Case Studies

Thermo-Dynamics International Inc.

Leveraging technology to improve the insulation industry

Mike Robbins founded Thermo-Dynamics International Inc. (TDI) in 1998 after working several years for another insulation business and some unkempt promises. “I realized that this wasn’t going to work, so I decided I was going to go out and do it on my own,” Robbins recalls. “I found a partner who could manage the labor aspect of the business while I ran the back end. During the day I worked as a roofer with my father so we could afford to pay our employees. I’d call in bids on my coffee and lunch breaks; take drawings home at night and moonlight to get these jobs finished up.”

Robbins became the company’s sole owner in 2002 when he bought out his partner. Today he continues to serve as company president, working with between 38 and 75 employees throughout the office and the field. From a single location in Amesbury, Mass., TDI serves a growing market of general contractors, mechanical contractors and plumbing contractors throughout New England. While the team’s work is heavily concentrated in and around Boston, crews will travel for specialty projects throughout surrounding states.

A growing market

“We get involved with all aspects of the insulation field,” Robbins explains. “We usually get called in to problem solve on projects. If the contractor and/or owner has an issue where they aren’t sure what type of insulation to use for an area or system, or they have condensation issues, I help educate their engineers so they can make the correct decisions. I don’t design these projects myself, but I use my expertise to help the customers understand the types of insulation and best insulation solution for the given set of circumstances. We try to design different types of systems to solve problems, and we let the professional engineers of record take the credit.”

TDI serves a broad range of clients, though Robbins has a target market he hopes to better infiltrate in the coming years. He hopes to take on more bio-pharmaceutical, cold storage and liquid natural gas work. “That is where we really want to be,” he elaborates. “We used to do a lot of it when we were a non-union open shop. When we became union in 2003, those jobs became fewer and farther between because of the cost associated with union labor. We have more opportunities now coming our way and we are aligning our marketing goals with that sector.”

The team has been involved in a number of recent construction projects. TDI worked on the new Vertex Pharmaceuticals facility in Boston’s Seaport District. “We worked on building A there and performed the mechanical insulation in the building for the mechanical contractor,” Robbins details.

For the job, TDI had a contract with CP Blouin. “CP Blouin is actually a sheet metal contractor, but they were one of the only mechanical contractors that could get bonded for the job,” he continues. “Our portion of the work was a $2 million contract, which is not too huge, but a pretty good size for us.”

One of the most memorable recent projects for Robbins was the team’s work at Guilmette School in Lawrence, Mass. “The building was about 10 years old and had serious condensation issues,” he recounts. “They had to close down for multiple days and months at different times for the last three years prior to us coming in and doing the project. Finally, they were able to get enough money to design the project and to put it out to bid. We teamed up with Wes Construction and Murphy Specialties on this $3.5 million project. We came in and completed it in one month and our portion of the work was around $1 million.”

Of course, nothing worth it is ever easy. “We went and looked at the different piping there to see how much room we had, and realized in some instances, we couldn’t get the insulation thickness required under the specification because there was not enough room,” Robbins continues. “We researched and came up with a different type of insulation to use that would accomplish the desired insulation value and get the job done. We helped the engineer with that project. The cost was phenomenal, but they weren’t going to move pipes and the walls to allow for the specified insulation thickness. This was a public school, hence a public bid, but no one wanted to bid on it because there were too many things that could go wrong. Those difficult jobs are the ones we like.”

Looking ahead

The economic downturn hit TDI hard as the construction industry across the country took a nosedive. “We did not maintain our workflow,” Robbins recalls. “Fortunately, it did not last as long for us as it did for other sectors and businesses. We have diverse capabilities, so we were able to offer a wider range of services. Things are turning around now, but the profit margins have not picked up. Our relationships with our customers have helped us stay steady, but it has been difficult.”

Despite the challenges, TDI is growing. In 2012, the company purchased a new office location in Amesbury. The next year, Robbins and his team had the building renovated and moved in December 2013. On a 1 acre lot, the business has room to grow when the time comes.

In the coming years, Robbins and his team are maintaining a focus on growth into new sectors. With a strong portfolio and a record for safety and quality service, the business should have little trouble attracting new work from bio-pharmaceutical, cold storage and liquid gas projects. Thermo-Dynamics International Inc. continues to make headway in the industry by providing innovative insulation solutions throughout New England.

Published on: March 25, 2015

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