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MCN Profile: Edward W. Duffy & Co

Turnkey By Design

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MCN Editor Beth Gainer A business offering ergonomic, efficient machines – as well as design services and technical expertise – helped a client improve its workspace.

Efficiency, ergonomics, well-thought-out design and customer satisfaction are at the heart of Precision Millwright & Machine. The Villa Park, Ill.-based company serves clients that range from distributors and manufacturers to steel mills, weld shops, machine shops, tool shops and tool steel companies, among others. 

“It’s all about producing more and working less,” says Tony Granata, co-owner and vice president.

This philosophy has been the catalyst for the company to create ergonomic, efficient products and workplace designs to improve a client’s workflow. 

The business manufactures custom automated gravity tables, power tables, conveyor systems, transfer systems, as well as a variety of racking systems based on what its clients need.

“Our conveyor systems are all designed to be ergonomically correct and have all the safety systems,” says Granata. He adds that power conveyors have become popular because they eliminate extra steps the operator might need to take and prevent an employee from manually moving material. “With a power table, you hit a button, and material comes right to the employees.” The company is also known for its workspace design work to give facilities optimum workflow. 

Such automated, ergonomic products and workspace-design services attracted the attention of Tom Larsen, owner of Edward W. Duffy & Co., Madison Heights, Mich. 

Larsen was moving his business – temporarily housed in two facilities in Detroit – to one larger facility in Madison Heights. His company distributes mechanical pipe and tubing, while providing value-added services such as saw cutting and honing and centerless grinding. 

Based on PMM’s reputation, Larsen sought out the automated machinery and PMM’s expertise on how to design the new workspace to maximize workflow.
The result would be an efficient turnkey operation.

Granata met with Larsen, the operators and the foremen to discuss their work needs. The PMM team meticulously reviewed and designed the workspace layout to be ergonomic, safe and efficient and to minimize the number of steps employees had to take. 

“Everything on the ground we pretty much sell or make, distribute and can provide a layout that makes sense, not only to me, but makes sense to the operators and the owners or the general managers,” says Granata. “We want to physically walk them through the idea – whether it’s on a CAD layout or on a napkin.”

The PMM team manufactured and installed an entire ergonomic stanchion rack system for Edward W. Duffy based on trucking, receiving, order fulfillment and storage weight. “We came up with a design that Tom and his crew approved of. Then we got the green light to move forward,” says Granata. 

Larsen says that Granata “checked the layout of the building, and he helped us out, coming up with the idea about making it better for us, efficiency-wise; how to move material from one rack to another rack and where to put the racks,” says Larsen. “For example, instead of having a long-length rack next to a saw, we would have a smaller rack that holds all our shorts next to the saw, so it’s more efficient for the operator to grab them more quickly.”

The PMM team’s layouts and configurations are designed for rapid truck flow and the receiving process, the order fulfillment process, the output process and loading process as well, according to Granata, adding that PMM wants to ensure the right ergonomics are in play so employees can have greater output without hurting themselves. 

On top of that, the new system allowed Edward W. Duffy to reduce its headcount, saving costs. 

Besides being happy with the efficient design of his business, Larsen was enthralled with the conveyor lines. “Those conveyor systems are amazing,” he says, adding that his company’s previous conveyors were not automated. “You take a heavy bundle – it could be 2,000-, 3,000-, 4,000-pound material – and you had to physically push that on the rollers.” 

“With the PMM conveyor systems, you stand there, hit the button, and it takes [the material] across for you. There’s no stretching your back anymore.”

He says the new racks and automated conveyor lines have made workflow smoother. “We’ve cut our time more than three quarters and are moving quicker. The orders are getting out the door faster,” he says. “Normally we would quote a one- to two- to three-day turnaround, and we’ve done it in about a day, day and a half.” 

“Every step that an employee takes is a step toward taking away from operating profit or toward an unsafe back,” Granata says. “So we’re always looking at ways to reduce those steps and create those ergonomics so the employees can be more efficient.” 

Larsen says a big challenge was figuring out the location of the material, as well as determining what would be the best-suited racking system. “Tony had this plan all on paper, but we did have a little glitch. People get into a groove and they don’t like change too much,” he says. However Larsen’s team worked together to figure out where to place the racks and if it was acceptable to move racks in a certain way.  “So I said, ‘we can do anything we want.’ So we did move a couple of racks here and there.”

Granata and his crew came in, and they installed the racks, lined them up, anchored everything down. The process took approximately three days. The PMM staff arrived a day or two before the installation.

While Larsen’s team was in the process of moving to the current building, the COVID-19 pandemic was still raging on. Everything in Michigan shut down, so carpenters couldn’t get in the new building to finish their work. “On September 1 of 2020, I told everybody, ‘No matter what, we’re moving into that building,’” says Larsen. “The builders said, ‘You don’t have an occupancy permit,’ and I said ‘What are you going to do, kick me out of my own building? We’re moving in,’” he laughs. And the Edward W. Duffy team moved in.
A Well-Oiled Machine
Besides offering ergonomic, efficient machines and a design layout to encourage optimum workflow, PMM offers clients a one stop shop experience.  

“We are really unique,” says Granata. PMM not only sells the conveyor systems, but sells a variety of saws from different manufacturers, tooling for the saws, the saw blades, as well as the coolants and oils. “So we don’t just sell you the saw; we can cure the saw, we can maintain it, we can provide all the tooling and liquids for the saw, we can put a conveyor line in front and in back of the saw,” he says.

PMM also provides technical support for its clients. “We’ve got full-time technicians, full-time welders, and full-time [personnel] who are in the field across the country moving equipment for customers throughout plant layout and design,” Granata says. 

“When the technician is there, and he sees something wrong with the saw, he can fix the saw. If the customer needs a conveyor line, our technicians are millwrights out in the field and they can build, design and build a better mousetrap for a given customer,” says Granata. And such services help sell PMM as a viable partner for a design project. 

“We can walk in a place, measure everything up and provide you with a solution that most others can’t,” he says, adding that anyone can sell a saw or a blade, but a one-stop shop business like PMM is rare. “To my knowledge there are not many guys out there that can sell and make everything for you. Some people say, ‘a conveyor is a conveyor.’ Well, yes it is, but it’s got to meet the right specs, the right width, the right length, all those kinds of right things that make it special to the customer that allows them to be a little more productive than they were yesterday.”

With such a high focus on customer satisfaction, it’s no surprise the company continues to grow. When Granata first started at PMM, design service “was probably 10 to 20 percent of the business, and now it’s probably 30 percent,” he says, adding that as time goes on, more and more people are asking PMM to design and install projects. “These are big projects involving guys who aren’t just buying one conveyor. They are looking at a whole building. When it happens, it’s a big, big deal.”

And PMM is doing some expanding of its own. It is growing 30 percent. The expanded area would allow more storage for finished products and open up space in the existing shop for more manufacturing.

The Precision Millwright & Machine team manufactured and installed an entire ergonomic stanchion rack system for Edward W. Duffy & Co.  (Photo courtesy Precision Millwright & Machine)