April 1, 2010
Bill Singleton credits his success to many things: a strong belief in God, a great team of employees, and never being able to say “no.” Singleton is the owner of Vision Mechanical, a mechanical contracting and sheet metal fabrication company in Pueblo West, Colo. In 1997, with $6,000 in the bank, Singleton started Vision Mechanical in his back yard. Today, Singleton says he has a “real” facility with a 13,000-square-foot fabrication shop.
Not only has the facility grown, but Vision’s profits have grown as well. In 2008, the company saw revenue just under $18 million. Revenue continues to grow because the company is always trying new things, officials say.
Diverse resumeVision Mechanical has worked on a variety of projects, including universities, schools and churches. According to Singleton, his father Robert was a sheet metal worker who would travel all over the county tackling construction projects. That diverse background has rubbed off on Singleton and his company.
“We believe we can do anything,” he said.
In fact, it was Reggie Garcia who encouraged Vision Mechanical to further push its contracting capabilities. Before coming to Vision Mechanical as the company’s chief estimator and project manager, Garcia had experience working on industrial jobs, including power plant construction. Vision worked on its first power plant in 2003.
Garcia said bidding a power plant job is not easy. He said that many power plant construction opportunities are word-of-mouth, and the bidding process can be extremely difficult.
When Garcia suggested bidding a power plant job in Wyoming, Singleton gave his approval.
“Reggie is a huge proponent of moving forward,” Singleton said.
A bid was made on the Wyodak power plant near the city of Gillette in northern Wyoming. Vision won it, but not until going through a rigorous bidding process.
ChallengesBefore being awarded the power plant project, officials from the power company traveled to Vision’s fabrication shop. The goal was to make sure that Vision could successfully meet the plant’s fabrication and installation needs.
“We don’t have a big, fancy facility,” Garcia said. “We are good at what we do.”
What Vision Mechanical showed the power plant officials was a lean fabrication shop that would definitely be capable of supplying the job. And just as Vision Mechanical started off as a “humble” operation in 1997, its first power plant job fabrication and installation job would also be a humble process.
The job called for the installation of several tall power roof ventilators and a dozen wall fans that would produce 50,000 to 75,000 cubic feet per minute of air. It also required building 27 plenums that measured 40 square feet long and 10 feet deep.
The company laid out the job with CAD drawings, and then built the plenums. The plenums were built in stages as they were needed. It took between 400 and 500 hours of shop time to complete all 27 plenums.
Singleton said the plenums were made “the old-fashioned way.” Vision used a 6-foot shear, a Roto-Die press, a 10-foot hand brake and some Pittsburgh machines to create each piece. Once the pieces were finished, they were then shipped 600 miles to Wyoming. This, according to Garcia, was one of the biggest logistical challenges to the power plant application.
“At Vision we sat down and assembled a fabrication and shipping plan,” he said. “Once we executed the plan we were able to achieve success.”
The process of delivering the fabricated pieces to the jobsite was made more difficult by Wyoming weather conditions. The company would closely follow weather reports and attempt to increase deliveries when the weather was good.
Vision’s fabrication and installation services on the job lasted for a year and half. The company learned new lessons about efficiency, machinery and staying lean. Two years later, Vision would have the opportunity to do it all over again, and do some things differently.
More power plantsTwo years after finishing the Wyodak power plant, Vision was enlisted to begin work on another plant for Black Hills Corp. After taking on that project, a third power plant opportunity came up six months later.
In total, Vision has worked on seven power plants across two states. Currently, the company is working on Dry Fork Station, a coal-based electric-generation plant also near the city of Gillette in northern Wyoming owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
Garcia said this new plant is 10 times the size of previous plant applications. Vision is also taking on more responsibility, including all the piping, insulation and controls work at the plant. The new plant will consist of 4,369 control points and 167,000 linear feet of control wiring. They will also conduct the testing, balancing and commissioning on the facility, which is expected to be completed in 2012.
EfficiencyAs Vision Mechanical took on more power plant jobs, it made changes to its shop. The company was able to purchase more sheet metal machinery that would allow for more efficiency and an even leaner shop floor.
Over the next several years, Vision Mechanical was able to purchase several new pieces of equipment, including TDC machines and a roll former from Engel Industries. In 2008, the company upgraded to a new Advance Cutting Systems plasma machine, and then purchased a press in 2009.
The new plasma table has a 6-foot by 20-foot by 1 1/4-inch capacity and can cut 2-inch liner. The company also added a 10-foot by half-inch Webb plate roll, and upgraded its press from a 120-ton unit to an HTC 450-ton machine with CNC capabilities.
The company’s main upgrade was a 2010 Iowa Precision high-speed coil line that is capable of fabricating material from 26 to 16 gauge. The old line was a 1976 machine that could only do unlined ductwork.
With the upgrades, Vision was able to make the plenums for the new power plants in bigger sections. This also helped Vision to keep a quicker pace. As they went on from one power plant job to the next, Garcia said that Vision employees started getting the process simplified. The company even learned to preassemble the fans and dampers before they reached the jobsite to cut down on time.
Also in 2008, Vision Mechanical purchased an 8-foot-by-half-inch plate roll. Singleton said this new plate roll saved on the number of seam welds and cut down on hours of welding.
Besides purchasing new machines, Singleton made a conscious decision on where to put those machines.
“Every new machine changes the flow,” he said.
With that in mind, every time Vision Mechanical introduces a new machine, the lean-manufacturing process is reconsidered. Singleton said that machines are placed on the shop floor to reduce the amount of steps it takes for a worker to get from one machine to another.
Getting workers to adjust to new machines and how to use them efficiently has been fairly easy, Singleton said.
“We have great people,” he added. “And this group holds each other accountable and keeps their attitudes in place.”
Singleton said he believes that by staying lean and investing in new equipment, his employees see that the company has their best interests in mind and wants them to succeed. He also said that its investment in new equipment has been a great recruitment tool for new and talented workers.
“Growing our business has been more about what the industry and our customers demand of us,” he said. “You couple those demands with people like Reggie who think we can accomplish anything, growth will take care of itself.”
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.