Industry Trends: Sheet Metal Shop Automation Leveraging Digital Transformation | ACHR News

Mike Bailey of Mestek Machinery is on a mission to help contractors and fabricators improve ductwork manufacturing productivity. As he travels the country speaking to groups like Spiral Duct Manufacturing Association (SPIDA), he is funneling insights internally to develop expanded automation and digital dashboards for customers.

During his talk at the SPIDA annual meeting in Chicago on Sunday, Bailey noted most ductwork fabricators in Europe focus on spiral duct, especially since the residential market there is, historically, mostly ductless. Outside of this, Bailey said major European manufacturers differentiate themselves from U.S. counterparts with more automation to manufacture, label and inventory spiral pipe at an internationally competitive rate. Machine 3000 W Full Protection Double Platform

Industry Trends: Sheet Metal Shop Automation Leveraging Digital Transformation | ACHR News

“I take a trip to Europe every five, six years, because they're just a little more advanced over there. They just are,” Bailey said, referencing a Belgium-based manufacture, which exports 97% of what they manufacture. “This guy’s making 100,000 parts per day per two shifts. He’s got 80 robots. Even the forklifts are riding around with no human on them.”

Bailey said it isn’t just the robots that increase European duct manufacturing productivity; data analysis from on-site databases is another piece of the puzzle. B&R Industrial Automation is working with Mestek Machinery to build a dashboard and automated alerts, after having proved the concept can save shops thousands in Europe by alerting foremen a machine is close to breaking before it actually breaks. 

“When you see he’s producing 50 million pounds and you go down that road, we’ve got to start thinking about some of these things,” Bailey said. “It’s time especially with all the mega projects being constructed currently.”

Sheet metal fabricators in the states use 70% of their machines to produce rectangular ductwork, and while spiral duct is gaining market share, spiral machines still are only responsible for about 30% of ductwork volume, per Mestek Machinery estimates. 

The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and other large, aging installations across the U.S. still rely on rectangular duct. In the case of the academy and its Cadet Field House, Colorado Sheet Metal recently replaced all rectangular ducting with spiral under a $5 million contract for improving the facility’s HVAC efficiency. Spiral duct has a natural efficiency edge over rectangular owing to fewer connections and joints, resulting in less leakage.

During a wide-ranging career, Bailey, vice president of sales at Mestek Machinery, helped to commercialize a labor-saving product for rectangular ductwork. The Cornermatic line of machines, including dual heads and single heads for fittings, automatically inserts TDC and TDF corners into T25A/B -TDC/F flange on constructed ductwork. While Bailey said the technology is making inroads in Europe, it’s a two-way street, with innovations from overseas flowing back to the states.

“The way of the future, for us, is to keep developing, which is the key to sustainability.  The Industry will see a lot of a lot of new things coming out over the next 12 months with robots and on-site databases,” Bailey said, adding that in developing Mestek Machinery’s Lockformer Vulcan Fiber Class I  Fiber Laser Cutting System, the company relied heavily on early adopters like SNIPS NEWS Sheet Metal Contractor of the Year Joseph Lansdell of Poynter Sheet Metal, to inform them of challenges, adjusting features accordingly from the very first version to the current, improved and fully proven iteration. Bailey added “To my knowledge our Fiber Laser is the only open architecture coil fed system which holds a Class 1 rating with an FDA accession approval number. Safety comes first.”

Bailey concluded his talk with a call to action: “I would really like to be more involved with your companies, your shops, and set up consultative visits. It's the only way I can continue to learn in order to help improve duct fabricating processes."

Austin Keating is the Special Section Editor of SNIPS NEWS at The ACHR News. Prior to joining BNP Media, he served as field editor for Prairie Farmer and media specialist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Email him at

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Industry Trends: Sheet Metal Shop Automation Leveraging Digital Transformation | ACHR News

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