Yesterday I visited my first sheet metal shop and, let me just say, it was a full-on sensory experience.     

Snips Editor Michael McConnell is finishing up his December cover story on shop layouts — you can view last year’s stories on the topic here in case you missed it — and asked me to tag along during a visit earlier this week to Dee Cramer, a family-owned sheet metal works firm founded in 1937. 

Upon entering the company’s newer facility in Wixom, Michigan, we met with Glenn Lamb, a fabrication division manager who has been with Dee Cramer for 25 years. He was kind enough to supply me with a pair of safety glasses (I know, I know. Talk about amateur hour, but don’t forget I’m new to this, dear readers!) and walk us through the shop’s layout. While McConnell and Lamb chatted about layout specifics, I was busy taking everything in. It wasn’t long before my senses became overloaded with so much newness.

In all corners of the 20,000-square-foot space, there was activity accompanied by the foreign noises of sheet metal being trimmed, folded and hammered. Never before have I seen a piece of sheet metal slide off its coil spool and glide along its path on the conveyor belt to form something I have seen many times before: a piece of rectangular metal ductwork. 

And just as the sheet metal follows its path from start to finish, so does the layout of Dee Cramer’s facility. Every piece of equipment — and every worker — has a purpose and a place. In fact, it was interesting to observe all the pedestal fans situated on the shop floor. These fans were directing the flow of air and pushing us along step by step, just as the layout directs the flow of the job. 

Little by little, all of this sheet metal talk is starting to make sense.