June 12, 2009
Outgoing CISC president Mike Gilmor has seen huge changes
Specialization becomes the norm
When Mike Gilmor joined the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC) in 1970, the Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau, and Layla, by Derek and the Dominoes topped the year’s music chart. The steel industry has also changed significantly since then.
“Almost everything is different,” says Gilmor, who is leaving the CISC after serving as institute president since 2002.
“I was initially hired here as a development engineer to develop tables for handbooks. We were punching out Hollerith cards while trying to convince people to give up their slide rules and do it the faster way, by computer.”
The Canadian steel industry was in its heyday, says Gilmor. Canadian suppliers were installing state-of-the art furnaces and developing new grades of steel that outclassed world competitors in strength and corrosion resistance.
“Between the engineering and sales force of Algoma, Stelco and Dofasco there were over 100 people out there promoting Canadian steel, with the technical resources behind them to support them,” says Gilmor.
Canadian-owned steel mills were the norm.
Today, multi-nationals rule the market. Large fabricators, such as Dominion Bridge and Canon, were then dominant.
“These companies splintered off into smaller businesses, many of them now family-owned, but the new companies were more specialized,” says Gilmor.
“A company like Dominion Bridge had everything in-house.”
New hires often started off in the fabrication shop, and then worked up to shop drawings, fieldwork and finally, the engineering office. “Now detailing, or erection are separate industries, so that career path no longer exists,” he says. “It was the way people got a feel for steel.”
Gilmor was instrumental in helping to establish the CISC’s Steel Structures Education Foundation to help provide a new talent pool and to generate interest in developing a career in steel. It’s still a challenge, to impart the “feel for steel,” he says. “Someone who works in wood knows what it’s like to grab a two-by-four. It’s harder to develop the same kind of intimacy with steel, when all you see is a line on a computer screen. Newer computer programs, such as CATIA, are helping to bring a sense of immediacy to working with steel, allowing you to look at something six ways from centre with a phenomenal level of quality. These programs are more than just drafting tools — they’re a method of communicating with each other.”
Gilmor also praises efforts by the Canadian steel industry for reducing its impact on the environment. “We’ve gone from the old picture of dirty smokestacks to electric arc furnaces that some people say produce no more pollution than four cars per hour, driving down a highway.”
Gilmor’s own career also evolved during his time with the CISC. For six years, he served as chairman of the U.S.-based Research Council on Structural Connections. In 1992, he was elected a Fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering. In 2001, he was honoured for his work on national and international standards when the Canadian Standards Association presented him its Award of Merit.
As Gilmor passes the torch to incoming president Ed Whalen, he predicts that the next few years will remain challenging for Canadian steel, with immediate issues such as the state of the economy and potentially damaging “buy American” policies topping the list.
“But we always go through ups and downs,” says Gilmor. “During my career with the CISC there was always a challenge and it was never dull. Whether you see the evolution of the Canadian steel sector as a roller coaster ride, depends on how long you’ve been riding it.”
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