Mid-February brought a little excitement because I escaped the Ottawa winter weather for a tour of the TMI Air Handler factory in Montreal Quebec. A recent project with NRC called for “better than your average” air handlers and TMI’s products fit the bill. Of course the weather in Montreal proved to be just as nasty as in Ottawa, but this was offset by my travelling companions. It was pleasing to make the journey in a brand new Ford F-150, big enough to tower over most vehicles foolish enough to come near. After a quick lunch on arrival in Montreal, we headed to the factory, where we were greeted by the top man for a background chat on TMI and its goals.
The factory itself is not very exciting from the outside, but the Meeting Room was delightful. After a very informative discussion on air handler manufacturing and background history (during which I did my best to ask many probing questions), we headed onto the main factory floor. It can best be described as cavernous. We were struck by the overall cleanliness of the working environment, and general lack of noise. I am currently reading the excellent “Arsenal of Democracy” by A.J. Baime, which recounts how the US retooled the automobile industry to produce military equipment during WW2. The efforts by the Ford Motor Company are well detailed, particularly the building of “Willow Run” – an enormous factory where they planned to build one B-24 Liberator bomber every hour, much like they were building cars. By all accounts it was a very dangerous and LOUD facility with huge metal presses and similar. The TMI factory is a far-better place!
I wandered about the factory generally impressed by what I saw – large computer-controlled machines, most of them from Italy. On the second photo above you can see a tower that has multiple levels for steel sheets of various gauges, and the computer simply grabs whatever sheet type is required and moves it to the cutter. I was reminded of how tailors cut out patterns, lay them on fabric and cut out the pieces – this is all done automatically by these machines and with as little waste as possible.
That large unit with the red doors is not an air handler, it is one of their spray booths, here looking rather like Battersea Power Station. Also I was a little amused by how the row of Plug Fan sections look like front-loading washing machines, which they assured me were not offered by TMI. I guess the engineering would be similar just the same. I was struck by how much planning it would require to setup a factory like this, there are so many stages in manufacture, leading finally towards large exit doors for shipping. I was also a little struck by how the factory differed from the Willow Run concept of assembly line manufacture, with more hands-on manual tasks than I expected.
The visit lasted about three hours, which went by fast because I was actually learning stuff. After a quick hotel check-in, we rounded out the day with an unforgettable 7-course dinner at Cafe Bonaparte in Old Montreal. I give my thanks to Master Group Ottawa for kindly including me on this trip. Did anything else happen on the trip you may ask? Possibly yes, but we all know that TMI actually stands for Too Much Information – and that would be telling.