Air separation specialist Ranch Cryogenics Inc. (RCI), will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in August.

The family business was created in 1987 by current CEO Mike Duffy Sr., it found its voice during the economic boom of the 1990s, and came of age in the 21st century as the demand for liquid oxygen (O2), hydrogen (H2) and other gasses soared to accommodate new manufacturing markets.

RCI enters its fourth decade in a new home outside of Chicago. The son of Mike Duffy Sr., Mike Duffy Jr., is the current President, and Michael “Trey” Duffy, the youngest member of the Duffy family, is Vice-President and General Manager.

gasworld spoke exclusively with Trey Duffy to see what’s hot for RCI right now, and to get an insight into what it’s like working for a successful family business.

So, Ranch Cryogenics is about to have its 30th anniversary, how are you planning to celebrate?

Sometime in August or September, we’re planning to get everyone together and head to Nashville Tennessee. Our founder, Mike senior is a huge George Jones fan and they have a museum and roof top restaurant overlooking the city, so that’s where we plan to celebrate.

How does it feel knowing that RCI is now in its 30th year?

We’re very proud. My grandfather started out in an office, which was essentially an outbuilding on his farm. We now have approximately five acres of land; we have a brand-new office and a shop. It’s not the Tahj Mahal but we’re proud of it.

What is your personal industry background and when did you become Vice-President and General Manager of RCI?

I started out in 2002, right after I graduated high school at the age of 18. It was my first summer job. I drove by myself, in a company truck, from Chicago to Boise, Idaho. For a kid from the mid-west who had never seen mountains before, it was a pretty big deal.

I joined around the time RCI was building NORCO’s first air separation unit (ASU). I was what you might call an apprentice or a labourer – I was very low on the totem pole. I helped tradesman do work on the cold boxes, assisted the project managers and construction managers, and would even fetch coffees. I was the lowest guy on the job. I still keep in contact with the tradesman from that first job.

What are your day-to-day duties?

In 2005, I started working full time doing instrumentation and electrical type work for the projects. A couple of years after that the company became very busy and short-handed, so I got thrown into a project to build an oxygen plant. I actually ended up doing the pre-job walk through, the proposal, and then, when we were still short-handed, I did the project management and the site construction management as well. I was thrown to the wolves which is kind of how Ranch Cryogenics has trained all of the Duffy’s over the years.

I handled the whole project from start to finish and it was very successful. Mike senior and Mike junior never actually set foot on site, which I was very proud of. That ultimately paved the way for me in Construction and Project Management and doing less of the instrumentation stuff. It’s been about three years now since they gave me the title of General Manager and Vice-President. in addition to projects I have a significant amount of involvement in day to day activities and working to grow our business. Never a dull moment.

(L-R): Chris Duffy, Mike Duffy Sr., Mike Duffy Jr. and Michael ‘Trey’ Duffy III at the newly constructed RCI fabrication facility in Dwight, Illinois.

(L-R): Chris Duffy, Mike Duffy Sr., Mike Duffy Jr. and Michael ‘Trey’ Duffy III at the newly constructed RCI fabrication facility in Dwight, Illinois.

What are you doing at the moment?

It’s very interesting. I’ve been working at our office for over a month overseeing projects. We’ve currently got a job in Utah, we’re doing relief operations in Oklahoma, and we’ve just done a turnaround in Vermont. However, on Monday, I’m actually flying out to be on-site at an oxygen plant removal. Our guys are packing up the trucks and trailers as we speak, so I’ve given them my lunchbox, hard hat and steel toe boots. I get to wear many hats, I love it, it’s a lot of fun!

I understand you’ve recently finished building one of the world’s largest hydrogen (H2) refuelling facilities, how did that go?

It was a first-of-its-kind for our company. We’ve done SMR H2 plants before, but these refuelling stations – that was our first one. One of the industrial gas majors handpicked us to do it. We teamed up together and it went very well. We’re actually going to do a second one in California later this month.

Will you feel more confident second time round?

Absolutely, not that we weren’t confident before, but now we could probably do it blind folded. We finished that one successfully on the East coast and the senior H2 engineer for this major industrial gas company told the project manager on the West coast that he should use us too, because it went so well.

Have you observed any significant changes in the market over the last 10 years?

Over the last 10 years our customer base has been more of the Tier One industrial gas players than the end users. We have the capabilities to do it without the majors seeing that we have the expertise and skills to go to sewage treatment plants or refineries and build them their own plants and train their operators. We also do a lot of maintenance contracts to help them as it’s not their core business. I would say right now about 75% of our business is for the industrial gas majors and 25% is for the actual end user.

What other projects is RCI currently working on and do you have any more in the pipeline?

Right now, the big one that we’re doing is the H2 facility on the West Coast and then there’s also a relocation of an oxygen plant which starts this summer as well. We’re going to be relocating that plant from Southern California to the South Eastern United States. It’s a big project because we’ve got the disassembly, the refurbishment of all the equipment, the transportation and ultimately the re-erection and commissioning as well.

Where do you hope to see the company in 10 years from now?

Right now, we can do 3-4 projects at once, and we’re very good at it. We have maintained the same quality as we did when we were smaller. In 10 years, I would love to be able to do 6-8 projects with the same quality and integrity. As companies grow sometimes they lose their quality, efficiency and relationships. Of course, I want to grow, no one wants to stay stagnant, but I want to do it the way that Mike Duffy Sr. did it in 1987. He was always at the job site and involved, it all happened on his watch.

We’ve got a sign in our shop which says, ‘Impossible Takes a Little Longer’. In our business nothing is ever simple, it’s always difficult. Relocations are very complex, and even building new plants can be trying. Some people think that our job is possibly the worst in the business, but with the kind of personalities that we have, we’re always up for the challenge.

Are any of the younger generations taking an interest in the company?

Yes, there is Marlana a 4th generation in the Duffy Family and she is going to Southern Illinois University for mechanical engineering. She’s been working here every summer and just recently graduated High School as Valedictorian. My brother Chris has five sons, which some have worked here in the summers. Two of the younger boys are waiting to get workers permits so they can jump in as well.

Before we end this interview, I would like to thank all of the customers that have put trust into RCI over all these years….it has been a great pleasure to work with so many great folks. I also want to thank all the RCI employees and their family members (past and present) that have made it possible to be celebrating our 30th year. A lot of sacrifices are made in our business and it is greatly appreciated, we couldn’t do it without them. Lastly, I would like to thank my Grandfather Mike Duffy Sr. for paving the way for us in this business (starting in1966) and striking out on his own in 1987. We will forever be grateful.

Construction of Ranch Cryogenics second ASU and CO2 plants in 2015

Construction of Ranch Cryogenics second ASU and CO2 plants in 2015