I was recently asked to share the history of Thermogenics – a simple enough task given that I’ve been with the Company for more than 30 years. As I started recounting some of the milestones, I was reminded that our Company’s history is truly a great story and something I’m very proud to be a part of.
Back in the early 1970’s, building large-scale steam boilers had one major challenge – once manufactured, the equipment required constant attendance while operating. As such, each boiler was legally required to have an operating engineer physically present to monitor the boiler. This was a risk mitigation strategy to ensure the building and other staff were protected from the possibility of any catastrophic boiler failure(s) however, occupied a skilled resource whose time could have otherwise been spent more effectively elsewhere in the operations.
A solution to this challenge came in the form of new, low volume, coil-tube boilers which, by definition, held less water content and had a much smaller footprint. These specific features, amongst others, were communicated by the original founder of Thermogenics during a successful case presentation to government officials. The thesis was that coil-tube boilers were indeed safe enough on their stand-alone basis of design and therefore, do not require constant monitoring by operating engineers.
In fact, regulatory agency tests later revealed just how little water was in a Thermocoil, showing that the operating water content for the boilers was actually lower than the published amount of 40 Imperial gallons. For example, the 350HP Thermocoil boiler only required 26.6 gallons of operating water content, a small fraction of what the older design, pre-coil conventional boilers required.
Thermogenics as a Company was originally established in 1975 as a customer-first, service-based business that provided maintenance and repair services for the growing installed base of coil-tube boilers. In 1980 however, the Company was convinced they could also manufacture a high quality boiler product of their own. The Company envisioned a more efficient boiler with a smaller footprint and a product that required less service calls; this resulted in the development of the Company’s first "Thermocoil" design.
In September of 1982, Thermogenics shipped the first new Thermocoil boilers to a rubber manufacturer, a leading supplier of NHL hockey pucks. That shipment began a new chapter in Thermogenics’ story and the Company officially bolstered its boiler service business to include boiler design, manufacture and sale. The appetite for coil-tube boilers continued to grow, as more commercial institutions looked to Thermogenics for reliable, high-quality boilers that also presented opportunity to re-assign skilled operating engineers elsewhere in the plant operations.
Thermocoil boilers proved to be very reliable from their first designs. In fact, that first Thermocoil boiler is still in operation today. We installed the boiler here in Toronto where it produced steam for 20 years at a rubber manufacturing facility before being sold as used equipment to a company in the UK where it now operates in a steel mill – we learned that Thermocoil’s have a strong shelf life and travel well!
The rubber manufacturer’s application, amongst a number of other boiler projects, provided proof of concept and set the Company up well to be successful in bidding on and designing solutions for some higher profile customers in the early 1980s.
Specifically, in 1984, Thermogenics expanded its operations with a major contract award. The Canadian Navy commissioned the Company in a joint, design-build venture with a UK-based manufacturer – the mandate was to build a large number of boilers to outfit their new frigate program.
This notable milestone was followed by another major contract to re-build and service VIA Rail’s steam generators. For context, in the days of steam locomotives, VIA used excess steam to heat their trains’ passenger cars. After switching to diesel locomotives, VIA built dedicated steam cars housed with boiler equipment to heat the passenger cars. The contract secured by Thermogenics was to overhaul and repair all of VIA’s steam equipment on its trains.
Both projects were big wins for the Company.
These major contracts ushered in an era of rapid expansion for Thermogenics. In 1987, the Company built a new, dedicated facility in Aurora, Ontario, Canada running 24/7 to support the VIA contract along with additional equipment orders.
This was also the time when I joined Thermogenics.
In 1988, I was the OEM sales representative for an industry-leading boiler pump company but found myself looking for a new challenge. At the time, I was regularly selling pumps to Thermogenics and as such, had the opportunity to witness, first hand, some of this aforementioned business expansion and customer growth. The Company seemed to be offering exactly what I’d been looking for and as such, I joined their growing team and never looked back.
Soon after, in 1993, Thermogenics ended up acquiring my former employer’s pump business. With this acquisition and the development the Company’s our own deaerator, Thermogenics was now officially a one-stop-shop to supply everything required in the boiler room.
In 1996, Thermogenics shifted focus onto an additional acquisition only this time, a larger, Quebec-based boiler company. Integrating and operating this newly acquired business ended up creating challenges for Thermogenics and our leadership team. The Company had just absorbed a large, new boiler company in a different jurisdiction with its own operating priorities and different customer clientele – we had our hands full for a period of time!
Around this same period, our customer VIA had transitioned to electric heat which caused the existing contract to end. To offset this loss, Thermogenics set sights on growing its customer base in the United States. This was achieved primarily by following our Canadian customers as they expanded south of the border and supporting requests for Thermogenics equipment at their US-based facilities. We responded to this need and, since 1996, have consistently grown our North American installed base.
In 2002, a partner and I successfully acquired the Company from the existing owner. We (and our customers) were confident in the skill of Thermogenics’ people and the quality of Thermogenics’ equipment. Our goal was to see Thermogenics reach its true potential by creating a newly re-focused Company, serving both US and Canadian markets directly.
We got to work almost immediately and were rewarded for our efforts. New customers, orders and contracts were flowing, especially in the US market. For example, in 2004, we secured a large hospital contract in the state of Ohio to replace 14 existing boilers with 4 high-quality Thermogenics boilers. This new equipment would significantly reduce the footprint required in the mechanical room and further, drastically reduce maintenance costs with the steam efficiency of the boilers – the features of the Thermocoil were proving to be attractive across a variety of applications.
In the late 2000s, Thermogenics continued its R&D efforts and developed a unique, one-of-a-kind rental steam boiler solution. Due to the smaller footprint of Thermogenics’ equipment, we were able to fit a 500HP Thermocoil boiler into a standard shipping container, rentable for any purpose where customers might need temporary steam or hot water (e.g. plant shutdowns, boiler backups).
In 2012, we took another step forward using the concept from the rental units and developed a new design of Thermocoil boilers, custom-made for these containerized applications. We ended up supplying several of these units to the power generation industry and continue to support that market today.
As Thermogenics continued expansion into the U.S. – this time with the sale of 15+ 600HP boilers to University campuses – the Company was working in parallel to expand its global reach outside of North America. In 2009, Thermogenics was successfully contracted to produce a pair of 50 million BTU/hr 2,850psi boilers for an energy project in South America. Not without some complicated shipping logistics, the boilers were eventually prepared for ocean travel on a barge before arriving at the customer site. This was a successful project for the Company and proved Thermogenics was able to service complex, international boiler requirements.
Thermogenics’ reputation was growing, particularly in the U.S. energy belt, and as such, service requests began to originate from valve testing facilities. Valve test companies use specialized steam boilers to provide valve fleet testing services to the Oil & Gas sector and play a key role in quality assurance and compliance. The industry needs to maintain its equipment at a high standard and as such, it was a perfect fit for Thermogenics’ skilled, factory-trained service technicians to service these specialized boilers.
Today, for valve test operations (and for all our customers), we continue the practice of focusing on our customers’ operational objectives. We can repair or maintain an existing boiler, provide an interim rental solution, or build a new, coil-tube boiler to suit specific needs. For us, it’s more about delivering the right solution for the customer’s operations and budget, which is much easier to do when you can “cover all the bases”. Our full portfolio of boiler equipment, parts and service solutions position Thermogenics well to fulfill any steam, hot water or thermal fluid requirements our customers may have.
The continued development of the Company and our successful efforts to renew focus on Thermogenics’ core business prompted some preliminary succession planning to ensure the Company was well positioned to continue its growth in the future. In 2015, we began to seek new partners for the business.
Due to Thermogenics’ industry-leading reputation and recent successes, numerous interested parties presented themselves and in 2016, Ironbridge Equity Partners became part of the Thermogenics family.
Today, we operate under a culture of continuous improvement and remain focused on delivering the highest quality offerings (across all business lines) to our customers. All of this, while growing and developing our team in pursuit of a strategy to expand both our boiler equipment and service business in North America.
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