Without question, 2020 was a year for the history books. The construction industry was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic that left most of us facing unknown circumstances and unprecedented operational difficulties. Last spring in particular was a tough season for contractors and manufacturers alike, facing an uncertain future.
With four decades of experience, OmniDuct has seen its fair share of ups and downs. When we saw the possibility of a construction market crash, we immediately focused back on what carried us through the Great Recession of 2008: our core values of integrity, caring and stewardship.
We showed integrity by keeping our commitments to our customers, exceeding their expectations for quality and timely delivery while keeping costs down. We cared for our employees by striving to maintain their regular hours, even when we didn’t have ductwork to build — as well as provide flexibility while their families adjusted to this new normal.
Then, finally, we demonstrated good stewardship by applying lean manufacturing principles to our operations. In fact, by keeping our staff on the clock, we were able to use their available labor to improve our shop and procedures. Not only did we get more efficient in the downtime of COVID-19, we solved long-existing problems and implemented solutions that will allow us to increase production as work returns. All the while, we kept morale and employee engagement high. Lean works!
Last spring, we won a bid to build spiral duct for a 1,000,000 square-foot warehouse under construction less than an hour away from our shop. We were thrilled! Not only would we keep our crew busy for weeks, this would help us get back on track with our revenue targets.
The job, however, while fairly straightforward, was absolutely massive in dimension. The plans called for six runs over 300 feet long with spiral duct measuring 82” in diameter. This presented an immediate issue for us as our largest spiral head was nearly two feet less than that. We would need to purchase an expensive custom head manufactured specifically for this job, adding extra cost and time to an already expensive and lengthy project. This is when the innovative thinking kicked in.
As we approached the issue of how to produce this gargantuan duct, we put on our lean thinking caps. We started asking a series of questions: how can we do more with less? How can we maximize our resources? How can we use our creativity instead of capital? What if we could borrow a head from someone?
We started to reach out to our partners in the HVAC Duct Manufacturers Alliance. Does anyone have an 82” spiral head laying around? Luckily, one of our partners had an 84” head collecting dust in the racking of their shop.
We wondered if we could somehow modify it to work in our quest for an outside-the-box solution. We came to a very generous (just pay the shipping) agreement with our partner, and soon we were the proud new owners of a spiral head … that was still the wrong size. Now what?
Kevin is our resident spiral wizard and a lean expert. He took one look at the 84” head and knew exactly how to solve the problem: chop it up! He planned his attack: in order to turn an 84” into an 82” diameter, we needed to remove π X 2” of material. That worked out to about 6.25”.
Like a surgeon, he measured, marked, and cut the section out. We then drilled and tapped a series of holes to add sections of angle iron to each end, allowing the head to be bolted back together at the new diameter. We added angle iron to the removed section as well, allowing it to be reattached just in case we ever needed to run 84” pipe again. To keep everything running smoothly, we rigged up additional lubrication lines to deliver oil to the top of the head. Things were looking good.
Now it was time for the moment of truth. We bolted our Frankenstein head onto the machine and watched with nervous excitement as the first tube formed. Success! The pipe ran flawlessly, and the seams were so strong that it did not require any additional reinforcement.
By being curious and humble enough to ask questions, and bold enough to test wild new solutions, we invented a variable diameter spiral head. Thanks to lean thinking, the job was delivered on time, thousands of dollars were saved, and we discovered an innovative new manufacturing method.
Kevin’s spiral head success is one of many improvements we have seen over the last year. It has been incredibly encouraging to see our team band together to solve problems and innovate, especially in the face of adversity and uncertainty.
None of this would have been possible without a commitment to our core values, lean manufacturing, and equipping our employees with skills, tools and the environment to improve their work. If you do one thing in 2021, study lean manufacturing and learn how to fit it into your organization.
We can’t predict the future, but we can prepare for it by streamlining our processes and empowering our people. From all of us at OmniDuct, we wish you a prosperous new year!