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Leveraging Automation in your Shop

How has your business adapted over the last 10 years? For businesses in the Metal Fab and HVAC industries, automation is an accessible tool that can be leveraged to keep up to date with manufacturing advancements. The term “automation” is quite broad and refers to any process that was previously done manually, currently being done by a machine. Something as simple as a plasma table can be considered an automated machine.

If you’re a small or medium-sized shop interested in learning how to leverage automation, or a larger shop ready to invest in an advanced automated machine, keep reading. We’re going to break down why automation is important, the different ways it can assist your business, and how to leverage automation to improve your return on investment (ROI).

Before we dive in, there are two misconceptions about automation we need to clear up:

  • Automation takes jobs away from people.

Automation does not replace people with machines, at least not in the way you might be thinking. It requires human interaction, observation, and intervention to continuously add value to your business.

  • Automation is expensive.

When people hear “automation,” they tend to think of highly technical, very advanced machines. There is a wide range of automated machines available for your specific shop needs. Automation is more accessible than you think.

Why Automation?

Automation is changing the Metal Fab and HVAC industries and allowing for greater efficiency, consistency, and profitability. Businesses who don’t learn about automation, and determine a way to leverage it, could get left behind.

Here are the key benefits of automation:

  • Improve efficiency and workflow on the shop floor
  • Cut costs and increase ROI
  • Improve quality and consistency
  • Remove mundane tasks and improve quality of work for staff
  • Reduce worker fatigue and enhance safety
  • Get access to better data and use this information for continuous improvement

Although automation can provide immense benefits for your business, it shouldn’t be considered a “cure-all.” Think of automation as another aspect of your business strategy at large. It will help you grow if you have the right processes implemented.

Automation is Here to Stay

Automation is here to stay. Did you know that the global collaborative robot industry is expected to grow to from $1.4 billion in 2021 to $16.4 billion in 2028? (This figure addresses multiple industries; metal & machining industry included). We know you’re probably not interested in collaborative robots, but this figure is impressive. As innovative technologies in the automation space emerge, the notion that “robots will replace people” is being challenged. Machines like collaborative robots are designed for human interaction. In fact, a lot of the simpler automated machines suitable for your HVAC or metal fab shop require human interaction. Keep reading to see our breakdown of shop-specific machine recommendations.

Ironically, many industries are struggling due to a lack of people. Skilled labour shortages and other external factors such as COVID-19 and supply chain issues have further proved that automation is needed to help businesses push through uncertain times.

Automation and Skilled Labour Shortages

There are mundane, repetitive tasks that all shops undertake every day. If you’re having a challenging time finding employees to hire for these tasks, imagine investing $30,000 to $50,000 in an automated machine to complete this job for years to come. It will save you money in the long run, speed up your shop workflow, and free-up your valued employees to complete tasks they’re better suited for.

Attracting and retaining skilled workers is yet another benefit to bringing automation into your shop. Younger people entering the trades have been exposed to automation in schooling and/or their apprenticeships and often prefer to work at an innovative company that is utilizing automation technology. For the metal fab and HVAC industries at large, embracing automation may help sustain the workforce and encourage younger people to enter the trades. Attracting and retaining skilled workers is yet another benefit to bringing automation into your shop.

Addressing Uncertainty with Automation

Faster turnaround, reduction in mistakes and optimization of materials used are all ways that automation will increase your return on investment. Increasing your profit margins will help you keep your business afloat, assurance everyone could use today as external factors continue to significantly affect our global economy.

From supply chain shortages to COVID-19 to global conflicts affecting our economy, there has never been a better time to consider investing in a machine that will help your shop adapt successfully and prepare for future risks.

How Can Small and Medium-Sized Shops Leverage Automation?

No matter the size of your shop, automation is something that can be considered and implemented. Whether you’re looking to grow your business or perfect your current workflow and increase profitability, there is an automated machine for your shop needs. For those who don’t have a large budget and aren’t sure where to start, we’ve broken down some of the most accessible and effective automated machines for metal fab, HVAC and roofing shops below.

Automated Machines in Metal Fab

When talking to small and medium sized shops one of the most common complaints we hear is that they cannot get their laser cut parts fast enough when they outsource their cutting. If they have the work to support their own cutting, we recommend bringing the cutting in-house. This provides greater control of delivery and reduces the costs of your parts.

If you have a laser and you’re looking for an efficient way to pull cut material and parts off the machine, automation can help. Consider using an automated material handling machine that automatically loads material on the laser table. Separating the parts from the sheet is often a challenging and time-consuming task. There is now automation available that can pull and place the cut pieces from the sheet on the pallets. This frees up resources for more valuable work.

Advances in nesting software have made the processing of nesting parts more efficient. There are several plugs-in now available that work right with Solidworks, AutoCad and other design software packages that allow the part to be nested directly from the CAD software, making the process more efficient from the front office.

Automated Machines in HVAC Shops

If you’re still buying all your fittings or laying them out by hand, you can’t afford to go without a plasma table. Recently, we had a client who invested $50,000 in a plasma table. They went from running 2 shifts 6 days per week to completing all their cutting for the week in 4 hours on a Monday morning. This investment allowed them to reduce labour costs, improve workflow and efficiency, and increase their ROI by having the time and resources to take on more complex work.

Maybe you already have a plasma table. Did you know you can improve your ROI and save 4-6% by investing in a coil fed system? Instead of buying flat stock sheet and manually placing it onto your plasma table, invest in a coil fed system. This will allow for multiple coils to be housed at the end of your table and different gauges to be switched out very easily.

Producing square duct can be done several ways depending on the equipment you have.  A Coil line can increase efficiency by pulling raw material from the coil then beading, notching, shearing and forming of “L-Section” or “Full Wrap” duct work automatically. You can program several jobs at one time and blank material off from coil for your plasma table. The Front end of a coil line can be expanded to have the downstream capabilities for insulation and TDF.

Automated Machines in Roofing Shops

A CNC Folder is by far the best way for a small roofing shop to play in the big leagues. Bending flashing by hand is too slow and part consistency is just not there. A major cost to any installation company is when an employee must make a trip back to the shop to get another piece bent because it does not fit. Today’s folders with their CNC controls take all the guess work out of bending metal. A CNC Folder operates many times faster than manually bending the material and there is no comparison when it comes to part consistency. No more scribing lines! Draw a picture on the screen, enter your dimensions and the control figures out the rest. It will even tell you when to turn or flip the part.

Another great piece of equipment in any roofing shop is a power shear with front material return. Slitters deform the part and make the finished piece come out twisted and harder to install.  A power shear can do in seconds what it takes minutes for a slitter to do.  Many shears come with a movable tray which allows you to wheel the tray over to the folder and begin the bending process after all your pieces are cut.

We want small and medium-sized shops to understand their options when it comes to automation. A change in perspective can be the difference between narrow profit margins and a substantial increase in ROI. Empire is here to show you how to start with 1 piece of automated equipment and grow from there. We can help you break through the glass ceiling and reach your unique business goals.

Contact us to discuss your machinery needs and learn more about how automation can improve your shop!


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