Contractor takes his business from basement of burned-out building to 30,000-square-foot metal fabrication plant.

Project manager Jason Dillon (left) and Hranec Corp. owner Steve Hranec look over plans for a project.


UNIONTOWN, Pa. - On an icy street in pre-dawn Pittsburgh last February, Steve Hranec contemplated the cold workday ahead with a smile.

The already-busy morning had seen him coordinate truck routes and police escorts for delivery of a $2.6 million Trane Co. heating and cooling unit. His mechanical contracting company, Hranec Corp., would spend the next four months installing the unit and supporting ductwork on the 17-story University of Pittsburgh Science Building. The entire system required 19 tractor-trailers to transport it from the Trane factory in Knoxville, Tenn., to Hranec Corp.'s metal-fabrication plant in Uniontown, Pa.

"It was a long way from two guys working out of a basement," he says.

In reality, he had only moved next door. Hranec built the company's facility just down the road from the basement of a burned-out building where he founded the corporation. Barely a decade later at age 37, Hranec guides the business as president from his custom, high-tech 30,000-square-foot metal-fabrication plant. Working on projects in seven states, including power plants and factories, hospitals and hotels, Hranec Corp. grossed $9.8 million in 2004 and expects to earn $15 million in 2005.

Lessons

More than just a feel-good story, the success of Hranec Corp. affords a lesson in modern industrial business planning. According to the U.S. Labor Department, American manufacturing employment fell by 2.3 million jobs in the last decade. During that same time, Hranec's two-man operation grew to 150 employees. The scope of their projects expanded from residential projects to multimillion-dollar commercial contracts, including the Pittsburgh University Science Building.

Hranec Corp.'s acquisition and completion of that project is a study in "Applied Smart Business 101." The company's policies are a blueprint for surviving - even thriving - in today's waning manufacturing climate.

A modern facility, superior drafting technology and a reliable work force contributed to Hranec Corp. winning the university science building project, company officials say.

"Our industry is about cutting costs, especially labor," Hranec says. "But too many cost decisions are made without looking to the future. I always think about how each decision is going to affect me down the road. Making small sacrifices for future gains is not really a sacrifice."

While this philosophy is prevalent in Hranec Corp.'s decisions on labor and equipment expenditures, nowhere does it have a bigger impact than in customer relations. When customers make changes, or problems arise, Hranec Corp. won't nickel-and-dime the general contractor. "The reward of establishing a good working relationship is much more important than charging every on-the-job adjustment," said project manager Jason Dillon.

Hranec Corp.’s 30,000-square-foot sheet metal shop in Uniontown, Pa., includes a Lockformer Vulcan coil line, Spiral Helix duct machine and QuickPen software.

Extra work

From the roof, t He should know. Like all of Hranec Corp.'s project managers, Dillon does all the estimating on any job he oversees. Combining those two positions saves money, eliminates finger pointing and makes communicating with customers easier. In striving to please a general contractor or customer, Hranec Corp. will even rough-in a job or prefabricate items on a Sunday, just to ensure a jobsite is prepared to start on time.

The extra work pays off, Hranec says.

"When developers grew and took on bigger projects, they brought us with them," he says.

The science building project called for replacing 34 separate air handlers, two per floor, with a one-section Trane Co. rooftop unit. Assembling the rooftop system would require five Miller aluminum MIG welders and enough aluminum wire to stretch over two miles.

wo huge supply air duct risers would descend the length of the building. At each floor level, diverters needed to be installed to tap into the existing ductwork and regulate the climate. Much of the work was performed during a cold Pittsburgh winter, while dangling from an 80-ton crane.

Unidentified Hranec employees work on some of the ductwork for the University of Pittsburgh Science Building. The project used ductwork up to 120 feet in diameter.

Software aids

On projects like the science building, Hranec Corp. minimizes logistical design problems by using drafting software. In the 10 years since its inception, Hranec estimates the company has invested approximately $100,000 on software.

"But the cost savings and business it generates are worth it," he adds.

Hranec Corp. uses CAD Duct software to avoid costly on-site adjustments caused by conflicts with other trades. The program allows their drafters to download drawings directly to Hranec Corp.'s Lockformer Vulcan 1000 plasma-burning tables.

The company also uses QuickPen project-planning software. The software eliminates the time and labor costs of listing each item for pricing and shop fabrication.

"Not everyone wants to spend that much on software, but the ability to show a contractor everything months in advance makes a big difference," Hranec explains. "We have been awarded contracts where we weren't the lowest bidder. The software creates a really professional presentation."

Hranec Corp.'s floor plan maximizes efficiency by accepting materials and equipment at one end and shipping from the other. Hranec's other laborsaving ideas include installing insulation-storage racks directly over the tables. The racks prevent halting production to retrieve a fresh insulation roll. Storing tool racks and cutters within easy reach of workers also saves time.

Using trash bins rather than barrels to transport materials and refuse ensures less work stoppage.

Hranec workers install the HVAC units on top of the 17-story Pittsburgh University Science Building.

Saving time

Timesaving can also be seen in the efficiency and performance of their Iowa Precision coil line. From raw metal, Hranec Corp. can produce one straight, square duct, insulated and broken, every 30 seconds. For the science building, the shop's speed and efficiency allowed Hranec Corp. to maintain the six-month schedule set by general contractor Wayne Crouse Inc.

The worksite's crowded downtown location meant all ductwork would have to be made at their shop and transported on flatbed trucks, including 120-foot by 84-foot ductwork big enough for workers to walk through.

Running two shifts and shipping to the site during off-peak hours, Hranec Corp. was able to avoid the costly delays associated with so much off-site fabrication and assembly.

Hranec says his company logged the most man-hours in 2004 for members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 12 in Harmarville, Pa.

With that many workers ranging over a broad scope of projects, the more workers know, the more efficient they are, he says.

"Where a lot of first-year apprentices are sweeping floors and insulating ductwork, our guys are taught to follow a job from start to finish," Hranec says.

Hranec Corp. values knowledgeable workers so much that it instituted a free apprentice-training program. Twice a month for a year, Hranec Corp. will hold voluntary training classes four nights a week.

"The cost of paying a foreman a few hours nightly to train a group of guys is nothing compared to the value of having them ready to jump in where I need them," says shop foreman Dave Porupski.

On the science building project, that meant being able to have an entire second shift operating full time in the shop for the duration of the project. That same versatility translates to the jobsite as well. On the university project, the hand signals for crane operators taught in Hranec Corp.'s night classes ensured good communication during complicated work.

Hranec Corp. recently expanded its capabilities to include spiral duct. The company bought a Spiral Helix spiral-duct machine and has already produced interior ductwork for drugstores CVS and Walgreens, and a Panera Bread Co. restaurant.

(For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.)