Sheet metal contractor boosts productivity with new fabrication equipment
You might think a 53-year-old mechanical contractor with an estimated $500 million in annual revenue might not need to hold an open house.
When your client list already includes Fortune 500 companies, professional sports venues and projects throughout the Pacific Northwest, who doesn’t know about your services?
That’s not the way the officials with Seattle-based McKinstry see things. The company opened its 200,000-square-foot facility April 10 to general contractors and developers for a chance to show off its capabilities.
“We invited a large contingency of our customers to come and understand some of the primary niches that we’re focused on as an organization,” said Kevin Leff, the company’s director of supply chain management. “The broader message was really how we are focused on trying to drive waste and costs out of the delivery of our construction projects for our customers.”
That’s been a mission of McKinstry since it was founded as a plumbing and piping business by George Allen and Merrill McKinstry in 1960. In the decades since, it has expanded numerous times as the firm’s mission became “design, build, operate and maintain.”
Company officials say it was one of the first contractors in the region to position itself as a one-stop shop for mechanical services, incorporating engineering, estimating, HVAC, electrical and sheet metal work.
“We’re embracing a manufacturing mindset where we are getting everyone involved in the delivery of a project that’s either part of the supply chain or part of the decision making that impacts how a project is going to be delivered,” Leff said.
The approach has been a success. The company today employs more than 1,900 and annual revenue approaches $500 million. McKinstry now operates 40-plus divisions, encompassing architectural metals and energy efficiency. Its client list includes some of the largest firms in the region and across the nation.
Its sheet metal shop, which can have up to 100 workers during busy seasons, has been a major part of McKinstry’s accomplishments since 1967, and was something it highlighted at the open house.
“We have a 100,000-square-foot fabrication facility where we fabricate sheet metal, plumbing and pipe fitting and electrical, and often on the same skid,” Leff said.
But even with all that space, something was missing, Leff added. Some sheet metal processes, such as cutting and installing duct liner, didn’t work well.
“A tradesman would have to hold the rectangular piece on top of the insulation and cut it with a knife around the edge of it,” Leff said. “It’s not a very pleasant job. It’s not very fun to work with insulation. It’s not very efficient.”
Company officials wondered if new equipment or a revised shop layout could boost productivity.
That’s where Mike Bailey, vice president of sales and product development at Mestek Machinery came in. Almost two years ago, he visited the McKinstry to see what problems the company was having with duct manufacturing and if any of the sheet metal machinery he sold could help.
“As far as the sheet metal shop, they wanted it to be leaner, they wanted to have a more sophisticated process to cut costs … to make a better product for the shop and the field,” he said.
Bailey told Leff there was a lot they could do to modernize operations.
“Our job is to educate,” Bailey said.
In McKinstry’s case, standard-specification machinery oftentimes wouldn’t work, Leff said. For example, the typical 48-inch-wide coil line doesn’t work for a lot of the company’s projects. It prefers to fabricate shorter duct sections that don’t require as much bracing.
“We needed adjustability all the way down to 24 and 36 inches,” he said. “We tend to get involved in some pretty complex buildings. There is very little ‘cookie cutter’ about a lot of our projects.”
After several in-person visits and countless emails, Bailey assembled a list of customized equipment that he believed could best meet the contractor’s needs. That included a new coil line, plasma table, water-jet machine and related enhancing equipment and software.
“Our regional sales manager Bill Dennis and I worked diligently with their team and our local sales representative, Tom Evans of Formco, for over eight months to provide the ultimate solution to meet their needs for today and future business,” Bailey said. “We gained a lot of trust for each other during that process.”
McKinstry eventually agreed to Bailey’s recommendations, spending $1.2 million to buy several pieces of machinery:
• A complete Iowa Precision Pro-Fabriduct coil line with a high-speed pinning system from Gripnail.
• Dual-head Cornermatic that allowed for automatic corner insertion into T25A/B flanges from 18 gauge to 16 gauge.
• An Iowa Precision 16-gauge Pro XVI Whisper-Loc that automatically closes 26- to 16-gauge Pittsburgh seams.
• Lockformer Vulcan model 1600 5-by-10 water-jet for cutting insulation.
• Lockformer Vulcan 3100HD 6-foot by 24-foot high-definition plasma table with auto guide and software.
Every piece was modified to fit into McKinstry’s lean manufacturing operations. The coil line took over two weeks to put in place, with Mestek staff on hand for training and ensuring the machines ran smoothly.
By the end of 2012, the equipment was fully installed and operating.
Feedback from the McKinstry sheet metal workers who use the equipment has been positive, Leff said. One employee was so happy with the water-jet, he walked over to Bailey to thank him during the open house.
“The guy on the floor said, ‘Your company built this machine?’ ” Leff recalled. “And Mike (Bailey) said, ‘Yes.’ And so the guy turned back to Mike and said, ‘Man, I would love to give you a man-hug.’ He was so much happier about that piece of equipment than the previous process for having to insulate ductwork.”
Leff said he’s pretty happy, too.
“It’s sure looking like we made a good investment,” he said. “It felt like it was a collaborative process with Mike and his team and I felt like they helped us make the right decision.”
For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.