It’s still “very manual” at the Charl-Pol plant in Portneuf, where welders and machinists fabricate the massive structures that go into building ships. Richard Tremblay is well aware of what he needs to do to stay in the good graces of Chantier Davie, with whom the company has been doing business for three decades.

“We have international teams to observe the robotization of production, explains the president of the company in an interview. When you talk about a new line of business developing, the supply chain has to put on running shoes to be ready to go. The factory will be organized differently. There will be equipment that will be installed, and it will be robots. »

More than 70% of a ship’s cost is invested through a shipyard’s supply chain, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. For a contract of 8.5 billion – the amount mentioned publicly – we are talking about 6 billion.

The enthusiasm is palpable among Davie’s 900 Quebec suppliers (see table). For them, the potential construction of seven new icebreakers in Lévis for the Canadian Coast Guard represents new lucrative contracts and the emergence of shipbuilding as a leading sector in Quebec.

For companies like Charl-Pol, an industrial equipment supplier that counts aluminum smelters and mining companies among its customers, this means that the shipbuilding niche is set to take a more important place in its volume of business. Other providers want the same.

There are a multitude of steps to go through to build a ship. Once the hull has been manufactured, the various modules – which come from subcontractors – must be integrated into which we find the living spaces and the equipment that makes the ship work. The supply chain must therefore be well oiled to avoid delays and unforeseen events. Business leaders interviewed by La Presse are well aware of this.

“La Davie is in the process of upgrading, which will force suppliers to follow the same level. Who will level up? That’s the question,” says the manager of the company based in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures.

Specializing in the cutting of small batches of steel and aluminum parts, in particular, for sectors such as shipbuilding, aeronautics and defence, the company has already begun to prepare the ground. In its case, it is an increase in its manufacturing footprint. To meet anticipated demand from Davie and its other customers, EBM Laser expects its 65,000 sq. ft. (6,000 m2) production area to grow to 90,000 sq. ft. (8,360 m2).

Larger parts will also have to be designed if new boats are built at Davie.

“We are already looking for another plant to manufacture large-scale marine components,” says Mr. St-Jean. If I want to design the mechanical room of a boat, it’s maybe 30′ by 10′. It will take another factory of about 40,000 square feet. »

Why prepare like this? Suppliers want to put the odds in their favor to avoid a repeat of what is happening at Vancouver Shipyards of Seaspan in British Columbia and at Irving Shipbuilding in Nova Scotia. Selected by Ottawa in 2011 for the construction of large ships, these two shipyards are plagued by delays and cost overruns, which greatly delay the deadlines of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (SNCN).

At Davie’s subcontractors, we want to reproduce what was done for the Asterix, this tanker transformed into a tanker while respecting the budgets and the schedule. The ship had been handed over to the Royal Canadian Navy at the end of 2017.

“If we sit on our laurels, there will be less fallout,” says Mr. Tremblay. The 70% supply chain impact may be increased to 30%. The government and Davie will not lower the technical requirements to please us. »

In this context, the Association of Suppliers of Chantier Davie Canada has organized a trade mission to Europe, which runs until Friday. Most of the speakers interviewed by La Presse are part of the thirty or so participants.

This European tour includes stops at giants such as Chantiers de l’Atlantique (France) and Naval Group (France). The goal: to get an idea of ​​the improvements to be made by taking inspiration from the Old Continent.

“There are extraordinary delays in the delivery of ships, it’s crazy steep,” says Pierre Drapeau, president and CEO of the Association. It’s nice to have a policy that encourages shipyards to buy here. But if there are delays at Davie, the program [the SNCN] will jump. Officials will think that it is better to do this elsewhere. »

The benefits that will be generated by Davie, if it succeeds in concluding its negotiations with Ottawa, will not be limited to an increase in the volume of business with subcontractors. Some suppliers hope to be able to expand their business relationship with the shipyard. Foreign companies are also setting up near Lévis to be closer to Davie.

The industrial construction contractor Descimco provides specialized labor (fitters, welders, electricians, painters, etc.) to Chantier Davie during peak periods of activity. Its president, Daniel Beaudoin, would also like to see the other company he runs, Qualifab – an industrial piping specialist – forge business ties with Davie.

“At the moment, their mandate [in Davie] is mainly ship repairs,” explains Mr. Beaudoin. This does not generate a lot of piping manufacturing needs since we are talking about modifications. There would be a more obvious need with new ships. »

Well established in eight countries, the Almaco Group, which offers turnkey services for the design and construction of “ship living spaces” – superstructure, cabins, galleys, etc. –, is doing the same in Quebec. For now, its director of business development, Joseph Kerebel, is the only representative of the multinational on Quebec territory.

Met in a hotel in the Old Capital, he explains that this should change.

“It will depend on the contracts we get, but we would like to eventually have 10 engineers and up to 40 at some point,” explains the businessman.

Along with Davie shipyard, Almaco was responsible for the design of the superstructure – the huge module located on the main deck that often houses the pilothouse and other living areas – as part of the Asterix design. . It had been made in Finland before being transported by boat to Quebec. The portrait is likely to be different for the ships to be built within the framework of the SNCN.

“We have already started working with potential local suppliers,” said Mr. Kerebel. You have to be local. We have been interested in this [the inclusion of Davie in the federal strategy] for two years. The objective was to prepare to respond to the projects that will be carried out. »

If Almaco manages to establish itself in Quebec territory, the multinational could also “open the door” to Quebec subcontractors to “work with it elsewhere in the world”, suggests Mr. Kerebel.

It provides for the construction of some fifty ships for the Royal Canadian Navy and the Coast Guard. We are talking about nine types of large ships, including combat ships. In the case of Davie, it will be the construction of six icebreakers and a polar icebreaker. The Seaspan (Vancouver) and Irving (Halifax) shipyards were the only two partners retained in 2011. The Lévis shipyard has just been integrated. Ottawa must now negotiate with Davie to complete the negotiations and establish a delivery schedule.

Cost of upgrading Davie shipyard to meet federal requirements

Amount extended by Quebec to finance the work at Davie

In Old Lévis, the Davie shipyard is one of those businesses where you quickly know how things are going. Twenty-five years after the opening of the restaurant L’intimiste, its owner, Martin Patry, is well placed to talk about it.

“When it rolls, everything around rolls, explains the owner of the establishment, met by La Presse. Here, it is mainly executives and senior management that we notice. We call for reservations at lunchtime. We know that pretty quickly. »

The restaurateur does not depend on the shipyard, located just under 4 km away, to make ends meet. But as we turn the page on the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard not to rejoice in the anticipated growth at Davie.

If traffic is picking up, there is still a shortfall on the side of business customers. For example, Desjardins Group employees are far from having returned to the cooperative’s head office full-time.

In the Lauzon sector in Lévis, Saint-Joseph Street is no longer the commercial artery of yesteryear. Over time, the shops have disappeared from the landscape. Waves of layoffs at Davie – where well-paid workers were left unemployed – did nothing to help.

At the intersection of Saint-Joseph and Monseigneur-Bourget streets, Accommodation Lauzon is one of the few local businesses still open. For two decades, it has belonged to Daniel Côté. His son, Jean-Philippe, is a minority shareholder.

“It’s a neighborhood that needs love, but it’s a good neighborhood,” he says. When we talk about effervescent Davie, it’s very good for us. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We don’t wait after that to live, but with what’s coming, it’s a bonus. »

After a “slow devitalization” that spanned several decades, the mayor of Lévis, Gilles Lehouillier, also hopes that the growth that awaits the shipyard will help restore a commercial vocation to Saint-Joseph Street.

“We must expect a bubbling in this area, says the politician. It is almost impossible that there are not restaurants and resto-bars opening in this area. There will be other neighborhood businesses. This street is set for a great revitalization. »

A little less than two years ago, Lévis had also released 4 million as part of a revitalization project on Saint-Joseph Street. Part of the envelope was intended for the purchase of six properties while the rest of the sum (2.4 million) was devoted to a residential renovation program.