Maximize your trade show experinece when you know what to look for.

The fall and winter trade show season provides an opportunity for shop owners and managers to get away and think about improving their operations and profits.

Like any venture, trade shows can be infinitely more productive with proper planning and preparation. The last thing shop foremen want to do is to be expected to improve the shop productivity with new equipment or technology that is not appropriate for their needs, and can even reduce shop productivity in some cases.

Selecting the right shop equipment and materials is walking a thin line between realizing a good return on investment and no measurable return on investment. Here's an example.

HVAC shop A fabricates 150,000 pounds of 5-foot-long full-straight joints annually, with a wage package equaling $48 hour. The shop does not have a partial coil line.

HVAC shop B also makes 150,000 pounds of 5-foot-long full-straight joints a year. However, it's wage package is only $32 an hour. They also do not have a partial coil line.

Let's say the cost of a new partial coil line with a shear, beader and notcher is approximately $135,000.

By manually fabricating the full-straight 5-foot-long joints, the shop can make about 110 pounds an hour. With a partial coil line, the shop could make 185 pounds an hour.

Here is shop A's numbers in a formula to figure the return on investment if it bought a Manual method

150,000 pounds (annual volume) / 110 pounds an hour = 1,363 hours.

At $48 an hour = $65,454.

Coil line fabrication

150,000 pounds (annual volume) / 185 pounds an hour = 810 hours.

At $48 an hour = $39,918

If you subtract $38,918 from $65,454, you get an annual labor savings of $26,536.

Now take the $135,000 cost of a new partial coil line and divide that by the $26,536 in labor savings.

$135,000 / $26,536 = 5.08 years to recoup the coil line investment

With the benchmark for return on investment being 60 months, the projected five-year payback may appear marginal. However, with consideration given for additional advantages of 5-foot-wide coil stock over 4-foot-wide sheets in handling, storage, waste reduction, 20 percent fewer connectors, and running variable-length sheets for the plasma table, a growing operation should definitely consider this upgrade.

But what about shop B, which does the same annual volume but has a lower hourly wage rate? Does the $135,000 investment make their ROI too far beyond the acceptable five-year max? With only $17,696 in annual labor savings, which extends the amortization period to more than seven years, many owners would say it does.

However, shop B's operations are not doomed if they think smart. How about a used partial coil line?

These are readily available and are simple enough to install and maintain to provide dependable performance almost indefinitely. Such coil lines can be installed for $35,000 or $40,000. In that price range, shop B could recoup its investment in a little over two years.

The point here is that the machinery and equipment sellers at trade shows normally have inventories of good, used equipment that they refurbish and warranty, and your equipment budget will last longer.

In fact, it's likely several full coil lines will be sold at these trade shows, which presents a great opportunity to wheel and deal on those trade-ins right at the show. Not just on coil lines, but for all types of good used equipment.

The real key to efficiently using trade show time is knowing what equipment and technology your shop needs to increase productivity and profits. This means not depending on show salespeople to tell you.

So how do you identify your unique shop needs and leverage every single minute of the show time to the max. First, assemble a show "team" and have several pre-show meetings. The show team should consist of individuals who will actually be attending the show and people who will be responsible for the application and ultimate success of equipment, materials and technology that is invested in at the show.

(Jim Segroves is the author of several books on how sheet metal shops can improve their efficiency. Among them are HVAC Sheetmetal Operations, Recovering Shop Burden and Performance-Based Estimating Factors. All are available for $65 each, plus $7 shipping and handling. Call (972) 494-2719 for information or e-mail

Equipment needs depend on shop, situation

Machinery and equipment needs vary dramatically from shop to shop. Those needs are relative to annual volume of work, type of products being fabricated (commercial, residential, mixed) and the opportunity to buy from duct manufacturers.

The following are examples of the groups of shop equipment that are needed and always cost justified as related to three sizes of HVAC fabrication shops. Keep in mind that there is never a justified excuse for deliberately being inefficient at any workstation simply because it happens to be in a smaller shop.

Shops that make up to 150,000 pounds of ductwork per year should have:

  • 10-foot single plasma table

  • Open-arm forklift loadable sheet rack, placed between the plasma machine and straight-duct shear.

  • 10-foot by 16-gauge air or power shear with a 10-foot squaring arm and front operated back gauge (manual or electric).

  • 10-foot by 16-gauge hydraulic notcher for straight-duct full joints (16-gauge capacity allows the operator to notch two blanks at a time).

  • Power-table, model-drive turner and hand-drive turner.

  • Power duct brake, 10 foot by 16 gauge.

  • High-speed button-lock machine (65 feet per minute).

  • High-speed Pittsburgh machine- 16 gauge

  • High-speed Pittsburgh machine - 22 / 26 gauge

  • "3/1" tap machine.

  • Dovetail tap-notching machine (slot or V-notch).

  • Pittsburgh air hammer.

  • Insulation cutting table with straight edge, measuring tape and cross cut.

  • Duct liner glue-spray gun.

  • Magnetic hammer impact nailer or handheld electric weld pin gun.

  • Dedicated low-profile duct-assembly table with plywood top and hardware bins.

Larger operations

Shops that make up to 400,000 pounds of ductwork per year should have:

  • 10-foot combination single plasma/fitting liner cutting table.

  • Partial coil line with shear, beader and notcher.

  • 10-foot by 10-gauge mechanical power shear with a 10-foot squaring arm and front-operated back gauge (manual or power).

  • Open-arm, forklift-loadable sheet rack between a 10-foot shear and the plasma table (holds sheets for quick, short-run jobs without interrupting coil line).

  • High-speed Pittsburgh and button-lock machines.

  • TDC or TDF machine.

  • Portable handheld seam-sealant pump.

  • "3/1" tap machine.

  • Dovetail notching machine (slot or V-notch).

  • 10-foot by 20-gauge or 16-gauge hydraulic notcher for flex connections.

  • Table model power drive turner and hand drive turner

  • 10-foot by 10-gauge hydraulic multi-purpose power brake with disappearing pins for ‘ V ‘ notch breaks with one man.

  • Power-feed duct liner cutting table with ripping and cross-cut capabilities.

  • Automatic hopper feed insulation pinning machine.

  • Glue spray gun and 55-gallon supply.

  • Dedicated duct assembly table with hardware bins.

Major operations

Shops that make more than 1 million pounds of ductwork per year should have:

  • 20-foot double plasma table.

  • 10-foot dedicated automated fitting liner cutting table.

  • Full coil line with TDC or TDF, insulating section, 5- or 6-feet wide, tie rod punch, wrap-around brake, automatic seam-sealant injector and direct downloading of full-straight joints and variable-length plasma sheets.

  • 10-foot by 10-gauge mechanical shear with 10-foot squaring arm and front-operated back gauge .

  • Secondary setups in forming, duct lining, and assembly for priority jobs to prevent interrupting big-batch work in progress.

  • Individual forklift-loadable sheet racks for plasma table and 10-foot shear.

  • Computerized press brake.

  • Automatic or handheld seam-sealant injector for fittings.

  • Table-type power-drive turner and manual-drive turner.

  • 10-foot by 20-gauge or 16-gauge hydraulic notcher for flex connections.

  • High-speed Pittsburgh and button-lock machines.

  • 14-station by 16 gauge 1 1/2-inch standing-seam roll former (for big fitting panels).

  • Glue spray gun with 55-gallon drum (preferably high-production chemical base but always nonflammable in the ‘wet' state).

  • Automatic hopper-fed pinning machine.

  • Two dedicated assembly tables with hardware bins and Pittsburgh air hammers.