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Cutting edge

The shop floor at Duncan's Ltd. is buzzing with activity as dozens of employees man the loud, industrial machines that feed Whitehorse's steel needs.

The shop floor at Duncan’s Ltd. is buzzing with activity as dozens of employees man the loud, industrial machines that feed Whitehorse’s steel needs.

Country music is barely audible over the sounds of latches closing, torches welding and men giving each other instructions.

Although the family-owned business is largely known for its mechanical contracting, plumbing and ventilation services, it also does custom metal fabrications on a CNC (computerized numerical control) plasma cutter.

The $30,000 machine, which is connected to a desktop computer, is roughly four feet wide by 12 feet long and can cut just about any pattern into steel.

“You could draw a doodle on a napkin and I can throw it on the scanner, and it’ll cut it out,” said Dilan Parker, shop manager.

There are almost 2,000 images on the computer, Parker said.

In the past decade they’ve produced everything from decorative fence toppers to gun range targets to Christmas presents.

Some people come in with just a concept in mind.

More recently they’ve used the machine to produce three eye-catching bus shelters for the City of Whitehorse and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.

The shelters, located along McIntyre Drive and Range Road North, are adorned with a large crow and wolf at either end.

KDFN artist Justin Smith is behind the designs, and his work is also featured on the lampposts near the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.

Parker said it’s a project that was first suggested by Whitehorse transit manager Cheri Malo about two years ago. The idea stems from the fall 2014 intergovernmental forum between the First Nation and the City.

The process to create the panels takes several hours but is relatively simple.

The images are sent to Parker, who then creates a stencil from the design and feeds it into the computer. This part is the toughest and most time-consuming, he said.

Once the machine cuts it out, it is sanded down, sandblasted and painted.

Parker said the company typically does signage, but this was the first time it was asked to do this type of design.

Since then, the City has asked for more bus shelters with steel panels.

“The glass shelters are getting smashed on a regular basis,” he said.

“Hopefully as that happens, we’ll replace them with metal panels. Then it’s just a matter of bending the panel back into shape with a hammer and touching up the paint.

“It’ll save the city a good chunk of money.”

One of those shelters is planned for the bus stop near the Greyhound bus depot on Second Avenue.

The City also commissioned the company to design a large panel - seven feet tall by 11 feet long - for the shelter near the A&W restaurant, which should go up in the New Year, Parker added. It features a fisherman relaxing in a boat on a peaceful pond.

And yesterday, he received an e-mail from Yukon College, which inquired about the possibility of creating two designs for a bus shelter near the institution.

One is an intricate butterfly while the other features a face in the centre of a sun, surrounded by rays.

“They stand out really nice and it makes me happy that we can put our mark on the town,” Parker said of the shelters.

“It makes the place look nice.”

He pointed out that none of the three shelters have been vandalized in the year since they’ve been up.

Parker has worked at Duncan’s for just over 20 years.

He started out on the shop floor as an apprentice, before he was even out of high school.

He worked his way through the sheet metal trade, became a safety supervisor and then a shop foreman.

Nowadays, he mostly deals with customers and makes sure “everyone’s happy at the end of the day.”

“The equipment has come a long way,” he said, pointing at the company’s older, larger CNC plasma cutter which is used to create ducts.

“Our old computer only had 256 megabytes of RAM and it was top of the line at the time.”

With two machines, the company is a lot more versatile, he adds.

“People come to us with just about anything these days. The possibilities are almost limitless.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at