ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Omni Duct often communicates with its customers over the Internet, through on-line software.

Some of 1 million pounds of steel that Omni keeps on the floor at all times.
ANAHEIM, Calif. - What started out as a small, single 20,000-square-foot location for sheet metal in 1982 here has successfully grown into three facilities totaling more than 100,000 square feet and 150 employees.

But what's even more interesting about Omni Duct is that the company often communicates with its customers over an even wider area - the Internet. More on that later.

Omni Duct owner Bob Brumleu said he sees the future of sheet metal changing in a number of ways, including going to this type of fabrication-only shop that does no installation work. This not only means he doesn't compete with his own customers, but that he can concentrate on what his company does best - and on a larger scale. It also justifies the capital expense of new, more efficient, more productive equipment.

Omni Duct has three California locations: Anaheim, Sacramento and a distribution center in Van Nuys. The Anaheim location has its own 6-foot Iowa Precision coil line and eight (not the more common four or six) coil stands to handle high demand as well as various materials, from aluminum to stainless steel and black iron. The company is in the process of ordering a coil line for its Sacramento facility, which recently expanded into a larger, 52,000-square-foot building. It has several plasma cutters. A spiral machine is also planned.

Brumleu estimates Omni goes through 20 million pounds of steel annually. To handle this high volume, he relies on QuoteExpress software from Quote Software, Eugene, Ore., and, in particular, its FABshop hvac manufacturing software. This Windows-based system allows accurate estimating, more necessary for manufacturers than for contractors. It replaced a system developed in-house that Brumleu said prevented multitasking and lacked flexibility.

Bob Brumleu, president of Omni Duct Systems.

Tracking costs

The system has a "Job Information" screen that allows users to view individual information about each separate job including discount, shipping and order processing information. Each quotation can be tracked by the customer and the estimator who processed the data. Post-job processing allows the specification of additional costs such as setup charges and freight costs to the quote.

A takeoff module features standard labor and material figures pre-installed for complete rectangular, spiral and oval pipe and fittings libraries with unlimited variations possible. Labor and scrap rates are set individually in each pressure file.

The rectangular file alone has 35 fittings including elbows, tees, transitions, tap-ins and laterals. The spiral file has 38 fittings; the oval file has 35 fittings; and the accessory file has 48 fittings including Snap-lock pipe and fittings, grilles, diffusers, fire dampers, louvers, etc. A miscellaneous file has 650 items in 26 categories.

While most small contractors might have four pressure files, Omni Duct has more than 100. When you have hundreds of customers, the data just keeps growing. When you start multiplying the variables such as different building codes, materials, connectors, reinforcements, etc., the number keeps climbing.

One of the features Brumleu likes best is the Internet ordering capability. Contractors can perform their own estimating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with immediate pricing input available from Omni.

Many products

Omni Duct's products include: rectangular duct and fittings; oval duct and fittings; Omni aluminum flex duct and fittings; spiral pipe; TDC cleats; stainless steel; aluminum round duct and fittings; industrial duct and fittings; insulated spiral pipe and galvanized steel.

While some installing contractors are growing very large, many are still of the small shop variety, with a handful of employees. The owner or foreman still does most of the job estimating, Brumleu said. "He might pick up the blueprints from the general contractor on his way home from a job, then spread them out on his kitchen table after dinner. The old way took maybe three days to get all the information including what you need from the fabricator. Now, he can have it done that night and get it to the general contractor first thing in the morning.

"Many general contractors need the job started right away," Brumleu added.

What if the subcontractor makes a mistake? Brumleu said there are many built-in safeguards. You can't, for instance, input an item that Omni Duct doesn't make. Aside from duct, there are thousands of accessory items in the system, items like duct tape and fittings, that the contractor can include for one-stop shopping that will save even more time.

Omni Duct has its own resident trainer, Rita Olivarria, who will visit a contractor to train its employees in using the system to estimate over the Internet. "In most cases, (training) takes only 20 minutes to an hour," she said. "The system is very user-friendly. They usually catch on right away."

Brumleu added: "My 14-year-old son can probably use it."

A popular feature

Roughly 20 percent of Omni's customers use the on-line quote feature in preparing their bids. Brumleu said he thinks this may climb to 50 percent. "We're not forcing them into it," he added. "We'll do whatever the customer wants to get their business."

Unlike many, Brumleu doesn't mind competition; in fact, he relishes it. The more fabricators are out there, he said, the fewer contractors there are who are still fabricating their own ductwork in-house.

Emergency orders are perfect for the Internet-based system. A "Quick Fab" program at Omni can have duct ready for a contractor in five hours - "If we don't have to price it for them," Brumleu said. In other words, if the contractors can key in all the necessary factors, Omni Duct can start fabricating it almost immediately. Those are usually small jobs, in the $100 to $2,000 range. But Omni has also delivered $60,000 worth' of pipe in four days as a service for one special needs customer. Omni Duct has been running three shifts during the week; on weekends it closes at 1 p.m. Saturday, then reopens at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Recent projects of note include some downtown Los Angeles high rises, Harley-Davidson retail stores, Chile's restaurants and a Lear jet hangar; hospitals, grocery stores and high-tech customers keep everyone busy.

Quote is working on more new features for the system. High on Omni's wish list is a way to key data in using a pocket pc with a touch screen for estimation and other fabrication-and-materials ordering. This would allow a site foreman, for instance, to place orders on-site as the need arises, without having to remember or make notes to feed into a desktop computer back in the construction trailer, at home or headquarters.

A new software feature is set to be unveiled at next year's AHR Expo in Chicago, but the company hasn't yet released details.

For more information on Quote Software phone (800) 813-7020; fax (541) 684-4728; e-mail: info@quotesoft.com or visit www.buyduct.com.

Links