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Steel hardening business breathes life into Capreol industrial shops

Northern Heat Treat expands and relocates to entire former NRE complex

There's something going on in a former rail car refurbishment shop in Capreol that hasn't been seen or heard in a long time: active manufacturing and the hiring of staff.

A few weeks ago, Northern Heat Treat Ltd., a steel hardening business, began moving its operation to the 54,000-square-foot complex on nine and a half acres on the northeast corner of the Greater City of Sudbury bedroom community. It was originally located on Smelter Road in Coniston.

The buildings formerly housed the National Railway Equipment Co. (NRE), which refurbished and sold new and old locomotives for 17 years before closing down in 2017.

To get Northern Heat Treat up and running, there's still a lot of work to be done in retrofitting and moving equipment, but co-owners George Sidun Sr. and son George Sidun Jr. say the move is not causing disruption to fill orders.

“We had to move out of our old 28,000-square-foot location and this place was already available and was perfect for our needs,” said George Sr. “It had gotten to the point where we could not fit any more equipment on the floor. This is pretty much turnkey, with some modifications and upgrades needed so we can move our equipment in.”

The company is classified as heavy industry, which limits where they can set up their business.

It's been a whirlwind few weeks for the company, moving equipment, painting, renovating offices, installing security cameras, meeting with the public and taking inventory on what is inside both buildings. In the near future, a transformer will be installed to meet power demand.

The expansion also means they are hiring. George Jr. said they are looking to fill labourer positions immediately, as well as other positions.

Their current staff is adjusting to the new commute to Capreol, and some are moving, or have already moved, to the community.

“We have one employee who bought a house here; they've permanently moved,” George Jr. said. “We've already hired a few local people since moving. I'm not sure about how much of an economic impact we will have, but we are focusing on hiring and supporting local. This is our new home.”

They are already running three shifts five days a week, with some overtime depending on orders.

All orders are already being shipped to the new location for processing.

They're already running an automated robot arm and rod straightening machine custom built for the job. The arm, originally designed to paint cars in automotive plants, loads and removes rods for manual straightening by a worker. They are in the process of replacing ovens used in the heat treating process with bigger, more powerful ones.

Inside the main plant they are working to turn a bay that was used to repair rail cars into a sand blasting room. Another is being renovated for CN to rent to clean out crew cars.

The smaller building will be home to other heat treating equipment.

“Everything will be done under these roofs, nothing outside,” George Jr. explained. “We heard many stories from residents that live here when NRE was fully operational about the noise, sand blasting outside, and engines firing off, blowing smoke everywhere.”

He said operations would be relatively quiet, with the owners going so far as to park some old train cars outside to act as noise buffers in case they are needed.

The cars will also be a tribute to the previous railroad industry that once thrived in the town.

During their move-in, father and son said it's been fascinating to see what was left behind. Among the treasures were several old rail cars, of which two are property of the Northern Railroad Museum, a track snowplow, ready-to-use forklifts and a lot of the original signage still hanging up.

Steel hardening, explained George Jr., is often done by third-party companies like Northern Heat Treat. Companies will manufacture parts out of softer steel so they can be tooled and shaped to specifications, then sent to companies like his for the final treatment and hardening to make them durable.

Northern Heat Treat doesn't do any manufacturing, which George Jr. said would be detrimental to their business model.

“If we made our own product, customers would stop coming to us, because there would be no point in treating theirs if we became competition for them,” he said.

George Sr. explained manufacturers send steel products out for hardening because it is a long process. Doing it in-house would create a bottleneck. Companies like theirs specialize, so they can run through a series of products in a short time.

Business has been steadily growing over the years, save for the 2008 recession.

George Sr. started the business 26 years ago. He bought a cottage in the area 39 years ago and spent many summers in the area, and then someone approached him about starting a heat treating plant in Sudbury.

“At the time, everything was being sent to Toronto,” he said. “I started looking into it and then the government heard I was looking at it, and they offered me a grant if I would start a plant here, so we did.”

He sold the original plant in the U.S. and moved the whole operation north.

So far the company's main market is diamond drillers, but George Jr. said they are expanding into other markets.

The move is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 1.