SAINT-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, Que. — An object of stainless steel and red enamel beauty was the centerpiece of a March event in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu to celebrate the 20,000th tank trailer Tremcar has built since its founding in 1962.
Some 200 people converged on the plant from points as far away as Alberta, Texas, and even Costa Rica to help Tremcar celebrate its achievement.
“I buy a lot of their tankers,” said Joseph Newman, president and owner of Newman Carriers in Fairmont City, Ill. Using about 140 tankers, his company runs products such as acids, water treatment chemicals, and paints. Newman still gets excited about each new tanker he buys. “Tremcar makes quality tankers,” he declared.
Tremcar ranks itself as the largest family-owned tank trailer manufacturer in North America, and one of the top four such manufacturers on the continent. Last year, Tremcar delivered more than 959 tank trailers and 217 truck mounts designed to transport products ranging from milk, juice, and chocolate, to dry bulk such as cement, lime, sugar, and flour, and acids and petroleum products.
Its order book is jammed until 2020, but Tremcar is busy training more workers so it can take advantage of 200 tank trailers’ worth of excess annual production capacity.
As part of the event, Tremcar treated its guests to a cook’s tour of the plant. A guide led us away from the foyer’s balloons and finger food in groups or 10 or so. We tromped over and up through administrative and engineering bullpens.
A few short twists and turns later, we spilled out onto a landing above the plant’s 100,000 sq.-ft. production area, sans activity on this special day.
The spotless production floor was packed with tankers in various states of assembly; 24, by my count. Tremcar can roll finished tank trailers out the door at a rate of one every five to seven days, depending on their complexity.
Most were nose-to-tail in five parallel production lines: tank barrels taking shape in huge sheet metal rollers to the far left, tall racks of sheet metal and other steel stock, elliptical and round bulkheads. Panning right along the lines, the barrels sprouted bright red chassis, piping, insulation and catwalks.
Aluminum barrels are fabricated in St-Cesaire and brought to the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu plant; between 55% and 60% of Tremcar’s tank trailer parts are made elsewhere.
Stainless steel barrels are made right here.
Our group clattered down the steel stairs and onto the production floor.
“That belongs on a railroad track,” said one guest at the sight of a gigantic 2,600 cu.-ft. quad-axle tanker – one of Tremcar’s largest. Keeping it company were two quad dry bulk tanks on jack stands, ceiling fixture light smeared over their fair curves. My favorite was a double conical chemical tank, tapered at both ends like a cartoon cigar.
Bryan Kovalaske, the vice-president of Superior Tank & Trailer, had come up from Beach City, Ohio, to join the celebration. He told me that the chemical tank’s odd shape has to do with the weight of its cargo and the need to keep down the gross trailer weight. Where water weighs about 8.5 lbs/gallon, a 93% solution of sulfuric acid weighs 15.3 lbs/gal. “The heavier the product, the smaller the tanker you need,” Kovalaske told me.
Kovalaske’s company is headquartered near Tremcar’s Strasburg, Ohio, facility, where it builds mostly petroleum tankers. One of the four Canadian and two American plants Tremcar owns, the company recently expanded it by 10,000 sq.-ft. The additional space includes an eight-bay service center and room to increase manufacturing space by a third.
Tremcar has repair facilities in Edmonton, Weyburn, Saskatoon, London, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and two in the U.S. – Strasburg, Ohio and Haverhill, Mass. A plan to begin assembling propane tank trucks in Weyburn, announced last September, is on hold while the company waits for the economy out west to firm up.
Steering back to the plant tour, I noticed that many of the tankers are supported on each end by beefy stands called positioners. So pinned, workers can spin them like bingo barrels as they weld them up and install hardware like baffles, fenders and hatches. Gantry cranes, more than I’ve ever seen under one roof, move them from work station to work station.
But once tankers’ undercarriages are bolted on, workers perch them on little wheeled dollies and push them ever closer to the finish line.
We wandered beneath signs, like Assemblage B-5 and Assemblage A-2, and between tankers rotated this way and that. The pace of work at each such station is tracked and coordinated with that of its neighbors. If one stations falls behind, workers from others pitch in.
Lots of good explaining later, we reached the celebration end of the plant. There, wrapped with eye-catching graphics, waited number 20,000.
The crowd and the buzz grew, wine and champagne flowed, and catered treats disappeared. Dan Furth, president of the National Tank Truck Carrier Association, spoke. Daniel Tremblay, the president of Tremcar, stepped up to the mic.
“We have solidified our acquisitions. Our production lines are running smoothly, and we now master the art of building high-end tanks adapted to the particular products that each of them carries,” he said.