Automating Mark’s Truss Plant

My friend Mark got hit by the downturn in construction.  He owns a steel truss plant that makes — surprise–light gauge steel trusses used in the construction of high end homes or commercial and industrial buildings. In the last two years, Arizona has not been a hotbed of new construction activity.

However, there is still SOME work, just not enough to incur overhead. Mark’s problem was how to re-organize to cut costs without losing quality.

He’s an entrepreneur; he solved his problem. And he solved it with business process automation in an industry not known for it.

Mark built a conveyor belt next to a metal shed on his property. He had a big, expensive Italian saw, hard to secure on the site, that he had never assembled.  He put it together inside a metal shed where it could be locked up at night. Along the way, he installed electricity and learned how to wire 3-phase current (by trial and error).

He cut two holes in the shed: one for raw material to feed in, and one for finished cuts to come out. He programmed the saw to measure the size of cuts.

He let go all but two laborers, because he no longer needed people to measure, people to cut, people to assemble. The cutting process is now automatic, which also means he saves money in materials, where he formerly had a lot of waste. He installed video security, too.

The coolest thing? The empoyees who are left LOVE the fact that it’s an automated process now and admire Mark for doing it. They are more interested in doing quality work because they understand more about what’s going on. And they respect their boss, who literally did all the heavy lifting himself.

There’s a complete set of Flickr photos of my visit to the yard.