Quietly doing business in Lockwood is a small company doing big things.
NorthWest Industries of Montana rebuilds pumps – small ones and giant ones – pumps that keep products like oil, gas, diesel, propane, butane, anhydrous ammonia, water, etc. moving across hundreds and thousands of miles to markets. Their customers include large and small companies, mostly pipeline companies, throughout the nation, as well as Canada and South America. Their customers range from small independent companies to big corporations like Phillips 66 or Exxon Mobil.
Sometimes NorthWest Industries even does work for their competitors. If that is what it takes to meet a customer’s needs then that’s what they do, says Shawn Hardtke, a senior team leader at NorthWest. “We cooperate with everyone because the bottom line is to get the job done.”
Focusing more on cooperation rather than competitiveness, has in large part, led to the success of NorthWest Industries. Such is a fundamental part of the philosophy of its founder, James Gokey, who started the company in 1991.
Also part of the company’s philosophical foundation which has led to their growing success is a passionate dedication to quality. The pumps that are rebuilt by NorthWest Industries are quite often returned to their owners as better pumps than when they were purchased new, enthused Dennis Sexton, Assistant CEO for the company.
NorthWest Industries has been growing steadily, mostly by word –of –mouth, about their quality and dedication. Pumps, some as big as a truck, have been moving in and out of Lockwood by rail and by truck for almost three decades, as they are shipped in for service and then returned.
The company feels the impacts of the ups and downs of the oil fields, but besides serving the petroleum, pipeline and refining industries, they also serve municipal water plants, commercial and agriculture industries, which bring diversity and stability to their business.
The rebuilding process of a pump incorporates the very latest in technology, materials, and design, overseen by a highly trained and skilled staff, that often results in a better quality pump than what was even available when it was first purchased, explained Sexton.
One of the company’s greatest assets is its owner and founder, according to Sexton. Gokey’s great talent is that of a problem -solver, he said. Gokey has become known as the “go to guy” when a company has a problem for which they need a solution. Given that reputation and the company’s performance record, customers “have beaten a pathway to our door,” said Sexton.
Originally from Lewistown, Gokey joined the Navy serving from 1962 through 1968. With training as a Communications Technician, Gokey spent three years at the National Security Agency. During the Cuban missile crises his Naval Security Group team was involuntarily extended for another two years of active duty. He was dispatched to Japan for more than three years of special voluntary operations, which included more than two years in Vietnam.
Out of the service, Gokey’s first job was with a bank in Florida where he learned about finance and management. He then worked for Florida Power & Light Co., where his training turned out to be very valuable. It involved reconditioning and rebuilding a wide array of pumps, steam turbines and generators, and all the components that completed a power plant.
In 1976, Gokey returned to Montana to work for ExxonMobil Refinery, where he gained more knowledge and experience about pumps, gas compressors and other refinery components and operations. He then joined General Electric’s Apparatus Service Division, and later worked with a job shop.
In 1985, Gokey decided to work for himself. With a small lathe, milling machine, welder and $300 in cash, he began. The venture grew and evolved into what is today Northwest Industries of Mt., Inc.
In 2015, the company moved into a new expanded facility at 207 Reynolds, one that provided the space and “clean” environment needed to accommodate CNC (computer numerically controlled) mills and lathes.
Rebuilding pumps incorporates a number of engineering and manufacturing processes, all of which NorthWest Industries’ skilled workers are expert in – processes such as precision computer controlled machining, welding and fabrication, and building prototypes to customer specifications. Their skills, materials and equipment allow the company to provide a broad range of services, which besides servicing pumps, includes modifying and manufacturing tools that make the jobs of their customers easier. They also manufacture proprietary parts and equipment, or modify them to customer specifications.
“We make after- market parts and sell them. We even sell parts to our competitors.”
Quality control and quality assurance (QC & QA) are built into every step of any process at NorthWest Industries. Two individuals sign off on each step, which is monitored, measured and documented. One person checks for quality and another double checks to assure that every process conforms to the highest standards to the most precise degrees possible.
Quality is of the essence in a business where one-one-thousandths of an inch makes a huge difference in the performance, efficiency and out-put of a piece of equipment. To whatever degree the alignment of a part is off, there is a loss of efficiency, which means increased costs to operate, less production, higher maintenance and shorter life of the equipment and machinery, explained Hardtke.
One-one- thousandths of an inch equates to about 1 percent in efficiency. Their fine tuning and advance applications commonly increase, by an estimated four to five percent, the efficiency of a pump over its performance as originally manufactured.
Most of the time the skilled workers are shaping and forming a variety of metals, pieces of which are very expensive, using equipment that is also very expensive, all of which demands close attention to detail and accuracy. One mistake can be very costly.
Pride in their quality of work and the dedication they have to their customers can be heard in the words of all of the 24 employees who comprise NorthWest Industries. As a whole they function as one team and all are trained to be team leaders.
The team helps set the standards for the company. “We trust them,” said Sexton, “We take into account the fact that among them there are decades of experience, and they are the ones who are out there on the floor and know what is happening.”
Each project is assigned to a team member, who serves as that project’s leader, responsible for seeing it successfully through to completion.
Before they begin a project the team goes through every step of the job and assess what needs to be done and what problems could crop up. It’s then that their experience and training kicks in.
“We are the red easy button for our customers,” said Shawn Hardtke, “If we protect our customers and cover their back, they will come back.”