Volume 13 | Issue 1 | Year 2010

A Canadian manufacturer renowned for mammoth tanker trucks, Robica Forman Tank Ltd. includes many former farmers that serve current farmers. The rural, St. Marys, Ontario-headquartered business not only comprehends needs, it understands how its clientele likes to conduct business.
Situated in, and arising from, an agricultural setting, the “quality first” Robica Forman Tank provides neighborly service in neighborly fashion. Embracement of the old-fashioned, grass roots work ethic fostered significant growth. This may sound as corny as the stalks that arise from carefully cultivated fields, but hear what company partner Robert Nothof says: “We’ve increased in size 15 times since our inception in 1984.”

This grass roots approach includes what the company terms as “honest” delivery dates. In other words, goods are delivered when promised. Further, the company offers competitive prices, routinely demonstrates reliability and, most significantly, bases its business on innovation, both in product and manufacturing processes. Indeed, as far as technology, the company (a major Canadian manufacturer of tanker tanks) is no ones’ unsophisticated rube.

Need evidence? Consider its production output: In the area of petroleum tank conveyances (the company’s specialty), Robica’s aluminum-mounted tanks and full pup and semi trailers are manufactured at optimal capacity (from 2,000 liters to 60,000 liters), and most of its tankers are multi-compartments mounted on commercial chassis that weigh up to 75,000 pounds gross vehicle weight (GVW). Further, the company offers combined vehicles up to eight axles and 139,500 GVW. Simply stated, in terms of size, these products are mastodons.

The company also provides Bobtail propane tanks, ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 USWG (United States water gallon) capacity, mounted on commercial chassis up to 60,000 GVW, and fire tanker trucks used primarily for transporting water to rural areas lacking municipal hydrant service. Fire tankers are usually supplied with custom bodies designed for carrying other fire fighting equipment mounted on commercial chassis up to 60,000 pounds GVW. In 2003, to complement its petroleum tanker line, Robica acquired King-Paron Trailers Ltd.’s dry-bulk tanker manufacturing fixtures and engineering designs,” says Nothof, the company’s vice president and general manager.

A new product perfectly underscores why the company managed to assume a leading industry position. “We just developed a 100,000-liter trailer, which translates into 26,400 U.S. gallons, developed for the hydro-utility industry,” informs Nothof. “There’s nothing like it in the world, and we’ve seen our products deployed across the globe.”

The patent-pending product is appropriately called the Mammoth TOT, as it’s not only huge but serves as a transformer-oil-treatment trailer. Nothof describes its value: “We’re currently building it for Ontario Hydro, which has indicated that it has realized a 12- to 18-month payback. They now do with one unit what once took three to six units, so the evident cost savings are enormous. We’ve just completed the six trailer and are preparing to market the product in 2010.”

The company adds that it can be potentially marketed to just about any North American electrical utility company.

Robica manufactures this and all products, in all sizes and types, at its St. Marys manufacturing facility, a plant that boasts 48,000 square feet of production space that accommodates truck tank production, custom fabrication and related services. Situated on 10 acres of rural territory, the operation includes a main plant and a complement of outbuildings. Further, the manufacturing facility boasts 10-ton lifting capabilities with 22 feet of clear height under crane hook.

The facility, and its attributes, supports Robica’s core business: petroleum tankers. “But we still do some electrical cabinetry, which we did at our beginning, and we also build custom trailers, which represents between 30 to 40 percent of our business,” says Nothof.

The company’s markets include Canadian industries primarily related to the heavy capitol goods sector; major oil companies such as Petro Canada, Shell, Ultramar and Sunoco; petroleum and propane agents; pump, meter and tank service companies, as well as municipalities, townships and industrial accounts.

Its electrical enclosures and consoles (stainless steel and aluminum and Canadian Standards Association-approved for the electrical industry) serve large and capital-intensive manufacturing industries such as automotive, pulp and paper, steel mills and steel processing.

The company’s innovative inclination not only extends to its products but also to its manufacturing processes. “For instance, when we needed a seam welder to connect large aluminum and stainless steel sheets, we shopped around and realized that available products were just too expensive. We felt we’d be better off designing and building our own welders,” reveals Nothof.

And that’s just what the company did: It came up with a custom-made seam welder for tankers. But process innovation didn’t stop there. “We also bought a huge press that we converted to make tanker heads, which are quite unique, as they have a semi-elliptical shape,” adds Nothof.

As a result, Robica designs and manufactures the industry’s toughest and most efficient petroleum tankers.

The Robica enterprise also includes a 12,000-square-foot service center in London, Ontario, located about 35 miles from its main production facility, located on a 10-acre lot adjacent the region’s Sunoco loading terminal. “It’s a parts and service facility that specializes in repairing, testing and fixing petroleum tankers,” says Nothof. “Service represents a major part of our business.”

Service also includes new and used tank truck sales, new truck chassis sales and the repair and refurbishment of pumps and related fluid delivery equipment; mechanical and computerized meters; truck chassis, brakes and related safety equipment; sandblasting; paint and decal; calibration of petroleum and propane delivery systems; remounting existing equipment on a new chassis; updating equipment to current environmental standards, and Canadian government inspections and certifications.

Complementing the company’s demonstrated talents, its 165-employee roster is one of Robica’s most important assets. Staff includes experienced, long-term and dedicated personnel working throughout all company areas. Trades involved in manufacturing and service include machinists, millwrights, truck mechanics, fabricators, welders/fitters, pump and meter technicians and auto body and paint finishers.

Robica Forman Tank’s roots date back to 1952, when an entrepreneur named Carl Forman established the Forman Tank and Welding company, a vibrant, backyard business that burst forth from a 1,500-square-foot seed shell. By 1976, it grew into a 27,500-square-foot operation. “As Forman established the business in Canada’s farm country, he initially repaired agricultural equipment,” recalls Nothof.

Later in the decade, Forman shifted focus with the change from coal to oil heat. “Local oil dealers then encouraged Forman to build tankers, which he began producing in 1954,” says Nothof. “Subsequently, for many years, Forman Tank and Welding was the go-to business for these tanks.”

In the meantime, Robert and Monica Nothof started a fabricating business called Robica Manufacturing (Robica is an amalgamation of their names – Robert and Monica – and Monica Nothof became president and chief executive officer while husband Robert handled the daily operations). That was in 1984. Five years later Robica purchased Forman Tank and Welding, the same year that Carl Forman decided to retire at age 73. The company’s new name represented yet another nomenclatural amalgamation. “Because Forman Tank had been around a lot longer than Robica, we decided to call the business Robica Forman Tank Ltd, to capitalize on Forman’s long history and established reputation as well as to send the message that this was a new company,” explains Nothof. “So we were trying to get the best of both worlds. The strategy worked.”

Robica Manufacturing’s original facility was a modest, 6,500-square-foot site located near Statford, Ontario. But it grew, and in the year before it purchased the Forman business, its production space expanded to 13,000 square feet. At the time, Robica offered a distinct product line of electrical enclosures. As business increased, it outgrew its premises, which led to the 1989 purchase of Forman Tank and Welding. A year later, the renamed Robica Forman Tank Ltd. moved to its current location in St. Marys, integrating its assets into the Forman premises.

Robica’s reputation for quality, innovation and industry leader-ship grew in pace with its increasing size. Only a few of its major achievements included introducing Mid-Com ATC electronic registers into the Ontario market and designing and building the Robo-Tank, a heavy duty “rough service” aluminum tank barrel. In 2004, it opened its London, Ontario service center and soon began offering unprecedented warranties (10 years for tanks and stainless steel pipe and five years for aluminum pipe).

Further, it spurred growth by obtaining contracts with the Canadian military. During an 18-month period in 2002 and 2003, the company successfully completed a $10 million Department of National Defense (DND) contract for 88 refueling tankers. In July 2005, it gained another DND contract (this one worth $2.2 million) that covered the repair and overhaul of 93 military trailers deployed in domestic and foreign operations. According to the company, most trailers were built in the mid-1980s and required new brakes and lighting, decking and refurbishment of cracked surfaces.

During the first decade of the new century, Robica Forman Tank has demonstrated extraordinary stability. Its revenues have reached the $10 million range, leading to an impressive Dunn & Bradstreet credit rating of 3A2, according to the company. Also, in the past five years, it has exceeded a 100-percent increase in sales and production. Now, the company claims a significant portion of the Canadian tank truck market.

Remember the British Invasion of 1964, when English groups transformed the recording industry? Robica is looking to spearhead similar incursion, but within its own industry. “Right now, it’s an investigative process,” says Nothof. “In the meantime, we’re happy with what we’re doing in our domestic market. We’re doing okay.”

That’s got to be one of the first major understatements of the new century. United States competitors, keep your eyes on the northern border. Something big is coming down.

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