O’Brien Installations Limited: Opening Doors for Materials Handlers

O’Brien Installations Limited (O’Brien’s) started out as a very different company than it is today. Hugh O’Brien, CEO and founder of the company, explains, “We started out in the 1960s when the very important technology of steel residential garage doors came around. We haven’t abandoned the door business at all. Our industrial door business is still very much alive. We still sell a significant number of them every year. We’re probably one of the biggest non-manufacturing dealers of these doors in Canada, but our primary focus right now is to expand the crane manufacturing operations.”

Almost 50 years later, the company still sells dock/door equipment but primarily focuses on manufacturing overhead lifting equipment (including overhead cranes, jib cranes, hoists, lightrail systems, lifting beams, remote controls and more) for industrial and commercial clients. O’Brien’s concentrates on providing fast, individual response to standard and custom job requirements on both new construction, modernization/relocation and repair projects for clients in a variety of industries, including paper mills, steel mills, auto parts manufacturers, power generation stations, fabrication, foundries, recycling and in the aerospace industry.

Hugh O’Brien recalls the company’s evolution since its founding in 1963: “There were a lot of recession times along the way, so I had to keep looking for ways to get work. After a few years mostly installing overhead steel garage doors, I got involved in distributing and installing for a company in the northern parts of Ontario and started working with an employee there who eventually persuaded me to get into the crane business in 1970. By that time we were distributing mostly one brand of equipment, but the manufacturing company was sold and restructured so many times that it became hard for us to fit into their structure, so about 12 years ago we dropped out of that program and started our own crane manufacturing company.”

From a central plant in Burlington, Ontario, and several sales and service branches throughout the province and in Quebec and the Maritimes, O’Brien’s designs, engineers, manufactures, installs and services cranes for customers throughout Canada and the United States. O’Brien’s maintains certification by the Canadian Welding Bureau, and holds membership in associations such as the Crane & Hoist Service Association, Grand Valley Construction Association, Toronto Construction Association and Hamilton Construction Association, among others. With over almost 50 years of experience, O’Brien’s has built up a supply chain that assures the company can deliver quality products, installation experience and its commitment to lasting customer satisfaction.

Only the Best

“We partnered up with Street Crane, just outside of Manchester in the UK. Street produces our gear boxes, drive motors and hoisting equipment because it’s just not economically possible for us to machine and manufacture those parts for the volume of cranes we sell, which these days is around 200 to 300 cranes a year,” Hugh O’Brien explains. He notes that O’Brien’s also has a licensing agreement with a German company to produce a special type of jib crane, which is a free-standing column with a rotating mast to hoist boats or objects in factories. Additionally, O’Brien’s is one of the biggest stockers of crane parts in Canada, as well as one of the biggest crane servicing companies, because O’Brien’s offers so many different types of cranes.

With strategic partnerships in place and a well-established reputation for reliable service, the firm’s sales and service volume has increased over the past years despite the slowed economy. “We have been very fortunate to be as knowledgeable and skilled as we are in the past few years, which made us qualified enough to be a part of some of the major infrastructural development the government undertook recently,” Hugh O’Brien explains. “We were even able to pick up some really amazing employees who were let go by some of our biggest competing companies.”

Bigger and Better

Hugh O’Brien notes another opportunity provided by the slowed economy, explaining, “A local steel plate manufacturer was forced to close their doors, so their manufacturing facility went up for sale. Originally, the building was built and occupied by one of our major competitors. They had built the manufacturing facility in the late 1980s at 40,000 square feet, which it turns out, is just the right size for us.”

Though O’Brien’s just celebrated the grand opening of its new manufacturing plant, the firm doesn’t plan on missing a beat and has big plans for the continued development of the company. “We are currently working on developing a special crane for Dofasco at its Hamilton metal shop. It will be a special crane with an 82-foot span and about 40-feet tall, a Class D crane that will handle the ladles they use for the hot steel,” Hugh O’Brien says. “Aside from that, we just hired a new marketing specialist, and we will be aggressively marketing ourselves to the western Canadian markets. Our five-year plan is to grow to $30 million in annual revenue.

“I’ve been trying to retire, but I haven’t been successful yet,” continues Hugh O’Brien, laughing. “But I love what I do, so it’s not so bad.” Indeed, the future of the company does not look bad at all. With a team of elite engineers and welders in the O’Brien’s family, adding to a sterling reputation for quality in the industry, the sky is the limit for O’Brien Installations Limited.