Back Home Again.
Before he joined Medatech, Darren Mueller was a vehicle dynamics/ride handling expert with Ford. When the Oakville-based engineer was casting about for his next career move, he never dreamed that he would end up back in the part of Ontario that he came from.
“At the time I was coming up to the Collingwood area most weekends to mountain bike, ski and see my family. But I just assumed that there were no engineering-type jobs up here. Certainly not in anything auto-related. South Georgian Bay wasn’t even on the radar.”
Originally from Meaford, northwest of Collingwood, Mueller had built a career around automotive design. “I went to the University of Windsor, I worked for the Big Three in the U.S. and after five years with Ford in Oakville the job had kind of run its course,” he explains.
Mueller was mulling a house purchase with wife Agata and finding Oakville cost-prohibitive. Then he got a lucky break. “I had a friend at Ford who went to work at a company called Medatech in Collingwood and asked me if I was interested in working there. I jumped at the chance.”
Now Mueller spends his days heading up a team of engineers and salespeople, managing projects from concept to delivery. These consist in large part of research, development and proof of concept work for heavy equipment manufacturers like CAT, John Deere and MacLean Engineering, building custom combustion, hybrid and electric machines. Medatech also designs, builds and commissions custom mobile equipment for clients like Torex Gold, Barrick Gold, Ontario Power Generation and Southern Companies / Alabama Power.
“The big guys are focused on pumping out their core lines of equipment. They may have the expertise to create the next generation of machines, but not the time or the budget within their engineering departments,” explains Mueller. “So they hire Medatech to do that exploratory work. We do it faster and with a high level of quality. You could call us the Navy Seals of the engineering world.”
Mueller leads a team involved in consultation, physical layout and detailed CAD design, then stays with the project as it moves from team to team for subsystem design. He liaises with customers on everything from initial functional specifications to fabrication, assembly, testing, troubleshooting, commissioning and on-site trials.
Working at Medatech is something that Mueller says has sharpened his game, in large part because of the variety of things he does on a daily basis. “Where your job might be designing a part on the computer in a bigger company,” he observes, “at Medatech engineers get to follow the part through to build and implementation. That kind of thing is pretty rewarding,” says Mueller. “It’s super fast-paced and every project is different. It keeps me on my toes. Like me, a lot of the people here have become well versed in many aspects of engineering since they joined. The benefit of this to Medatech,” continues Mueller, “is agility. If the design group is overloaded, we can pull people from the controls team, for example.”
Getting overloaded is a distinct possibility for Medatech, as the company experienced over 100% growth in 2018 and has a similar scenario emerging for 2019. “It’s a really good thing because we’re growing our engineering group and capabilities,” explains Mueller. “We can sell bigger, better jobs, get them done faster, with fewer issues and generally we’re gaining critical mass.”
Mueller knows that others feel much the same. “We’ve got a good group of people and we’re all excited about what’s happening. Everybody’s friendly and open. We push each other—everyone works hard. 90% of the time everyone’s pretty flat out. We’re competitive and don’t want to fail, so we hammer out what’s most important for each project, each team leader puts a stake in the ground and sees that the work gets done.”
What helps stitch Medatech’s social fabric together is what happens outside of work. A huge proportion of employees—roughly 30%—mountain bike, ski or play beach volleyball together. “Nine of us play hockey every week, but mountain biking is bigger than hockey. It’s become an interview question,” laughs Mueller. “As in, ‘do you mountain bike?’”
As the company grows, Medatech is expanding its footprint. “We’re all looking forward to a little more elbow room. Things are tight,” says Mueller. He explains that the square footage of the electrical assembly/mechanical assembly/fabrication areas is slated to be doubled in summer 2019, along with more office space. “EV is growing like crazy. We need to do a better job of sequestering it from fabrication, because you need more of a clean room atmosphere.”
The only challenge that Mueller foresees in Medatech’s future is maintaining the same work hard/play hard congenial atmosphere as the company grows. The mountain biking enthusiast sees a clear path forward on that front. “We’re all in the area and we like the same things together. You can’t beat that for building a great team.”