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Expansion leads to opportunities (7/02)

By Ian Ross Times may tough in the mining and forestry industry, but that does not mean NorFab Metal and Machine plans to dig in and ride out the down cycle.

By Ian Ross

Times may tough in the mining and forestry industry, but that does not mean NorFab Metal and Machine plans to dig in and ride out the down cycle. The Porcupine-based machine shop and mining equipment manufacturer demonstrated considerable faith in its expertise and in the eventual rebound of the metals market by expanding into a new 20,000-square-foot facility and has devised a strategy to export their product line and knowledge on a national and worldwide scale.

“We never sit idle;” says production manager Dan Katic, “we are always doing something.”

Since moving a few kilometres down Highway 101 into a new and expanded shop in December 2000, general manager Walter DiTullio says they “haven’t looked back.”

Though the bulk of their work revolves around custom equipment fabrication jobs for Kidd Creek, Kinross and Grant Forest Products, NorFab offers its own product line in shaft and underground hardware.

The 25-employee outfit designs, builds and reconditions mining locomotives, personnel and utility carriers, ore cars, ballast cars and dump cars.

“We needed a bigger facility to try and widen our market with our product line,” says DiTullio, who co-founded the company in 1993 with Katic, and launched the business in 1994.

“Rail equipment for underground mining is our biggest product line,” says Katic.

“We’ve developed that over the years, and we want to keep expanding on that” by making export inroads into the states and abroad, says DiTullio.

Katic describes the company’s eight-year run as having grown in “leaps and bounds” from the more modest days when they started with five employees.

Sales have since “skyrocketed” from that first year, with the company topping more than $4 million in sales last year.

“We’re not just a backyard outfit,” says Katic.”We bought every bit of equipment we need to do our work and we're still buying.”

With the move, and the $700,000-investment, they purchased better equipment and installed a 330-tonne press brake, which bends steel plate into different shapes for ore chutes and hoppers.

They also added two overhead cranes with a combined 22.5-tonne capacity to handle some of the bigger jobs.

“The mining industry has pretty well gone with open-pit mining, which requires very large-scale equipment,” says DiTullio.

“So we just basically scaled up everything to handle the market,” adds Katic.

Though it has been a rough couple of years for the mineral and natural resources sector, both say there is still money to be made for a company that establishes a certain standard of quality work, offering fair pricing and good service.

Much of their success they attribute to re-investment in state-of-the-art equipment and recruiting and retaining a good mixture of experienced and young workers with an employee profit-sharing program.

DiTullio, who is in his 60s, came into the venture with more than 40 years of mining experience in manufacturing and repair under his belt, while Katic, 30, graduated from Fanshawe College’s mechanical engineering program and delved straight into business at NorFab.

“As bad as it seems out there, there are people who are still doing well,” says Katic. “We haven’t given up on the Timmins area.”

But that does not mean a total reliance on the Northern Ontario market either.

By networking through suppliers and local development officials, NorFab has begun servicing national clients such as Abitibi-Price and selling their equipment line to Canadian mining hot spots in Central and South America, though, for competitive reasons both DiTullio and Katic are reluctant to say exactly where.

They hired a Web designer to display their wares online, and are extensively marketing over the Internet.

Exports make up only a five per cent chunk of their product sales, but both have high hopes for the future.

“We were so busy over the first eight years just concentrating on Northern Ontario that we didn’t have to go elsewhere,” says Katic. “Now it’s time to make that second step and spread our wings.”

With more automation in mining and greater emphasis placed on operating efficiencies, both feel there is a lot of mining activity left in the region and it is only a matter of time before industry conditions improve.

“Let’s face it, the last six months didn’t look great,” says Katic. “It was grim. But just in the last month with the recent announcements (Kinross-Dome merger and three-way deal involving Kinross, Echo Bay and TVX) and Falconbridge’s Montcalm project, there’s reason to be optimistic.”