Innovation Award Rudnicki Industrial Inc.

Mike Rudnicki is not an engineer by trade, yet he has the mind of one.

The affable and approachable owner of Rudnicki Industrial is known in Thunder Bay as an inventor, a problem solver, a teacher, and a well-respected businessman who’s been instrumental in the startup of many small companies and the ongoing success of others.

His open door policy to take walk-in business and his willingness to coach apprentices and work with entrepreneurs has often earned him past hometown honours for business excellence and innovation.

Once heavily reliant on the sawmill industry, his seven-employee custom machine shop has diversified its client mix by specializing in repair work for the Ministry of Transportation, independent contractors, wood harvesters and increasingly the mining industry, the latter occupying close to 50 per cent of their work.

“We’ve been through enough hard times to know you can’t turn anybody away,” said Rudnicki, who occasionally instructs on mechanical design and Solidworks software at Confederation College.

One of Rudnicki’s nominators said his greatest asset is his ability to think outside of the box in design.

Trained as a machinist, his 6,000-squarefoot Dawson Road machine shop is where Rudnicki’s creative juices for tinkering and natural acumen for tackling mechanical problems can flow freely.

“I have the whole shop to play with.”

Over the years, this has led to the creation of a small catalogue of his own home-grown, niche products.

He’s designed and manufactured heavy-duty industrial brush cutters, a high-speed steel strap-eating machine, and portable barrel crushers to reduce the trash haul for companies working in remote areas.

His latest invention is the Overhauler, a pickup truck-mounted rack that can lift boats and other heavy objects with a hydraulic system.

The in-house products keep the shop active during slack periods, said Rudnicki.

“Everything I’ve developed has essential been a fill-in when we’re not busy.”

Though it makes up only five per cent of the shop work, it’s gradually taken on greater priority as the company seeks to diversify.

“It’s got legs of its own. We get constant, regular orders from all over the world.”

What’s cemented his reputation is offering his assistance and expertise to inventors and budding entrepreneurs on proof-of-concept and prototype projects.

“I would love to say I’m rich because of it but I’m not,” chuckles Rudnicki. “I do most of the labour myself because it’s a labour of love.”

His innovative products were often born on the shop floor during evenings and weekends.

“I play with something until I get it right.”

CNC milling machines enable his company to design and build equipment and custom parts to handle most any industrial job in the city.

His plans for the shop are to keep having fun developing a line of in-house products that will continue to add value to the company beyond just the physical assets.

“Everybody sooner or later wants to retire. The idea of the company, for me, is build some inherent value, not only in the company, building, and equipment inside but in some of the products, that if someone wanted to pursue them, they could do so independently.”