Shop Talk with Mestek Machinery is a new video and podcast series developed as way to to discuss the topics that matter most to the HVAC duct and fittings fabrication industry and to provide another good resource to fabrication shops or contractors (or anyone else in the industry) as you look for ways to improve your operations. In this podcast, John Welty is joined by Mike Bailey and David Daw and the discussion focuses on the latest trends in shop layout and workflow. We cover quite a bit of ground on this topic of workflow including what these changes have meant from both a technology and a workforce perspective and a number of other things that you may want to consider as you look to improve your operation. As you’ll see in the conversation, there’s a lot to consider when determining how to best layout your shop floor. And no matter what calculations and guides you’ll see out there, the reality is that there is no hard-fast rule that will make the decision for you. We hope that by discussing the things you should consider, it can help you as you begin to evaluate what’s right for your operation. And don’t forget, we’re always here to help — even as you begin your evaluation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation — we simply want to understand what you’re looking to do and see how we can help you achieve your objectives (and there’s absolutely no obligation).
Meet the Panelists
Owner | Welty Automation
- Welty Automation is a strategic partner providing machine automation and engineering support to Mestek Machinery
Started at Iowa Precision Industries in 1996 on the drafting board
Software development progressed within engineering, and then the factory, and now the HVAC Ductline controls
Senior VP of Sales | Mestek Machinery
- 27 years in the HVAC duct and fittings fabrication and sheet metal fabrication industries
- Bachelor of Science Degree | James Madison University
- Helped develop Premier Partner Program with SMACNA
- Partner to Trimble and Applied Software Cad to Cam Processes
President | HVAC Inventors Systemation, Inc.
- Product Development consultant to Mestek Machinery
- HVAC fabrication industry technology inventor for over 50 years
- Inventor of Cornermatic corner inserter machines, specialized TDC and TDF corners, and Bendermatic (expected to hit the market in mid-2022)
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Read the Transcript
Well hello, I’m John Welty. I’m here with David Daw and Mike Bailey, and welcome to Shop Talks with Mestek Machinery. Today, we’re going to be talking about workflow. So I’ve been out on a lot of installs with coil lines around the country, and I’ve noticed that there’s a variety of different ways that people have their shops arranged, where the coils are coming in, where the product’s coming out and just how all of these things are being together as just in general. And I see a wide variety of that. What do you guys see happening as a trend in the industry when it comes to workflow, and what drives those changes?
What’s shocking to me, is I can remember, and I still have this magazine through snips, I think back in the ’70s. I think the gentleman’s name was Gary Budzik maybe.
Yeah, there’s a name from the past.
Yeah, he wrote an article about shop layout, which lends itself to workflow. And some of those same principles today are still applied. We do see a lot more of the contractors actually paying attention to the workflow and shop layout. I think the Henry Ford methodologies, every step is a dollar, has caught on with the contractors. You’re seeing contractors today become more manufacture minded. I don’t think they were. Some were, some weren’t, but more and more are becoming manufacture minded. So a lot of that comes into play when it comes to safety, and material flow and where the raw all materials are coming in and the finished goods are going out. But I think at the end of the day, there’s a lot more competition and these contractors are trying to find a way to gain an edge when it comes to the labor side of things and the cost of manufacturing.
Interesting. So what do you see about any of these things going on with you as far as safety, or is this just purely about labor reduction?
Well, the biggest area I’ve seen is the handling of fittings coming off a … Well, you’d put it through a beating machine in Pittsburgh, and then if it’s a rolled out flange, and the problem that develops because the laser or plasma machine is cutting those parts out on the same job. You’ve got 24 gauge sheet, and it could be going in three, four different jobs. So bringing those through a beating machine, Pittsburgh lock, TDC/F machine. Then to either lining, another branch that goes over to a hand spray, and lining and pinning station. And they all got to marry back up together again at a knock up table somewhere with three or four guys or women just knocking together. Then shrink wrapping or film wrapping it to a cage.
I see that there’s a problem there the industry hasn’t solved yet. There’s a couple people, General Sheet Metal out in Portland, recently when I was there, had a sorting process for the lining side. So when they cut their liner, they would put them in vertical rolling tables to help sort the lining onto the … So this is an issue that is really not completely solved yet.
Well, I think we talked about that a little bit once before. So you get into, there’s an inventory control issue that’s taking place with all these pieces that have to come back together to form a job. So I imagine part of this workflow, there’s probably different philosophies as to whether or not you are maximizing for reduced coil changes as they go from different gauges, or doing all of your installation at one time, or that type of thing, versus focusing on one job so that you don’t have to split up a job in all these different pieces and then bring it all back together. How do you see people? Is there, is there one philosophy prevailing over the other, or does that just kind of just up to the shop?
It’s probably twofold; it’s labor and material costs. And this is a contractor speaking. If I can take two or three jobs, and I input two or three jobs and optimize the material, then I’m saving material, which save me on the labor side as well, but I’m saving costs on material.
Because you have all the setup and any tooling changes that have to be made. So you’re reducing how often you have to do that.
Sure, and I think a lot of shops are starting to say, “Let’s cut out the variables. Instead of doing Snap Lock and large Pittsburgh, let’s just make it all large Pittsburgh. Let’s cut the inventory down. Let’s create an atmosphere with less chance of risk or less chance of human error.” So we’re starting to see a lot more consolidation into that area too.
Yeah. We’ve talked about this before, as we’ve sat and talked before. Software’s giving these guys the opportunities to do what we’re talking about here today. To produce greater input, less chance of human error, it’s been driven from the software side. And what we’re talking about here today, the cam, the cam software is definitely an asset when it comes to workflow and how that’s done. What I’m understanding from the owners is where they’re making the money in the shop is the duct line, straight duct. It’s impossible to make money in that department called the fitting producers, because you’re waiting on the plasma, you got offsets less than 90s, more than 90s. So you got splitter veins, you got screws, head gaskets, corners. It’s just a lot of [crosstalk 00:06:31]-
And a tremendous labor.
Yeah, tremendous labor.
You got to move all these parts around too.
So why not cut out some liability in that area with coronamatic machines and core insertion machines, and maybe set up some kind of conveyor type style table where each worker has his own job. One guy’s doing sealer, one guy’s doing screws, one guy’s doing splitter vanes, and the guy’s doing the coring. So we’re starting to see more of that in the industry too.
There’s a couple guys that have done a pretty good job on integrating conveyor systems into that, but it hasn’t really taken on, and maybe because people just haven’t looked at all it. One of the other problems you see is there’s too many types of fittings.
Yeah, they’re a variety of shapes.
You’ve got the sizes, you’ve got the small parts. Again, the more and more the rolled on flange, or the construction goes on the smaller duct where you have a lot of smaller parts. And it gets to the point, well what’s a small part versus a big part? Because if you get a really big elbow, you don’t put it up on a table, you don’t put it a conveyor belt. So there’s really two divisions within the fittings where you have a large duct that has to really go down to the floor, and other ones that can go on to a conveyor table. So that really hasn’t been sorted out yet, but I think it’s coming. I think there’s going to be a solution coming down that road though, because there are machines out there that assist that, but the flow is the problem.
So when you were talking about the software perspective, Mike, and through the cam, I guess what you’re talking about is how they’re able to feed one system and have it distribute information out to all of the different products that are actually involved in making all of those components. And then labeling those parts and helping them to manage that inventory and that labor throughout the process.
Yeah, we have what we call tracking now. If that’s enabled in your cam software, the tracking part of your software, when those labels are printing, they’re going to print either a QR code, which that’s what today’s going to be. It used to be a barcode, now it’s a QR code. So now I can track that part through the shop as it’s being manufactured onto the truck, and then produce the shipping list, because I’ve loaded on the truck. Then as I’ve got into the job site, when the gentleman takes a delivery, if he thinks he’s missing a part, well, if it’s on the shipping list, it’s on the job site. But to be able to manage that workflow through the shop with QR code, it’s becoming more of a big deal to the contractors as well. It’s a checkoff measure, right?
So you see that software’s continuing to evolve. Is there a standard system that people are getting into, or is everybody still moving that forward?
Well I know speaking of our company, we’re putting R and D dollars into it. And there’s some I think are probably just saying, “This is what it is.” But we are looking at it from the angle of the contractor. What do you need? We’re constantly fishing from the contractor, “What do you need?” And you take the top 100 of needs, and you cull them down to 10 and you start to work on them. And we’ve been doing that for quite a while now. So the tracking for the parts in the shop, coming off the plasma cutter with the barcodes or the QR codes, it’s just one more leg of that R and D work that’s been done to, again, let’s take the human element out it. And I think that’s what the contractors are asking for more and more and more. Labor is harder and harder to find, especially skilled.
I don’t think there’s really one answer yet on this, particularly on the fitting side, but I think that’s going to evolve in time, and I think software’s going to drive it too.
Yeah, well it’s good to see. It seems like there’s a lot of opportunity there to help address some of those problems. Like you said, we’ve talked about that before that there’s … The HVAC industry sometimes seems to be something that maybe young people aren’t aware of that it exists. They’re not aware of the job opportunities that are out there, that we spoke about that once before, but you see the same thing with software, right? The big money is being poured into advancing social media and all of the various things out there that entertain and amuse, but there’s also a need for, to be putting that into the industries that are actually making all the products that we all take for granted, right?
Yeah, it goes back to the start of our conversation. These fittings are the same fittings. They’ve been around for 100 years. Transitions and offset. So the only thing that made it quicker was that plasma cutter so having to lay things out, but from that downstream, it’s almost still the same process as it was in 1970.
That’s where we see that that software and technology has improved the consistency. We’ve talked before about how controlling the product has helped reduce labor and improve the overall output in the end. So you see that continue to advance. So the shop floor layout, in order to take advantage of improving a workflow, you definitely have to be able to measure and track. So I can see where that’s very important for a shop to be able to add those capabilities as well, giving them ways to visualize.
I’ve noticed I’ve been out on some shops that have work boards, digital big signs out in the shop, so that at a glance, people can see color coded work as it’s flowing through the shop, so that everybody in the shop can be aware. From a software perspective, it’s almost like a [inaudible 00:12:01] type of board so that everybody has eyes on what everybody else is working on. Then also, machines go down there’s, there are alerts that pop up so that managers can see it from the office and that sort of stuff. Do you see a lot of that happening these days?
Yeah, but I’d like to think that there’s a one size fits all on this area we’re talking about, and there isn’t, but I think it’s going to evolve into more standardization, but it’s not there yet.
There is a lot of push toward digital apps, and I am starting to see that. We have a good partner and contractor in the Indianapolis area that’s completely rewrote his specifications, per se. And it’s all in their digital apps. He doesn’t see the need to save on paper, but he’s gone paperless. I think the comment was made to me that if he wanted to open up in Nashville from Indianapolis, he could do it and never go to Nashville, which is, it’s neat to see. And what I’m talking about there, the workflow’s part of that, but what he can see from his gains, from his estimating, he can estimate a job, then he can crosscheck his estimation from the production model. And he can see if he’s in the red or he’s in the black. Is he in the positive, or he is in the negative based on per hour?
So I’ve been watching that since, David, we took a trip to Australia seven, eight years ago when we first saw this start to take place, and now it’s starting to come here in North America as well. So the Pacific Northwest, I don’t want to say it’s the wrong way, but there’s a lot of techies up there. And we I’ve seen a lot of that writing their own apps, their own software, to do these type things, which it feeds right into workflow.
Well, that’s how innovation has always happened in this industry, I think.
Yeah. So yeah, I think software is a big push and a big part of the workflow and what can be obtained.
Yeah, interesting. Well, it’ll be good to see how that evolves. Is there anything else? When we talk about the labor savings about the shop floor layout that stands out to you that you might want to mention?
I think safety’s a big part of it.
You got to get these machines spread in such a way where people aren’t handling sheet metal.
Okay, so you’re reducing the handling, you’re improving safety.
Yeah, of course.
Because you’ve got so many people in the shop, and it could be a safety measure as well. So setting those machines up right in a workflow type model, all while thinking about safety is a big deal as well.
Yeah, so you’re reducing that handling, the product itself is sharp. It’s got a lot of safety issues too. Okay.
One change I’ve seen over the past 30 or 40 years is back … Well, no one wore gloves.
Really? It’s assisted. I got calluses on my hands. All the work today using gloves.
And that’s a big thing from the OSHA standpoint too and safety, but ergonomics is another big part. The contractors are understanding more and more for their workforce. Get these guys up off the floor. Build these models that are on table tops. We don’t want them on the knees, we don’t want them bending over.
Yeah, I have seen that more and more.
And I think that’s a big deal too. And what that does from the labor pool side is it elongates their careers. They could work maybe 3, 4, 5, 6 more years, versus retiring because they’re just wore out. So I think that plays into it as well. I had one contractor call me one time and he was talking about the installation of his new line. and he said, “Hey, my wife came over on Saturday and we walked the line, and she walked the line with the operator who had never had one. And he was probably 55 years old.” And when he got back in his car with his wife, she said, “Brandon, we are changing people’s lives.” And I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, the guy who runs the machine, because now he’s got this automation, says he can work probably 10 more years, where he didn’t think he could probably work three or four more years based on the old manual processes.” So there are a lot of tentacles to it, but that’s a very important part.
All right. Well, that feels like a pretty good point to wrap up here. Thank you for joining us today with Mestek Machinery Shop Talks. I’ve been with David Daw and Mike Bailey and myself, John Welty. Thank you.