Setting New Standards

Tri-Metal celebrates the past and looks forward to continued success in the future

When any company reaches the half-century mark of operation, it’s tempting for management to reflect upon past achievements. But although Joe Toso, president of Surrey-based Tri-Metal Fabricators, is proud of how his company has evolved over the decades, Tri-Metal’s 50th anniversary causes him to look into the future—and he likes what he sees. “Canada in general is on the brink of a huge expansion in its resources sector, which we’re well-positioned to take advantage of,” he says.

Indeed, as one of the oldest sheet metal fabricators in Metro Vancouver, Tri-Metal’s clients read like a who’s who of players in the oil and gas, mining and marine industries—sectors that require heavy-duty metal construction of facilities, systems and parts. One of the many reasons the company has been able to serve different sectors is its adherence to quality. Tri-Metal and its work crews deliver old-fashioned craftsmanship—fabrication that is precise and meets superior standards—by refusing to let any finished product leave their shop unless it meets their clients’ exact specifications.

Most recently, Tri-Metal added a new type of product to its extensive roster. For the past several years, its core business has been the manufacturing of frames and accessories for CSC-approved Mobile Expandable Container Configurations (MECC Shelters). These are expandable containers used by the Department of National Defence (DND) for command posts, integrated workshops, accommodation, kitchens, ablutions, laundry facilities and field hospitals.

Taking guests through a tour of Tri-Metal’s 36,000 square foot plant that is equipped with laser and plasma cutters and an array of giant rollers, Toso points to a series of MECCs in various stages of assembly. “Our involvement in these shelters was made possible by collaborating with an associate shareholder, Weatherhaven, which provides the shelters not only to the DND but also the armies of the U.S., U.K., Brazil, Switzerland and Japan.” The latter country deployed them in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake and tsunami. Tri-Metal expects to be heavily focused on MECC construction for at least another year, in order to fulfill an order for 700 units.

As well as occupying much of the plant’s floor space, the MECCs account for about 40 per cent of Tri-Metal’s total output. However, close on its heels are industrial HVAC components, which are also in abundance in different areas of the plant. Under the guidance of Craig Ono, manager HVAC and fan division, and Steve Eden, manager fan division, Tri-Metal designs and manufactures simple and complex HVAC systems and equipment for industrial, institutional and marine applications. It makes its own line of axial fans for hazardous and non-hazardous locations, as well as EMR-approved axial fans for coal mine applications. Additionally, Tri-Metals’s crew of up to 55 welders and fabricators use their expertise to make custom heating and cooling units, filtration packages and anything else related to robust and reliable air handling.

Intent on making clients’ lives as easy as possible, Tri-Metal has been developed to be as much of a one-stop shop as possible; it has the capability to manufacture systems from customers’ drawings and engineering direction, and it can provide a complete spectrum of design, engineering and manufacturing services.

These capabilities have been put to good use on countless projects, one of the more noteworthy being the mid-life upgrade four years ago of seven B.C. Ferries vessels, including the Queen of Surrey. For each vessel, Tri-Metal designed, manufactured, supplied and installed a complete new HVAC system consisting of all the necessary deck and bulkhead penetrations, coamings, dampers, duct work, grills and registers. It also designed and manufactured exhaust fans and custom air handling units.

For the Queen of Surrey, the ferry’s original equipment and controls were replaced with 11 modular air handling units, eight exhausts fans and a computer control system. One deck was fitted with a new duct distribution system as well as a perimeter duct heating system for passenger comfort in winter; and crew quarters and wheelhouses were fitted with their own independent HVAC system for maximum crew comfort.

[pagebreak]The four main engine room supply fans were overhauled and fitted with explosion-proof motors, and a car deck ventilation system was installed consisting of 32 Tri-Metal axial fans, distribution ducting plus eight side-shell and eight exhaust louvers.

Tri-Metal’s prowess in the marine field is one reason Toso is so optimistic about future opportunities. “We stand a very good chance of getting in on the federal shipbuilding contract that commences next year in B.C.,” he explains. Toso is referring to the $8-billion contract won by Seaspan Marine in 2011 that is expected to generate thousands of jobs.

But ever mindful not to focus his resources too heavily in any one sector, Toso says Tri-Metal will also be active in the mining and oil and gas booms. “People think there’s a boom right now, but it’s nothing compared to the huge amount of work that is coming,” he says. “As busy as we currently are in these sectors, we’ve just scratched the surface.”

Tri-Metal’s impressive technical capabilities notwithstanding, its real strength is its team of skilled employees. Today, Tri-Metal’s major stakeholders are former employees, and staff members have been instrumental in steering the company in the right direction over the decades. One of their earliest decisions was to differentiate themselves from the competition by gaining a reputation as custom fabricators, which led to the acquisition of specialized equipment that in turn helped fill contracts for a wide range of clients.

Tri-Metal’s versatility has kept it thriving during rough periods. An early case in point is when a construction slowdown occurred in Metro Vancouver in the early 1970s, which prompted the company to start fabricating custom parts for HVAC systems in tugboats. More recently, the slowdown of the pulp and paper sector (for which Tri-Metal fabricated items such as conveyor chutes and corrosion-resistant stainless steel holding tanks) prompted crews to lean more heavily into the mining and energy sectors. “About the only area we stay away from is anything commercial,” says Toso. “There’s too much competition in that field.”

As Tri-Metal girds itself for the coming avalanche of work, Toso is planning to groom a successor who will guide the company in the decades ahead. “It’s not healthy to have an old guy like me at the helm, and I want someone who has plenty of experience in this business and is firm but fair in his business dealings. My one requisite is that this person must under all circumstances treat my shop guys well, because each one of them is worth more than all the equipment in our plant. They have made this company a success.”