Ramsay Machine Works is building another industrial monster, and this one's a bright teal colour and in the open for everyone to see.
The Sidney-based manufacturer started to roll out a 1,500-tonne coal stackerreclaimer on airport land near its shop along MacDonald Park Road, where more than 50 workers will begin assembling the $20-million machine.
The stacker-reclaimer, looking not unlike a giant Transformer toy, will eventually rise to 30.5 metres and stretch 107 metres in length when completed over the coming months. After making sure everything fits - including a massive bearing system to within five onehundredths of an inch - the company will take the main sections apart and prepare it for transport to North Vancouver, probably in March.
The stacker-reclaimer is being built for Neptune Terminals and will be used to handle coal from Teck Resources operations in B.C. for export to overseas markets. The machine will eventually be transported down the main runway at Victoria International Airport and onto a barge at Pat Bay, where it will sail to the mainland to be installed in North Vancouver.
The stacker-reclaimer will move coal between stockpiles and vessels bound for Asia. Teck is a major shareholder in Neptune Terminal, which is undergoing a $65-million upgrade.
The contract win for the stacker-reclaimer, designed by EMS Tech of Belleville, Ont., meant more than a year's work and 20 new jobs at Ramsay, a 109-year-old Victoria company. Since late last year, it has also produced spinoff work for several local contractors, said president Greg Ramsay.
"It's not our biggest project, but it's up there," said Ramsay, citing a shiploader two years ago also bound for Vancouver that was even larger. "It really turns a lot of heads when we get one of these things out on the airport lands near the highway. People must wonder what the heck these things are when they drive by."
Ramsay said the company has a 25-year lease agreement with the Victoria Airport Authority to use land for larger projects and have access to the main runway to transport major pieces to the Pat Bay marine terminal.
The provincial government said steelmaking coal exports to China have increased to 4.4 million tonnes from 140,000 tonnes over the past four years. It said the increase is in part due to B.C.'s ability to ship coal efficiently, and Neptune's investment is a sign that will improve.
The new stackerreclaimer equipment and other upgrades are expected to increase coal handling capacity at Neptune to 12.5 million tonnes per year from nine million tonnes. Teck Resources is also expanding its steelmaking coal production in B.C. to meet global demand.
Ramsay, 60, said the company is an active bidder on projects globally, but admitted he is hamstrung by U.S. federal projects, which by law can only go to American firms. The same does not apply in Canada, where U.S. firms often bid on Canadian projects.
Companies are also using offshore markets to build major machines because labour is so cheap. Ramsay expressed dismay at Friday's announcement by businessman David Black, who is proposing to build a $13-billion oil refinery near Kitimat. Black said most of the refinery pieces would be manufactured in Asia to contain capital costs and make the project viable.
"In China, they pay $1 an hour. Here, the base wage is $30 an hour," said Ramsay.
"It's pretty tough to compete with that. I think the provincial government has to start offering some sort of incentives for companies to build locally or our manufacturing industry is going to disappear completely."
Ramsay hopes the federal government's $35-billion shipbuilding program in the next several decades will provide spinoff work.
"We are pursuing that. It's about figuring out how we can fit in and what we can offer," he said.
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