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Ontario Centre of Innovation
HFI Pyrotechnics: A company almost as old as Canada embarks on digital transformation journey

Success Stories

HFI Pyrotechnics: A company almost as old as Canada embarks on digital transformation journey

The First World War was when HFI Pyrotechnics made a transition that changed the company forever.

Having started in 1873 as Hands Fireworks, HFI shifted from fireworks to specialty pyrotechnics supplier for the Canadian Military during the first and second world wars.

Since then, HFI has become a leader in the design and manufacturing of specialty pyrotechnic products, working with customers like Canada’s Ministry of Defense, the US Navy, and NATO. HFI specializes in pyrotechnics for training as well as search and rescue missions.

The company turned 150 years old in August 2023. Among its many accolades over the years, HFI claims its founder William Hand put on the first fireworks display for Canada on May 25th, 1874, in celebration of the 54th birthday of Queen Victoria.

Fireworks were part of HFI until 2012 when the company sold off that part of its business to focus exclusively on military pyrotechnics. Two years ago, HFI joined an elite list of companies that can supply materials to the Canadian Armed Forces. By being named the fifth company to the Canadian Munitions Supply Program, HFI was also the first company in 40 years to be added to the Armed Forces’ procurement list.

For a company that is almost as old as Canada itself, the past number of years have seen HFI adopt a change and innovation mindset. HFI is currently led by President Rhiannon Iles who joined the company in 2020, when it employed around 57 people. Now, HFI has around 120 employees. Having grown so quickly, HFI wants to make sure its systems grow at the same pace. As a company that relies on hand-crafting products rather than automated manufacturing systems, it’s important that HFI has processes in place that train its employees in the delicate work it does.

One of HFI’s main focuses over the next year is to develop a digital transformation roadmap to address its biggest information flow and data losses. One part of that is figuring out enterprise resource planning (ERP) software that can keep up with its unique needs.

Canadian soldier training using HFI’s pyrotechnics. Source: HFI

HFI is currently working with the Ontario Centre of Innovation’s Digitalization Competence Centre (DCC) program to assess its current processes and infrastructure, and make recommendations regarding digital solutions and implementation that help make it an even better supplier of military training and search and rescue products.

“HFI Pyrotechnics’ evolution over its 150-year history is a testament to its adaptability, innovation, and unwavering commitment to Canada,” said Claudia Krywiak, President and CEO at the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI).

“From its early beginnings as Hands Fireworks to becoming a leader in specialty pyrotechnics for the military, HFI has continuously demonstrated its dedication to excellence,” Krywiak added. “We are proud to support HFI’s digital transformation efforts through our Digitalization Competence Centre program, helping them harness technology to enhance their role in supporting the Canadian Armed Forces. HFI exemplifies the kind of resilience and forward-thinking mindset that drives progress and innovation in our country.”

HFI is taking part in DCC’s Digital Modernization and Adoption Plan (DMAP) program, which helps Ontario SMEs to better understand their technology needs and guides their digital transformation journey. After a DMAP is completed, SMEs can take part in DCC’s Technology Demonstration Program, which supports the adoption and implementation of the plan.

OCI has worked with HFI since 2017 when the company first took advantage of the TalentEdge Internship Program, which helped post-secondary students and recent undergraduate or Masters graduates work on research and development projects.

As part of its current digital transformation journey, HFI is transitioning to an offsite warehouse to support improved management of its inventory. Iles called the DMAP a key part of that move as HFI plans to test out its new ERP system at that location.

“Why DMAP is really important is that it’ll help us sew all that together,” said Iles. “It will help us be better at interacting with that new operating model.”

“We’re kind of this hidden gem, both for a source of employment and also how we support our country and our troops, especially today with all the heightened conflict around the world,” Iles added, noting that HFI is especially proud to support the search and rescue as well as training aspect of militaries.