Q&A: Andrew Neilson, President ESCO Division, The Weir Group
Tell us about ESCO. What do you do?
We engineer and manufacture technology that is used in some of the harshest environments on earth. That includes mining hard rock, which produces the copper that is essential to electric vehicles, renewable energy and large infrastructure projects in cities. We focus on the ground-engaging tools, which are the teeth that you see on large mining machines or excavators. Given the extreme operating environment our technology is used in, we are constantly developing new materials and solutions. We are really proud to be recognized as the global leader in this market.
How did ESCO get started?
ESCO’s story began over 100 years ago in northwest Portland, when it was founded by C.F. Swigert as the Electric Steel Foundry manufacturing proprietary products. People knew the company as ES Company, so we purchased the rights to ESCO and formally adopted it as our name. We grew from a foundry-specific background making parts for the rail car business and timber industry to developing hardware and foundry-based tools for the mining and infrastructure industries. Two years ago, we joined the Scotland-based Weir Group, which is one of the world’s leading mining technology companies.
Tell us about your employees. Who works here?
We are privileged to have an excellent team of incredibly talented people who are the reason ESCO is a global leader in our markets. In Oregon we have about 400 employees from a total of 2,500 globally across nearly 50 countries. Portland is the heart of our product development with an innovation center, a technology lab, and foundry operations, as well as our core functions that drive the business – from the finance and administrative teams through to the sales side and the supply chain – everything is all run from Portland. Our employees have a true range of skills across the spectrum. We are very family-oriented and often have second and third generation employees. Many employees have 20, 30 and even 40 years of service in the business.
What makes you unique?
Our people and our expertise. The technology we produce is highly engineered and we are at the cutting edge of materials science in our markets. That requires excellent engineers, but it also needs passionate people throughout our business. We are really proud to be the global leader in our markets and we want to stay ahead. We have had 100 years in the foundry business, 50 to 60 of which have been in mining, to continuously improve our products. That is truly unique to us.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing today?
We are only as good as our people. We must carry on bringing in the right talent and skills into the business as we grow and evolve. The whole science, technology, engineering and math fields are very important to us in that way.
What is also important to us is that we get the best from all our people. We are very focused on embedding more inclusion and diversity into our global business and creating an environment where everyone’s voice is valued and heard. For example, how do we attract more women into engineering? As a company, we are always evaluating how we develop our technical skills and make sure we are as inclusive and diverse as the communities where we operate.
What does the future look like for ESCO?
We’re very optimistic about the future. Our customers want to operate more sustainably and efficiently, and that requires the kind of innovative engineering that is core to ESCO. We want to create a system around the absolute minimal environmental impact and minimal cost. Weir sees an opportunity to drive sustainability for our customers and throughout our own business. Internally, how do we make our foundries more energy efficient with less emissions? How can we reduce the amount of scrap or melting needed, and can we capture heat that comes off during the process and repurpose it? We want to reduce our own emissions by 50% by 2030, but if we can get there sooner, we will.
How do you view the future of manufacturing in Oregon?
I think the future for Oregon will always be making sure we support the manufacturing base. There are a few things we can do to make sure it continues to thrive. One is education, specifically STEM and attracting and retaining skilled workers. Manufacturers like ours must also be more visible and involved within the education system – reinforcing that manufacturing is an attractive career and field to pursue. The other is a supportive business environment and making sure we keep critical mass. We must make sure we maintain the base of manufacturers to create an ecosystem and we’re feeding it with the right talent and skills. If we can do this, then manufacturing in Oregon will continue to thrive.
What makes you proudest about ESCO?
There are two things that make me most proud and they are linked. Firstly, safety. We want to be a zero-harm workplace and that is our number one priority. Secondly is employee engagement, where our engagement levels are among the best in our sector. I am really proud that our employees are so passionate about the business and it is one of the reasons I am so optimistic about our future.