For decades, Tioga HVAC Rentals & Sales (formerly Tioga Air Heaters) has designed and manufactured industrial heaters to warm work sites operating under brutal weather conditions. Tioga’s heaters can be found across North America as well as Russia, South America, Poland, and Kazakhstan, among other locales.
Tioga heaters “have a reputation for being very robust, especially in very harsh (cold) climates,” states Vice President of Operations Kevin Herber.
Tioga rents and sells equipment to clients in construction, oil and gas, infrastructure, agriculture, power generation, academic, government, pipeline, painting/coating, food and beverage, medical, mining, manufacturing and processing/refinery sectors.
Of these markets, “construction and infrastructure are two of our larger rental markets,” says Vice President Greg Gundrum.
“We serve a wide variety of markets and applications utilizing a broad product portfolio ranging from small, direct fired tube style and concealed flame heaters to Tioga’s large, indirect fired 4,200,000 BTU/hr heaters. We design, build, rent and sell these units. We are one of a limited number of companies who have the capabilities and expertise to do build the larger style heaters, including custom build units we sell to end users tailored for their specific application,” says Gundrum.
In 2015, Tioga acquired two firms, Mobile Air and Reliable Construction Heaters and changed its name to Tioga HVAC Rentals & Sales to reflect a broadened product portfolio. Now, through the acquisition, Tioga has dramatically expanded its product line and wants to build on its sterling reputation with heaters to include the entire HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) segment.
“Tioga, a few years ago, was primarily heating and some dehumidification. The Mobile Air and Reliable acquisitions allow us to serve many of our customers year-round with the expanded product offering of air conditioning and dehumidification equipment,” explains Gundrum. The new name also affirmed existing business practices, he says. “Our business is predominantly renting equipment, with equipment sales to end users.”
The company was founded in 1961 in Tioga, North Dakota. Its original focus to provide heaters for oil and gas drilling rigs in that state, which features frigid winters. The company was initially known as Tioga Air Heaters but moved into other markets, providing heaters for construction sites, mines and power plants and relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“Tioga’s main focus today is providing climate control solutions to our customers, right the first time,” says Gundrum. New markets include hospitals, mechanical contractors, property managers, and IT rooms where air conditioning keeps machinery from overheating.
With the addition of Mobile Air and Reliable, Tioga now has fifteen locations across the United States to serve customers. These locations have sales and operations management and a stock of inventory. Larger equipment is typically stored and refurbished in Minnesota locations and shipped to the customer site.
“Some of the mines we do business with are in remote locations and stay on site for multiple seasons. We will arrange to freight the units to site and in some extreme remote locations, have the equipment airlifted to their final destination,” says Gundrum.
“Our indirect fired IDF-21 heater is our largest and heaviest piece of equipment. It weighs 19,500 pounds and produces 4.2 million BTU/hr with 21,000 CFM [cubic feet per minute],” notes Herber to give a sense of scale.
Thanks to its recent acquisitions, Tioga’s total personnel has reached over one hundred employees including sales, operations, service technicians, and management, says Gundrum.
Revenues are rising too. Tioga made Rental Equipment Register (RER) magazine’s most recent top one hundred list of leading North American rental companies landing the #72 spot registering $29.1 million in rental revenue in 2015.
Tioga has been involved in some mammoth projects, including the construction of the new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Concrete cannot be allowed to freeze as it cures.
“We provided temporary heat for column and deck pours [at the U.S. Bank Stadium] through the first winter along with twenty million BTUs of large direct-fired heaters for heating several large spaces. Total BTUs of temporary heat came to eighty-three million on this project,” states Herber.
Tioga heaters were also used on a new hydro dam construction project in British Columbia. Its equipment “provided 8.5 million BTUs and 42,000 CFM of heated air from our large IDF-21 [indirect fired] heaters to ventilate a tunnel. We provided special controls that interfaced with CO [carbon monoxide] detection in the tunnel that would shut the heaters down if a release exceeded a threshold setting,” says Herber.
Tioga provided a solution for a customer in Siberia looking to winterize two large oil rigs. The client wanted the ability to use either diesel or crude oil with their equipment. The crude oil the customer had in mind was being pumped by the very rigs Tioga was winterizing. Any oil collected on-site was likely to be very cold and very thick.
This posed a problem. “To be able to burn any type of oil must be of the correct viscosity, properly atomize and deliver the correct volume to the burner gun [on the heater]” explains Herber.
As a solution, Tioga relied on an IDF-11-DHO heater with an onboard tank. The tank had to be heated in a way that would raise the crude oil temperature by 130 degrees F in a given period.
“Fuel was designed to be pulled from this tank through a volumetric pump that moves the fuel by volume, regardless of viscosity, to the fuel delivery system for the burner. There was a second in-line heater that was added to increase the temperature another 100 degrees and an air compressor was added for better atomization of the oil molecules to ensure good combustion,” says Herber.
Tioga has some new products on the market, including a self-contained, indirect fired, portable heater called the IDF-5 SCO. This heater produces 33 percent more BTUs and 66 percent more CFM than the previous IDF-3 SCO model. The IDF-5 SCO is 96 inches x 185 inches x 102 inches while the IDF-3 SCO is 98 inches x 168 inches x 101 inches.
“We conducted numerous Voice of the Customer interviews and our customers shared they were looking for a reliable, portable, indirect fired heater with more output than our very popular IDF-3 SCO. We listened to their feedback, designed a larger more efficient unit, and added the IDF-5 SCO to our fleet. We’ve had great feedback on its performance. Everything we build for our rental fleet or for sale is designed to work in harsh environments. Over the years, we have supplied several hundred IDF-3 SCOs to customers operating on Alaska’s North Slope, which is one of the world’s most harsh environments. We offer those same components and design to equipment in our rental fleet, which is why our reputation of providing reliable, easy-to-use heating equipment is very strong,” says Gundrum.
Given that its products are often used on worksites for years under terrible weather conditions, Tioga equipment has to be both tough and user-friendly. To meet such high standards, Tioga’s manufactured products go through a rigorous quality assurance process.
This process “begins with a review of the order with design, materials and manufacturing. Suppliers that fabricate Tioga designed components are visited throughout their build cycle to verify components are built to print. Heater weldments are inspected at suppliers’ sites before shipment and inspected at receiving. All purchased components are reviewed. A copy of the order and drawing package is given to production along with the BOM (bill of materials) and any special instructions. There are in-process checks and a review when the assembly has finished. Any corrections are made by the individuals who built the equipment,” says Herber.
Multiple tests and a visual inspection are done before a unit it released for rent or sale, along with a final review by one of our engineers, he adds.
This arduous process produces quality goods that are easy to operate. Gundrum notes, “Last season, over 96 percent of our service calls were answered over the phone, and the heater is up and running again in a couple of minutes.” The company’s service calls are all on the rental side of the business, with 83 percent of calls being related to the job site. Of the remaining 17 percent, the company tracked its ability to service 96 percent of them over the phone, with the units up and running in minutes.
Tioga equipment is also safe to use: “Tioga is a CSA certified testing facility. All of our manufactured products have been third-party tested and approved to various ANSI, UL, and other standards by CSA,” says Herber.
Gundrum describes Tioga’s corporate culture as “very engaging. We’re a flat organization with an open door policy. We are also an innovative company with a great deal of pride in our products and service. Our goal is understand the application and provide the best climate control solution to our customer. Many of our customers share they turn to Tioga for their heating needs because of our reliable equipment and service, which is a great testimony to the team and their efforts. We have a great deal of tenure on the team; some guys that have been with the company thirty to forty years.”
Company promotion is done on several fronts. “In the U.S., we have twenty-one HVAC specialists whose job it is to visit customer locations, understand the application, develop a solution utilizing our vast product portfolio, and provide customer-friendly rental options,” says Gundrum. In addition, Tioga exhibits at multiple trade shows and advertises in magazines. “Our new company website also generates a good number of leads for us,” he notes.
Tioga is expanding into new markets, such as transportation and renewable energy. In the future, Gundrum would like to expand its local presence by opening more offices throughout North America and developing a dealer network in targeted international countries.
While the company continues to explore growth opportunities, “I believe we have considerable opportunities to expand our product offering within the HVAC realm,” continues Gundrum.
“We will continue to grow as an HVAC rental supplier, adding new Tioga manufactured AC, filtration, ventilation and obviously heating equipment into our product offering. These additional products will support Tioga as being a leader and preferred supplier of industrial HVAC equipment to the industrial markets we serve,” echoes Herber.
Regardless of Tioga’s future direction, the company remains committed to its products. “We build reliable, robust, easy to operate, low maintenance equipment,” notes Gundrum. “The team does a great job refurbishing our rental fleet each year to operate as close to like new condition, and many of our sold units have been functioning on customer locations for 10 to 20 plus years.” Which, of course, is exactly what Tioga’s customers, laboring on worksites in bad weather, want to hear.