Building giant device bolsters firm’s reputation for manufacturing prowess

The massive coal stacker-reclaimer being put through its paces this week at Point Hope Shipyard is as much an advertisement for Victoria manufacturer United Engineering as it is a promise of what the region is capable of, if it protects its industrial land.

That’s the message from the Ralmax Group, as it tests the stacker-reclaimer before handing it over to EMS-Technology to be used at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.

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Ian Maxwell, founder of the Ralmax Group, which includes United Engineering, said the signature project was only possible because of the company’s industrial land with access to the water. “This shows how important those lands and the transportation route is,” he said.

The company would not have been in the running to bid on the project without access to the water or flat industrial land where it could be assembled and tested before being shipped to the customer.

A concrete foundation was poured at the north end of Ralmax’s Point Hope Shipyard last year to be used for that reason.

Maxwell, who has advocated for an industrial land protection strategy like the agricultural land reserve, said he hopes the sheer economic impact of this project hits home with the region’s politicians.

The 231-tonne machine, which will sling and stack coal, was built over the last 18 months and required more than 72,000 direct labour hours at United for and more than 50 local suppliers — basically 105 full-time jobs over the last year and a half.

Ralmax estimates the total economic impact of the project to be $23.6 million.

Sage Berryman, chief executive at Ralmax, said the project is a large, tangible example of the importance of access to marine space, and the need to preserve industrial land along the water.

The project also means a huge boost to United’s profile as a manufacturing player on Canada’s west coast, said Dave Bukovec, general manager of United.

“We have an appetite for [projects like this] now,” he said, noting because of the stacker-reclaimer contract they have booked three massive new jobs that will keep the shop busy for the next few years.

“We added staff, gained experience, recognition and some confidence to take on these projects,” he said. They now have a year and half backlog of work.

United is working on mooring dolphins to be used as part of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, has booked a piece of equipment for a U.S. refinery and has a structural steel contract with the University of Victoria.

Testing started on the stacker-reclaimer this week with clean-up scheduled for next weekend when it will be turned over to the transportation and installation crew. While dates can change, it is expected the machine will leave for Vancouver by mid August and be installed and up to speed by Oct.1.

The machine is massive. It stands 30 metres tall with a 47-metre boom. It’s so tall, Transport Canada will require a navigation light on the top.

Its three main components — slew bed or main body, frame and gantry, the platform that will move at the terminal — weigh a combined 231 tonnes.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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