You work hard for nearly two decades building a business that, while boasting of considerable past success, continues to thrive. What do you do for a second act? Ron Newton of Atlanta is taking a key component of his operation and is re-engineering it to form a completely new enterprise.

The Jorns AG Twin-Matic 150 computerized long folding machine is hard at work.

An automated plasma machine cuts parts.

You work hard for nearly two decades building a business that, while boasting of considerable past success, continues to thrive. What do you do for a second act? Ron Newton of Atlanta is taking a key component of his operation and is re-engineering it to form a completely new enterprise.

Newton founded Mid-South Roof Systems Inc. in 1990 to offer commercial roof contracting services. Since then, Mid-South has grown into one of the nation’s top-volume roof-contracting firms with annual production in the mid eight-figure range. That in itself is pretty remarkable, but Newton is very quick to credit his team with that success. Key to that is his management team, which includes Darren Hatton, vice president of operations, and Greg Danford, operations manager, sheet metal division.

While competing for the large commercial, institutional, and industrial low-slope roofing projects, Mid-South also furnishes and installs metal roofing from its Atlanta base and from a sister operation in Macon, Ga. Along with all those commercial roofing squares comes a great deal of tonnage in metal trim, gutters, downspouts, flashing, and various other architectural metal accessories. Mid-South has operated a sheet metal shop for years to support its roofing operation.

The metal operation formed the foundation from which Newton would launch his next enterprise. With a thriving in-house metal operation and room to grow, the idea emerged to move the production capabilities of the shop to a new level. A couple of questions followed, including "What do you do with the new production?" and "How do you increase productivity?"

The answer to the first question led to the formation of a new enterprise operated separately from Mid-South: Precision Fabricators of Atlanta (PFA). The answer to the second question led to some new machinery and a completely reconfigured shop operation.

Employees set up a run on the Jorns cut-to-length line.

Precision Fabricators of Atlanta

Any successful enterprise begins with people. Newton brought Danford into the sheet metal operation nearly 10 years ago. He arrived with over 20 years of experience in the sheet metal business and worked his way up to the lead position of operations manager for the sheet metal division. Rodney Mayo came along around the same time and serves as the company’s "metal specialist," an experienced craftsman recognized as the go-to guy who may be called on to solve any issue involving sheet metal fabrication. Steve Barrett is Danford’s "right-hand man," a project administrator who handles a wide variety of duties including procurement. Day-to-day operation of the shop falls on the shoulders of a pair of superintendents, Jason Redman and Keith Jones. Shop mechanics tend to specialize, but are all cross-trained for the various tasks found on the shop floor.

The primary mission for PFA is to grow from an operation serving primarily one large commercial roofing contractor to one of a manufacturer serving the metal needs of a variety of contractors. In order to do that, a number of obstacles must be overcome. The goal is to establish a great value proposition, demonstrate it, sell it, and then execute.

Danford, serving as the general manager for PFA, is responsible for building the team to do it. According to Newton, Danford has always been able to attract the best sheet metal mechanics. The company has a culture of "challenging and rewarding" its people, which has proven to be a successful formula for team building.

Beginning with top-notch personnel, the PFA team was able to cook up the value proposition that they felt would allow them to compete in the market as a component manufacturer. The plan is for PFA to target commercial roofing contractors who either do little or none of their own sheet metal work. Most likely, these contractors will have operations with sales in the $1 million to $5 million range. The plan is to turn fast and accurate job quotes around, have the specifications approved, and then deliver as promised. Newton adds, "We always want to be able to produce it within one week."

Speed and quality are to set the tone for PFA and should provide sufficient value to attract a clientele who will provide the volume of business that will ultimately drive the success of the new enterprise. It’s a tall order, but speaking of Danford and his team, Newton says, "I’ve never put a challenge against them that they didn’t make."

Pictured is an automated coil-to-flat sheet operation. Flat sheets are moved to the slitting and forming area, and the finished parts are loaded directly onto flatbed trailers for delivery to the work sites.

Quantum Leap

With people in place, any sheet metal operation must have a shop that flows well and is equipped sufficiently to match production requirements. In order to meet emerging needs, the PFA operation was going to require some new machinery and a redesigned shop.

To get to a solution for the questions of production machinery, Newton and Danford went back to the source they had used since purchasing their first computerized folding machine in 1998, Metalforming Inc. of Peachtree City, Ga. According to Metalforming’s Geoff Stone, the good folks of the emerging PFA approached the company at a MetalCon trade show inquiring as to how they could take their production to the next level.

Metalforming was demonstrating the Jorns AG Twin-Matic 150. The Twin-Matic 150 is a new generation computerized long folding machine. It takes automated folding to a new level, boasting productivity increases of four times over conventional computerized folders. Stone qualifies this claim by indicating the productivity of simple folding tasks will only increase by 30 percent or 40 percent, but that production of complex parts on this machine can yield production increases of 10 times or more. The capabilities of the software are dramatically enhanced over earlier models and even include tapered details.

The (overly) simple explanation of how the Twin-Matic 150 works is this: Once the program is entered into the system, the operator(s) simply load the blank into the jaws, stand back and let the machine do the work. No flipping or turning, the machine does all the bends without removing the part. This machine answers a number of issues in a sheet metal shop, including ease of operation (both for the programmer and operator), productivity (amazing production increase over more manual machines), space utilization (without having to turn the long parts numerous times, the workspace footprint is greatly reduced), and safety (reduced manhandling spells reduced injuries).

The Twin-Matic 150 seemed to answer all the needs for increased production while saving labor in order to help ensure the new operation would be competitive in its new marketplace. This was the fourth computerized folding machine Newton purchased from Metalforming. Speaking of the Jorns and Schechtl machines offered by Metalforming, Danford remarked, "It’s hard to walk away from a good product." The machine, manufactured in Switzerland, was ordered and delivered.

While there are a number of the Twin-Matic 150 units in use all over Europe, there are fewer than a dozen working in the United States. It takes six months to a year and an investment ranging from a quarter-million to a half-million bucks. The unit purchased by PFA is a 21-foot, 16-gauge model, one of four available ranging from 13 feet to 40 feet (no wonder they call them "long folders"), with capacities from 18 to 11 gauge. The writer was treated to a demonstration in the PFA shop as sizable painted steel box gutters were being fabricated at a pace of roughly 40 seconds each.

Some years ago, Mid-South moved into a large warehouse facility in Forrest Park, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. At the time they wondered how they would ever make use of all the space, but growing businesses tend to consume space. On review of the situation, the PFA team discovered that the space was sufficient, but not laid out for the kind of production being sought.

With the new machine on the way, the team set out to reconfigure the space and ended up clearing the entire inventory from the rear of the shop and moving it to another section of the warehouse. This allowed for an enhanced "flow-through" aisle where incoming coils of metal could be brought to the cut-to-length line (a new automated piece of equipment by Jorns AG that was also added as part of the redesign of the shop). From there, the flat sheets may be moved to the slitting and forming area and the finished parts are loaded directly onto flatbed trailers for delivery to the work sites.

The Precision Fabricators of Atlanta management team includes, from left, Darren Hatton, Ron Newton and Greg Danford.

Ready to Roll

At this point all the pieces are in place. Showroom displays and samples have been built and partnerships with distributors and contractors are being developed to complete the move from a furnish-install sheet metal operation to a manufacturing operation. Danford and his PFA team operate the "inside" sheet metal operation and Mid-South Roof Systems personnel take care of the installation side. While this is all new for Mid-South, Stone tells us that there are a number of roofing contractors across the country that have made the leap to the manufacturing side. Some of them go there and end up out of the roofing business altogether. That is not part of the plan in this case, but PFA is definitely aiming to take on a life of its own.

Mid-South is still the primary customer for PFA, but Newton believes that should change over time as a book of outside business continues to build. It adds up to a significant challenge, but one that Newton makes with a great deal of confidence. The team and the resources are in place; stay tuned asRoofing Contractorwill issue an update on the progress of PFA in a future issue.