Fabricating case study: Hot and Cold
- Published: August 29, 2017
photos By David Afriat
US HVAC manufacturer invests in Montreal greenfield metal fabrication plant
The PROBLEM Expand in the competitive “configurable custom” HVAC market
THE SOLUTION Invest in automated punch, laser and press brake equipment
When a US manufacturer decides to expand operations, Canada is not typically the first location that comes to mind. Yet when TMI Climate Solutions decided to expand its reach into the global HVAC market, it turned to Canada and invested in a multi-million dollar 15,329 sq m (165,000 sq ft) greenfield metal fabrication operation in Pointe-Claire, QC, in 2016, and in new automated punching, laser cutting and bending equipment from Salvagnini.
TMI Climate Solutions is a well-known HVAC manufacturer that has earned a reputation for manufacturing high quality HVAC systems. So much so that MiTek, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s global conglomerate Bershire Hathaway Inc., took notice of the company and in 2008 decided to purchase TMI.
The Quebec plant is a perfect fit for TMI, says Greg Freitas, vice president of operations who oversees the Canadian and US manufacturing activities for the company.
“This was MiTek’s first greenfield operation. We’re trying to serve a market that is a bit different with this new plant. The Holly, MI, plant focuses on highly customized products. Historically, our primary customers had been more industrial in nature and as we diversified in the early 2,000s to other markets, we found we were having a difficult time competing because these other markets utilize a more configurable product. In the Holly plant we were used to building full customized solutions with everything in the box including full control systems and fully piped, but these other markets, over time, migrated to more of what I would call configurable custom that don’t typically have control wiring or piping skids. Therefore, we turned to the Montreal area because it’s known as an HVAC hub.”
The TMI management team heard from a Canadian team that made the case to invest in the area. A contributing factor in setting up the plant was the available pool of skilled labour familiar with HVAC product manufacturing.
“There’s a lot of industry experience in this area and the new plant was designed to serve a market our US plant didn’t serve,” explains Freitas. “Now the plant makes products for Canada and the US with the main focus being heating and cooling. Our US operation focuses on highly custom modular air handlers, chiller plants, mechanical rooms and data centre solutions.”
The right equipment
Selecting an equipment fabrication supplier was an easy decision, says Freitas. Salvagnini was the obvious choice because of TMI’s long-standing relationship with the supplier. Salvagnini equipped much of the Holly, MI, plant, including installing an automated punch/fiber laser system, the SL4, an automated and integrated punching and shearing centre equipped with a tower for material handling, the S4, and a robotic bending cell, the Roboformer. The decision to select Salvagnini was also supported by the fact that several of the new hires for the Pointe-Claire plant were familiar with Salvagnini technology and operating software, including Alain Tanguay, vice president of operations and engineering at the Quebec plant.
“At the end of the day, the automation that Salvagnini provides is the best fit for this plant. The company does a good job of providing sheet metal automation solutions and for us, having the front end automation that allows us to create part nesting and programming in an office and have that information automatically sent to the machine for production is important,” explains Freitas.
The multi-million dollar greenfield investment included an approximate $2.5 million purchase of Salvagnini equipment. Specifically, the company purchased an automated and integrated punching and shearing centre equipped with a tower for material handling, the S4, an automated punch/laser combination system with a tower for material handling, the SL4, and two B3 press brakes equipped with an automatic tool change system.
The new equipment has been in operation for more than a year now and Tanguay says he and his operators are impressed with the automated lines.
“Definitely, the automated process is appreciated for all the equipment. For example, on the S4 and SL4, once the sheets of metal are loaded in the towers, the machine takes care of everything once the operator starts the program. We still need to explore the full potential of the B3 press brakes to benefit from the full automation of those machines. The goal is to scan a bar code on the part and have the B3 machines set themselves up via the Automatic Tool Adjustment (ATA) and adjustable V-Die features.”
While Tanguay and his Canadian team were familiar with Salvagnini equipment, there was a small learning curve.
“TMI’s machine operators were, for the most part, already experienced using similar type of equipment. The challenge was on the SL4, as our operators were not familiar with laser equipment. The biggest change for our operators was to operate an electro-mechanical machine. The approach to operate and troubleshoot the B3 press brakes is different since all interventions need to be managed electronically.”
TMI’s Canadian team received training, both in-house and at Salvagnini’s Hamilton, OH, facility. Over the course of the first year of operation, Tanguay says Salvagnini’s technical team has been available for technical support.
“One of TMI’s core values is innovation and it’s a driving force for us in the products we manufacture and Salvagnini is one way we’ve been able to achieve this because Salvagnini’s equipment is helping us to do things faster and produce higher quality products. So we’re capitalizing on the innovative side of automation to help us succeed.”
Entering a new market is challenging and TMI Climate Solutions in Canada has had its challenges, admits Freitas, but with the support of Salvagnini and with the improving economy, Freitas says he expects the Canadian plant to soon be doubling or even tripling current production levels.
We had a slow sales start because it’s a greenfield operation but we’re working through that and starting to get more work. The part quality that comes off of the Salvangini machines is extremely good and it’s the one thing we love about the equipment and what it does–gives us really good part quality.”
And that is helping TMI to better compete in Canada and in the US, he adds. SMT