The nuts and bolts of this Sudbury-based mining supply business are .nuts and bolts, but miners across Canada and elsewhere in the world know it for its high-quality, specially designed tools.
Years ago, Rastall Nut and Bolt founder and CEO Don Rastall noticed that miners in Sudbury lugged around a 15-inch adjustable wrench on their belts.
Thinking it would be a lot a lot more convenient if they had a smaller, lighter wrench that opened just as wide, he designed and patented one and had it manufactured. Soon, miners across Canada were replacing their 15-inch adjustables with Rastall's 12-inch miner's wrench.
Some time later, Rastall also noticed that miners would often use their adjustable wrenches as hammers. In some cases, they even welded a nut on their wrenches for this purpose. The hammering inevitably caused problems with the mechanism that opens and closes the jaws, and that got him thinking. Before long, the Rastall hammer head miner's wrench had caught on too.
The handles of both adjustable wrenches include a 7/8-inch hex and have a six-inch "bootleg" mark to help miners measure the prescribed distance from a failed hole when installing roof bolts.
"We've had at least four or five competitors over the years who have taken a run at the wrench and they've all failed," said Rastall president Tom Primeau. "Quality is a top priority. You don't put an inferior product in a miner's hands. It has to be strong enough to withstand the abuse."
The Rastall collection of miners' tools also includes a roof bolt dollie, used for tightening roof bolts, a swivel wrench used for grooved, Victaulic couplings and a wide opening spud wrench with a pointed handle, which is used in the construction industry for lining up two steel beams.
Roof bolt dollies
Rastall turned his attention to the roof bolt dollie when he learned that dollies available in the marketplace weren't up to the job.
"Miners were constantly going through them," said Primeau. "It was a high-volume consumable, so we just made a better one."
The swivel wrench, which rotates to accommodate two different size clamps, comes in three configurations and is private-branded by Rastall for Victaulic of Canada.
The design and development of miners' tools "has a lot to do with Don talking and listening to people," said Primeau. "Someone has a concern or an issue, and that gets his mind going."
Rastall sells its miners' tools directly within the Sudbury area and uses distributors across Canada and the U.S. The company's tools also find their way to other mining jurisdictions through Canadian-based mining contractors such as Dynatec and the Redpath Group.
Rastall Nut and Bolt's slogan, "We hold things together," is right on the mark. The company boasts an inventory of 18,000 items worth more than $1 million and serves most of the major industrial companies in northeastern Ontario, including Inco, Falconbridge, Domtar and Algoma Steel. It also supplies Falconbridge's operation in the Dominican Republic.
"Our customers demand a quick turnaround time," said Primeau. "That's why our inventory is so important to us. None of them have warehouses anymore, so when they need something, they need it now."
Inco decided to do away with warehousing fasteners and other supplies nine or 10 years ago because "the cost of warehousing and requisitioning exceeded the cost of the fasteners," said Primeau.
The new business model shifted responsibility for on-site inventory to the suppliers, requiring Rastall to maintain a two-month supply of fasteners at multiple sites, both on surface and underground. Rastall supplies items based on the fasteners commonly used at each site. Sales staff visit the sites periodically to replenish supplies.
Inco invites bids for a Sudbury-wide fastener supply contract every three years.
"We have to be competitive on the price of the fasteners, but the capability to offer service and maintain those inventories is a big part of it, so anyone submitting a tender has to know what's involved," said Primeau.
Sourcing fasteners and keeping track of their own inventory is an important part of the business. Rastall's most important supplier is based in Quebec, but the company also sources product from the U.S., Europe, Taiwan and China.
Items not in inventory are custom-ordered and, if they can't be sourced, Rastall arranges to have them manufactured.