In the 1967 movie, The Graduate, a young college graduate played by Dustin Hoffman runs into an older gentleman at a cocktail party who recommends a career in the plastics business. Al Viita had a similar experience, but he was steered in a different direction - the hydraulics industry.
"I was in Toronto discussing my future with a very wise gentleman and he told me, 'Al, if you go into hydraulics, you'll never look back. In 20 or 30 years, hydraulics is going to be 10 times what it is today,'" recalls Viita, president of Telstar Hydraulics in Sudbury.
The advice proved prophetic. Hydraulic power is relied on more than ever to operate heavy equipment. With the advent of load-haul-dump machines (LHDs), jumbos and other mobile equipment in the mining industry, Telstar has prospered.
Viita operated a small hydraulics business from 1969 to 1974, but sold it and worked for someone else until finally coming to the conclusion that self-employment was the way to go. He started Telstar in 1977 and has never looked back.
In the 1980s, the introduction of European mining equipment into the North American market created a demand for metric adapters. Viita was quick to recognize the opportunity to supply them and was one of the founding partners of Adaptall Inc., a Toronto company dedicated to marrying North American hoses and fittings to metric equipment.
Sourcing every conceivable adapter proved to be next to impossible.
"We weren't always able to source what we needed," said Viita. "Deliveries were slow and prices were high, so we started manufacturing them ourselves in Sudbury."
Viita eventually sold his interest in Adaptall to partner Brian Rennie.
Today, Telstar is a master distributor for Adaptall and continues to manufacture and supply specialty products for more than 300 other hose and fitting distributors across Canada.
As the hydraulics market grew, Viita also saw an opportunity to manufacture and supply a heavy-duty plastic wrap to protect hydraulic hoses from premature wear and damage. Available in sizes ranging from 1/4 inch to six inches, fire-retardant Telstarap extends the life of hydraulic hoses and is installed without the need to disconnect them.
In 1992, Viita reached into his bag of tricks and came up with another product called Insulrap to protect equipment components, in-cluding wiring, hoses and exhaust systems, from heat and fire.
Made to measure for individual components, Insulrap protects vulnerable equipment components from excessive heat, prevents fires by shielding hot exhaust systems from oil leaks and protects equipment operators from accidental burns.
Depending on the application, Insulrap blankets and sleeving are made of ceramic fiber matting, fiber and silica cloth, silicone impregnated tape and silicone sealant.
LHDs, jumbos and trucks at Inco and Falconbridge are commonly equipped with Insulrap blankets and sleeving and are becoming a standard in the mining industry, said Vic Weight, Telstar's Insulrap specialist.
The product not only prevents underground fires that could cost lives and millions of dollars of damage, but also helps to improve the performance of purifiers, which are designed to limit harmful diesel emissions.
"To operate properly, exhaust temperatures have to be high enough to allow purifiers to burn off excess carbon and gas," explained Weight. "The farther away the purifier is from the manifold, the more heat is lost through the pipe. Wrapping the exhaust system keeps the heat in."
Telstar manufactures the product on site using industrial sewing machines and has sold blankets to mines in the U.S., Russia and Ireland.
A wrapped exhaust pipe can have a temperature of 1,200 degrees F on the inside and only 300 degrees on the exposed surface of the blanket, said Weight.
Viita, now 70, takes pride in his knowledgeable staff and the expertise Telstar is able to offer to its customer base.
"To be successful," said Viita, "you have to have your heart in it and you have to enjoy what you're doing. Customers sometimes wonder why we ask them so many questions. It's because we want to be sure we're selling them the right hoses and fittings. Service is the name of the game."
Telstar has 10 employees and stocks a million dollar inventory in its 12,000 square-foot building.