THE I Love Tobago sign on the Scarborough Esplanade has become an attraction for locals and visitors eager to take pictures celebrating their favourite island. But what do you know about the company, Rojas Engineering Ltd, responsible for the now famous sign?
Rojas Engineering Ltd (REL) is run by managing director Deon Rojas and his wife Josanne who is the manager of administrative affairs.
REL, located at Cove, Canoe Bay, has been around since 2013 and has created unique pieces out of metal with the aim of becoming the number one creative hub for innovation in metal fabrication and finishing. The managing director said the I Love Tobago sign was actually the workmanship of two signs.
"We were happy to prove to the marketplace that the word local does not mean sub-standard. A BMW is a local product to Germans but it is renowned as a top-class brand around the world. We need to also start believing in our local brands, businesses and men of skill as being world-class.
"The sign for us is a proud symbol of our brand and what we as a company aim to represent to the world. We believe the sign has proven to be a successful tourism attraction for Tobago and is definitely value for money."
As for REL, Rojas said the vision for the company came to him at the age of 23 and it was registered in 2009 but only formally began operations in June of 2013 when he was 36. Since then Rojas said he believes in doing nothing traditional and is working towards enhancing the REL brand.
"All items fabricated must stand out as a one-of-a-kind, fabri-crafted, and high-quality product. We specialise in bespoke, ornamental, and architectural fabrication and also metal repairs allowing us to collaborate with leading companies, government officials, architects, homeowners, contractors, interior designers and artists."
The 45-year-old has managed projects such as security doors, staircases, security grills, fire escapes and platforms, fencing, railings, recycling bins, donkey carts, wall shelving and custom projects. REL is now looking to broaden its horizon by launching product lines such as modern metal furniture and finishings, security doors, gym equipment and multi-cook pits.
Rojas was given the opportunity to pursue an academic scholarship in electrical engineering at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania, US but chose to study performing engineering operations at Lewisham College in the UK.
"In my gut, this felt like the better choice. Somehow, I knew that this step was a part of destiny. This course allowed me to be qualified in welding, mechanical fitting and turning, fabrication, electrical skill and drafting alongside other areas of skill. To date I have furthered my studies in a wide cadre of skills such as AutoCad (commercial computer-aided design and drafting software application), CNC (computer numerical control) machining and powder coating."
Before launching REL, he worked as a workshop supervisor at Sun Beam Metal Works in the UK.
"As part of the management team there, I was responsible for supervising and managing the workshop in addition to performing my fabrication duties. I was heavily involved in prototype work there and that position was instrumental in preparing and grooming me to be a top-tier fabricator in addition to understanding what it would take to run my own factory."
Rojas said he was determined to open his company back home.
"I was really passionate about establishing my company in Tobago, as a Tobagonian, for patriotic reasons. My exposure to fabrication in the United Kingdom was entrenched in creativity, innovation, advanced technology and a high level of world-class skill. I believed that Tobago needed to also be exposed to this high degree of workmanship and creativity as well as opposed to the very ordinary and traditional displays of fabrication. I am also very passionate about passing on this skill and my experiences to the younger generation."
Rojas said he is always looking for ways to help consumers get the most out of his product. He cooked up an idea to improve barbecue pits and smokers by developing a multifunctional and novel-designed pit. He said these pits will give cooks the flexibility and capacity to do different types of dishes on the spot with a trendy visual appeal. This pit will allow people to take different signature dishes to the streets or backyard with attractive and appealing designs and features.
Rojas explained what makes the pits unique besides design. "To make our pits, we will be utilising, up-cycling and repurposing de-commissioned LPG tanks to drive the raw material costs down. Our aim is to make a basic product that is affordable, useful and safe for the average food operator and homeowner. Premium add-ons and customisations such as storage, solar power and water supply can be added to these pits for street food vendors so that they have a complete all-in-one product that meets their needs."
To materialise this idea, REL sought funding from the Ministry of Planning and Development's Shaping the Future of Innovation grant to research and develop the pits. Rojas said research and development, market trials, market development, technical support and the acquisition of advanced tooling and machinery will be seen within the company.
He said once REL receives the funds, the pits will be built and tested within a year. He's hopeful that his idea will not only reduce costs of raw material, but can create a new job market, export potential and foreign exchange earnings, import substitution and expand the REL brand.
"We are currently seeking approval to transition into land tenancy at the Cove Eco Industrial and Business Park in order to begin working on our expansion and development goals. Once this transition has been approved, we expect to begin working on these goals in 2023.
"My end goal is really to become a world-class, CNC-driven fabrication factory that focuses on machine shop work, metal finishing, the manufacturing and export of metal products such as furniture, doors, barbecue pits and gym equipment. We continue to do the groundwork and the requisite training in advanced machinery and technologies to make this dream a reality.
"We hope to one day integrate 3D printing, robotics and other digitalised engineering solutions into our operations. Another major aspiration is to open a world-class training institution in Tobago where persons can become qualified in metal fabrication and other engineering solutions."