Fifty Years of Quality and Service

O’Brien Installations Limited

For tough-as-nails industries like steel, coal handling, tool and die making, and heavy manufacturing, overhead cranes, commercial doors and loading dock equipment are an absolute necessity. For the past 50 years, companies big and small have depended on O’Brien Installations Limited for top-notch sales, service, and manufacturing.

Offering a wide range of jib and overhead cranes, under-running cranes, top-running cranes, gantry cranes, monorails, lightweight workstation cranes, electric wire hoists, electric chain hoists, crane runway structures and conductor bar systems, O‘Brien Installations continues to offer superior selection and service across Canada, the United States, and internationally through its distributor network.

Formed in 1963, the business has come a very long way since it began as a door company. At the time, founder Hugh O’Brien was working for another company and wanting to set out on his own; he founded O’Brien Installations in Hamilton, Ontario with $1,000 from his mother-in-law, a station wagon, and a toolbox. From installing one-piece garage doors at the beginning, the business grew into providing the manufacture, installation, and materials handling of doors, and rapidly expanded into other areas and additional services.

As the demand for products grew, so did the need for more room, which saw the company relocate to Stoney Creek and create its own facilities in the early ‘70s. In 1974, the business made another significant change when it became a DEMAG dealer, and began installing and manufacturing cranes. Within a few years the crane side of the business was booming, and Hugh’s teenaged son Glen joined the family business.

“I did what every owner’s son does, starting on the shop floor and cleaning the shop,” says Glen O’Brien, whose father introduced him to the company the old-fashioned way: through hard work. That was around 1980, and the younger O’Brien soon gained a wealth of hands-on experience in welding, punching and drilling holes, running the machine shop, installing and wiring doors, and more. Within a few years he moved into cranes and crane services and installations, spearheading projects such as the installation of passenger boarding bridges for Jetway at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Following an evaluation of O’Brien Installations Limited in 2001-2002, Glen used dollar value profits from the business to buy the company from his father, and became President. “That’s how we did the share transfer, and I ended up buying the company from my father with the profits that were generated over the past 10 years,” he says. With his final payment due this year, his father is poised to retire, and Glen will continue as President of the ever-expanding company bearing the family name.

Doors, Cranes and More

Today, O’Brien Installations Limited sells, installs, services, and manufactures a wide range of products, from doors to cranes and more. Depending on a number of factors – such as size and style – cranes are priced from $5,000 to upwards of one to two million dollars. Clients are able to purchase quality cranes designed and built to suit not only their individual needs, but budgets as well. “Cookie-cutter” cranes, such as a five-ton model with a 50-foot span, take about 40 hours to build. The company offers standard double girder 10 ton cranes with a 65-foot span for clients requiring larger models, and there are others which feature special hoist controls, different lifting capacities, digital scales used to weigh items before they are put on trucks, and radio controls around the size of a television remote that can be used to operate a crane.

Glen O’Brien isn’t the type of company President to sit behind a desk and wait for calls and emails. As a master electrician, he is regularly out in the field, visiting clients and working with them to ensure everything operates perfectly. “I’m the guy out there making sure it works,” he says. “I felt O’Brien Installations would be my company one day, and knew I could find people to run it but not to do it right; so I went out and learned how to do it right.”

Since the time Glen joined the family-run business, O’Brien Installations has aligned itself with a number of companies. In the 1980s, the company signed a licensing agreement with German crane maker Vetter Krantechnik to market and build jib cranes through North America. In the ‘90s, O’Brien Installations acquired Omni Material Handling of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In the 2000s, as the company continued to grow through its dealer networks across Canada and the United States; the business relocated to a larger facility in Burlington, Ontario, opened a sales and service facility in Quebec, and struck a partnership agreement with the United Kingdom’s Street Crane Co. to create “O’Brien” Overhead Cranes complete with Street Hoist products. The evolution of the company continues, as 2011 saw O’Brien Installations partner with MET-TRACK® to offer the Workstation Bridge and Jib Crane exclusively across Canada and parts of the U.S.

Today, O’Brien Installations has grown to a company of 90 staff across three divisions, with a with a sales, service and manufacturing facility in Burlington, Ontario, a sales / service office in Quebec City, and a sales, service and manufacturing facility in Memramcook, New Brunswick. The sole distributor for Vetter in North America, O’Brien products are sold not only in North America but beyond, including through a dealer in the U.S. who distributes to Saudi Arabia. “Our product ends up worldwide through our dealer network,” comments Glen of the company, which also sees cranes, jibs and other products sold through its dealer network to Australia and Brazil.

One-Stop Service

Truly a one-stop shop for customers, O’Brien Installations offers a host of products and services to its clients, including door installation, crane installation, manufacturing, and door and crane service, along with maintenance, inspections, shut-down service, and more. With dozens of employees, the company is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with 25 crane service trucks, three door service trucks, and staff in the office coordinating dispatches. From design to installation, service to maintenance, O’Brien Installations is able to provide all customers with competitively-priced, total packaged solutions. By receiving total solutions from one company instead of dealing with multiple vendors, O’Brien customers can focus on what is most important: growing their own businesses.

In addition to manufacturing, the company installs and services under-running cranes, top-running cranes, gantry cranes, monorails, lightweight workstation cranes, electric wire hoists, electric chain hoists, crane runway structures and conductor bar systems. With professional engineers capable of designing material handling equipment to suit customer-specific requirements, O’Brien Installations stocks the largest inventory of spare parts in Ontario, and offers parts for all major brands of overhead cranes, hoists, industrial doors and dock equipment.
“I look at our company as almost five businesses under one roof,” says Glen. Making the move to Burlington three years ago, the company’s manufacturing capacity is now at an enormous 40,000 square feet. Despite the fact that it is two and a half times larger than the previous structure, Glen says the company is already outgrowing its new surroundings. “This facility is making do and will serve our purpose for building cranes, but our product is so much more than making cranes.”

At present, the company offers seven different models of jib cranes in a number of sizes. In the Street line, customers can choose from a variety of cranes in a range from 10 feet to 110 feet long, from 1,000 pounds to 150 tons. “So there’s a huge range of products there that we build, along with MET-TRACK®, which is one of the best lightweight workstation crane packages.”

Along with half a century in business and a solid reputation, O’Brien Installations Limited is affiliated and certified with a number of organizations, such as the Electrical Safety Authority, the Canadian Welding Bureau, and is a member of the Toronto Construction Association, the Hamilton-Halton Construction Association, the Niagara Construction Association, and the International Door Association.

Constantly Innovating

Known across Canada, O’Brien Installations continues to grow and evolve. Glen credits much of the company’s success over the years to his father, Hugh, who discovered companies such as U.K.’s Street while attending the Hanover Fair in Germany some years ago. “He was looking for something, and as the entrepreneur that he is, he saw this company and their products, thought it was somebody he’d be interested in working with, and we’ve developed a really great business relationship with them, bringing their product across the pond, manufacturing it, installing it, and we haven’t looked back,” comments Glen. As a family-owned business, Glen O’Brien has a number of relatives working at the company, and believes in giving family members of existing employees a chance, treating everyone with respect.

“We are very grassroots here,” he says. “A lot of our staff don’t want to work at some big automobile manufacturer where you’re more of a number. Life happens, and being a family business, I tend to be flexible because I have a family, and one day, I intend to have my kids working here.” It is proving to be a formula for lasting success.

July 17, 2018, 7:19 AM EDT

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