 30 years of support from his wife, Kathy. Doug considers the rest of his answer. “You know,” he muses. “It’s astounding what you can accomplish when you give the day 110% effort. Stack 110% days over and over again and you’ll be amazed at the impact you can have.”