An up-close look at the Vicon machine cutting spiral duct.  Image courtesy of Vicon Machinery.

Dan Morris readily admits his decision on a career in sheet metal was all about the money.

“(It was) the pay scale, really,” he said, remembering the good money his other brother Tim brought home as a sheet metal worker. “It was a skilled trade and you could go a lot of places.”

That certainly has been true for 51-year-old Dan Morris and his brothers Tim and Jim, who also work in the industry. After working for somebody else at the same Fort Wayne, Ind., sheet metal company, Jim and Dan founded Morris Sheet Metal Corp. in 1992. Tim joined them soon after and about 10 years later, the brothers added a separate spiral duct company, JTD Spiral.

Today, the brothers run the companies with titles such as president, treasurer and field superintendent. But as equal partners, the titles don’t matter much, they said. As with most businesses, the recession has affected Morris and JTD, but the companies still generate a combined $12 million to $15 million annually and employ around 80 people in its 35,000-square-foot sheet metal shop.

Tim added that his sons Dan and Steve, work for the company as journeymen.

The company is a member of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association and many workers are represented by Sheet Metal Workers union Local 20.

It’s a far cry from the way Morris began in 1992, Dan recalled.

“We actually did it all” back then, he said. “Jim would estimate and Tim and I would install. We did it like that for about 10 years. We all put in a lot of hours.”

Brother Tim, 54, who said he knew he wanted to be a sheet metal worker by the time he was in 10th grade, said he enjoyed the company’s earliest days and “the challenge” of “measuring stuff, making stuff work.”

He attributes their success to aggressively “taking a chance on some of the bigger jobs.”

Those bigger projects include making and installing ductwork for major hospitals, automotive plants and universities.

“There’s so many jobs,” Dan said.

Brothers Tim (left), Jim and Dan Morris own JTD Spiral and related company Morris Sheet Metal in Fort Wayne, Ind. Image courtesy of JTD Spiral.

Spiraling success

One thing many of those jobs have had in common is they featured heavy use of spiral duct, which is what led the brothers to create JTD Spiral.

“All I ever purchased was spiral pipe,” Dan recalled.

And after spending money for spiral duct made by others, the brothers purchased their first spiral-making machine in 2000. Today, the fabrication-only JTD puts out roughly 1.5 million pounds of spiral annually and sells it to contractors throughout the country.

“JTD does a lot of work out of state,” Dan said, adding that the company’s ductwork has been used in projects in Iowa, Texas, Maryland and Oklahoma.

Positioning JTD as strictly a fabrication business was a wise decision, especially in the slow economy, he added.

“I see fab work picking up because people are eliminating their shops and just installing,” he said.

And many of the projects that use the most spiral - schools, hospitals and municipal buildings - are typically less affected by downturns in the economy.

“There’s more and more spiral pipe running on jobs,” Dan said, adding that the company had made a lot of spiral for a major convention center expansion project now under way in Indianapolis.  

A finished piece of duct made using the Vicon Spiral Pipe Plasma Cutter from JTD Spiral’s shop. Image courtesy of Vicon Machinery.

A new machine

Last year, Dan and his brothers decided to invest in new equipment from Plasma Automation Inc.’s Vicon Machinery division. In December, the company took delivery of the Vicon Spiral Pipe Plasma Cutter. The machine had been in development for more than two years, and JTD was Vicon’s first customer for it.

Using the company’s ViSoft software, it can cut holes in spiral ductwork. Jim England, Vicon’s sales manager for the region, said the machine is the only one of its type in the sheet metal industry.

The machine saves contractors time and money, since it can make taps and fittings out of spiral duct, eliminating the need to fabricate them from flat sheets.

“Most contractors have to do this process by hand,” England said.

The machine can cut duct from 4 inches to 60 inches in diameter, up to 10 feet long and from 26- to 16-gauge thickness. It also cuts holes, slots and other shapes into spiral to attach branches and registers.

The brothers who run JTD Spiral said they were very intrigued when England first talked to them about the spiral cutter last year.

“We liked the concept because we were constantly cutting holes in spiral pipe,” Dan said.

The Vicon machine eliminated the extra steps.

“It knows when to cut the holes, where to cut the holes,” Dan said. “Everything runs off the Vicon machine, which is awesome.”

The machine has saved JTD a lot of time.

“My guys are telling me that we can cut at least 15 holes an hour where before we could cut maybe one or two - by hand,” he said.

Tim agreed.

“It really does a good job. You wouldn’t believe the savings,” he said.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail