Job Shops – British Columbia – Aluminum influence

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by Mary Scianna

Aluminum production investments spur BC shop expansion

ZanRon Fabrication & Machine Co. Ltd.
location: Kitimat, BC
years in business: 25
key manufacturing processes: CNC milling, turning, welding


When RioTinto Alcan announced its plans for a $2.5 billion modernization plan for its Kitimat, BC, aluminum smelter in 2010, Ed Rooney, president of ZanRon Fabrication and Machine Co. Ltd., knew it could help boost business.

Not only has the RioTinto Alcan investment helped him grow his business, it’s lead to the creation of two new business ventures to service aluminum production in the province: the formation of RonPol Industries, a partnership between ZanRon and Quebec-based Charl-Pol Saguenay Inc. to repair and service one-ton anodes used to manufacture the aluminum; and a partnership venture with ECL Crane to repair and maintain approximately 140 different components for cranes, such as feeders, hoppers and automation devices.

Asked what it is he likes best about the job shop business, Rooney says simply “I love the challenges we get and the people in manufacturing. I like looking for ways to solve problems and give customers new ways to consider making a part.”

Rooney formed the business with partner Renzo Zanardo in 1985, but last year Rooney bought him out. Since then, Rooney has been hard at work expanding business operations. ZanRon operates out of three facilities in Kitimat, one of which he is in the midst of expanding to accommodate the crane components business.

“ECL has told us the kind of facility that they need, such as a 10-ton crane with a 48-ft width, welding capacities, and compresses air stations. Some of the devices we’ll be supporting for the cranes weigh as much as 12 tons. These items hang off of cranes so safety is a must. When you’re dealing with scalding hot molten aluminum you have to make sure these cranes moving over people are safe and we’ll be involved in fixing these items. We’ll be handling at least 140 different tooling and apparatus for the cranes so we’ll be expanding our operation and hiring more people.”

The anode manufacturing business RonPol Industries will be handling, is a five year contract but Rooney says with the investments in technology to make the anodes, “we’ll have the proper set up to run these parts beyond that and will be renewing the contract.”

Rooney estimates RonPol will be repairing 5000 anodes annually.

As a unionized contract manufacturing business servicing big companies, certifications are critical. ZanRon and its associated businesses are ISO certified and its welding shop is CWB certified. The business is also registered according to ASME standards, for industrial piping and pressure vessel modifications.

Rooney’s 17 unionized workers are well-paid and also well-trained, which helps Rooney maintain a competitive edge.

“All of our people have combined talents. For example, some are millwrights and machinists so they have versatility and can handle different machines and processes.”

While ZanRon and its associated businesses are busy with servicing the aluminum production industry, Rooney has his sites set on another industry that will help his business continue to grow long term: liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Kitimat LNG will operate as an export facility for LNG gas sourced from BC. The project is expected to create an estimated 4,500 construction jobs.

“According to government statistics, there is a potential $100 billion that will be spent on facilities for LNG, as well as oil, mining and hydroelectric projects, but a huge part of that money will be associated with LNG capacity and I want to know how Kitimat fits in. So I’m heading to a conference to get to know the right people involved in these projects and learn how we could supply this industry locally.”

While Rooney enjoys the business, he says he faces challenges. His biggest challenge? Finding time to do all that needs to be done.

“Sometimes trying to keep on top of invoicing is a challenge because a customer may need something very quickly and there’s no time to invoice the last order. Then someone else needs something and all of sudden the invoices are piling up. At the end of a 16-hour day I should be invoicing, but I’m too tired so I’ll often take work home with me because that’s the only time I have to do tasks like these.” SMT

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