Trulite at the end of the tunnel
A great name weathers change and gains the resources to offer a ‘one-stop shop.’
March 21, 2013 By Patrick Flannery AND Colleen Cross
After tumultuous years that saw its U.S. parent, Arch Aluminum, battered
by the U.S. recession then finally bought by an investment house,
Trulite Glass and Aluminum Solutions’ Vaughan, Ont.
After tumultuous years that saw its U.S. parent, Arch Aluminum, battered by the U.S. recession then finally bought by an investment house, Trulite Glass and Aluminum Solutions’ Vaughan, Ont., glass and aluminum fabrication facility looks set to emerge not only as a survivor, but also as one of the jewels in the crown of a new North American glass construction giant. Headed now by a local boy, David McCallen of Kleinburg, Ont., the plant is massively expanding its capabilities and capacity with new lamination and IG lines arriving from former Arch, United and Vitro plants across the continent. The goal, McCallen says, is to turn Vaughan into a “glass supercentre” that will distribute IG units, spandrel, custom printed and laminated glass products all across central and eastern Canada and the eastern United States.
|Gavan Durkin (left) and David McCallen say Trulite’s silk screening capabilities have brought a range of opportunities in the custom and decorative markets. This panel was part of the set for the popular theatre production, Jersey Boys. The plant can also apply and fire ceramic frit. |
When Sun Capital bought Trulite, it bought not only a strong company but also its good name. According to McCallen, who came on board as general manager in January, Trulite, a brand name born in 1975, well known and regarded in the market. In 2010, Trulite was purchased by Florida’s Arch Aluminum, which was subsequently bought by Sun Capital. When Sun Capital acquired the various businesses – Arch, Vitro, United and Trulite – it decided to adopt the Trulite name for the entire business across North America. “We had such a good name for quality and services in the market,” McCallen says.
Sun Capital took possession of Trulite’s Vaughan plant January 2012, continuing to operate the Courtney Park warehouse in Mississauga through to last summer. The company took the full year to begin the migration to start to produce out of the Vaughan plant, he says.
McCallen, whose strengths are in startups and turnarounds, came into his new position via his connection to Sun Capital through his work at Indalex Aluminum Solutions, an aluminum extrusion company and Sun Capital subsidiary.
“I have been in business turnarounds,” he says. “I wouldn’t call this a business turnaround but you look at a different dimension because those businesses essentially doubled in size. Potential to double. That takes some different skill sets.”
|Location: Vaughan, Ont.|
No. of staff: 110
Plant: 153,000 ft2
insulating and spandrel glass with silk screening
Trulite is now the umbrella under which all the glass businesses owned by Sun Capital operate, including the assets of the former Arch Aluminum, United Glass and Vitro Architectural Products. The group is a glass and aluminum fabricating giant, with 29 plants across North America.
That potential to double is no pie in the sky when you consider the massive consolidation Sun Capital has recently undertaken. All of the assets of Arch, Vitro and United are combined under Trulite, and Trulite is owned by Sun Capital, which owns 29 facilities in North America. At least half a dozen plants contributed equipment to the Vaughan plant following the buyout. Some are glass-only plants and some are glass-aluminum plants that have the Trulite aluminum products. The Vaughan plant is a glass-only facility.
“They classify this as one of their glass supercentres,” says McCallen. It’s one of three glass supercentres in North America, and, at 153,000 square feet, this is one of their largest plants in North America. The Courtney Park warehouse was 83,000 square feet. A distribution facility in Vaughan is 40,000 square feet.
The acquisitions have meant significant growth. “We’ve almost doubled the size of the footprint of this fabrication plant,” he says. “We’ve doubled the IG capacity. We’ve doubled the tempering capacity, doubled the cutting capacity and then we’ve added the laminated glass capability. We’ve added the heavy glass fabrication capability.”
McCallen came to Trulite from Sapa Extrusions, the largest aluminum extrusion company in the world. He has spent most of his career to date with Indalex. Indalex was purchased by Sapa in August 2009. “Sapa was the largest market share in North America and I was one of four VP general managers running the business, and I had the Northeast U.S. and Canada business,” he says. “I had plants in the U.S. and Canada.”
Born in Bolton, Ont., he grew up in nearby Mississauga’s Malton area and now lives in Kleinburg, just west of Vaughan.
|Trulite has massively expanded its lamination capacity with a Bilco line and Melco clave brought up from the former Arch plant in Tamarac, Fla. Plant manager Gavan Durkin says the ability to do their own lamination will give Trulite access to new markets.|
McCallen’s trajectory has been gradual and steady. He worked as a planner/expediter for McDonnell Douglas for two years from 1979-81, and in 1981 joined Indalex as a planner/expediter. He graduated from plant manager to vice-president of manufacturing and operations to VP/general manager of the region.
He specialized in aluminum, working for two years in the building envelope side, running Oldcastle’s building envelope division, which used to be the old Fulton windows business.
Having been exposed to new manufacturing techniques, he draws on a background of operations.
“Indalex was a very entrepreneurial business and that’s where Trulite wants their business operated as very entrepreneurial,” he says. “However, having worked for a larger company, I really learned some . . . world-class practices and certainly operational excellence. I’ve worked and travelled all over the world – Europe, South America, Asia.
“But it’s important that we keep that entrepreneurial spirit and really stay close to the customer.”
More and more, that customer is asking for both internal and external products and services. That’s where the new Trulite plant’s shift in market to encompass laminated glass comes in. Traditionally Trulite has been a large-project-based business, McCallem says, but now the company wants to diversify and grow into that daily business as well. The idea is to support both external and internal needs. The plant produces IG units, spandrel silkscreen, laminated glass, gas-filled IG units and fabricated glass up to 20 millimetres. The company recently made a further investment in cutting tables to cut that heavier glass, anything that’s over 15 millimetres or half an inch. “We’re going to sell that capability as well,” he says. “We have a truck that’s making predetermined routes through all the GTA and southern Ontario. That’s really to grow that daily business where, you know, if someone needs three lites, three fabricated lites for shower doors. The shower door market. And then the guys who need one unit, two units, three units.”
Since January, Trulite has been marketing its new capabilities through product capability broadsheets, promoted by e-mail blasts. “We’ve identified not just current accounts but potential customers who buy the products we can now make and we’re getting the broadsheets out to people so they know what our capabilities are. We are making cold calls to more than 650 current and potential customers . . . We’ve been getting really positive response to that,” says McCallen.
Going into the laminated market should not require much of a change in strategy, he notes, because a lot of
people who buy IG from Trulite now will also buy laminated. “Frankly, it’s been a pretty popular response with people” he adds. “They don’t want to have to go one place for external and one place for interior.”
Upon taking the reins, McCallen’s immediate focus has been not changing but stabilizing the business. “The key focus is safety, quality and service. We’ve got to deliver to our customers on-time, quality product, keep our people safe, get them engaged.”
Safety is a priority, and the company, which is unionized under the Steelworkers, wants to get ahead of incidents and fatalities. “You don’t want to get committed to this through something as awful as a fatality. So do it before something terrible happens.”
One of the company’s safety initiatives was to change some of the workers’ personal protective equipment and to drive home the need to wear it at all times. “The first thing we talk about at every single meeting is safety . . . we want you to go home at the end of the day, same condition that you came in. Your families deserve that. And it’s our obligation to keep you safe. And your obligation to keep yourself and your fellow employees safe. So a lot of it is behaviour.
“We’re not measuring – we’re not just keeping track of injuries or incidents or when someone gets hurt. We’re keeping track of incidents.” They pay attention when something happens that could have injured someone, do walks through the plant to identifiy hazards, and focus on what they can improve.
McCallen and his management team use walk-throughs to monitor and maintain quality, a hands-on approach.
He explains: “The team does a daily walk through the plant. So we go by resell, look at what is our performance for prior day in terms of safety, in terms of quality, in terms of service, in terms of cost? We’ve got objectives in each of those areas. What do we actually achieve? If we didn’t achieve our objective, why? How do we support the people making the product to do a better job? How do we help them? What tools do we have to give them? What training? Support? What do they need?
“If we’re above target, what are we doing to make sure we chock the wheel and make sure we are sustainable?”
Beyond being sustainable, the goal for 2013 is to double the plant’s capacity and in doing so significantly increase sales, which is one reason they decided to grow the laminated side. Another is an earlier market study that found there was a need for someone to provide a diversity of products in the market.
“We’ve now got almost a one-stop shop capability. I think customers are interested in that,” he says. “The traditional plan was 75, 80 per cent IG spandrel. I mean, it’s still going to be a significant piece for our business. We see that more in the 65 per cent range. And the growth comes from laminated and the fabricated heavy glass. Heat soak as well.”
McCallen’s experience in China taught him that the Asian industry can compete on quality and confirmed for him the importance of improving service.
“It was a wake-up call in terms of don’t assume they’re just a cost alternative. They can also provide a quality product,” he says. “We need to drive improvement harder in terms of service and quality in North America.
We’ve got to raise our game.
“Frankly we have to drive our costs down too, be more competitive,” he adds, and the secret to driving costs down, he suggests, is not only automation but also “getting people engaged. We’ve got a lot of human capital we’ve got to tap into. We’ve got to get them to bring their brains into the business and help us improve the business.”
Trulite’s future includes the acquisition of a heat soak furnace by early April, which will give the company a wider range of offerings.
“Everybody’s aware of the falling glass we had in the Toronto market last year and a lot of the balcony railing systems went from just tempered glass to heat soak and laminated and, you know, it’s one of the condo balcony railing markets, one we’ve targeted.”
According to McCallen, the company sees an opportunity to fill a growing need that previously could only be filled internationally, through Asia or the United States.
“The architects are looking for larger spans,” says McCallen. “They’re looking for larger spans and I think the more glass and less metal so that plays into our strengths because we can do those larger pieces.”
McCallen anticipates growth also in the number of employees, currently at 110, as the company grows its share in the market.
As they need capacity, they will need to invest in additional cutting lines. He says, “That’s one thing that Sun Capital will do. They want to invest to grow the business. They did that when I was at Indalex and they’ll do that here.”
McCallen sees light at the end of the tunnel after what has been a challenging expansion. For him, accountability is the key: “I think the secret of this business is to do what you say you’re going to do. Make a commitment; fulfil your commitment. Take accountability. That’s what is going to make us successful.”
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