As business came to a screeching halt last year due to COVID-19, Mestek Machinery found a way to keep its clients going by rolling out virtual installations of its sheet metal machinery. One such client was metals, HVAC, commercial roofing and machinery products distributor, NB Handy.

After the company purchased a new Cut-To-Length Line to expand its roofing business, NB Handy collaborated with Mestek on a virtual installation of its new investment.

“Basically, what we're doing is we had certain procedures that we use when we did onsite installations,” explains J.R. Svehla, Mestek Machinery manufacturing manager. “We would send out a pre-installation information, and we would send out sheets. And on the sign-off sheet, there would be a list of requirements that the customer would have to fulfill before we would travel to their location to begin the installation.”

Requirements include locating the machine, uncrating it, running air and electric to it and hooking up the exhaust.

“Well now that we are not arriving, we still expect them to meet those same requirements before we try installing it remotely,” says Svehla. In fact, he says it’s even more important everything on the list is checked off before installation

Important installation reminders The most important thing to know on every installation is different.

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“Some installs, we have one person that covers almost everything. Other installs, I've got the owner, the shop foreman, electrician, the plumber and the operator,” says Mike Kenny who handles waterjets and plasma installations for Mestek with Svehla. “I've got to consider who I talk to and how I give that information.”

Despite travel restrictions, Mestek Machinery service technicians remained available by phone or email to assist customers with their virtual needs.

The company has completed more than eight virtual installations since the start of the pandemic. Although the company plans to go back to in-person installations once companies lift travel restrictions, Kenny says the experience has been good practice for the company to hone its process.

NB Handy’s new machine was virtually installed in March 2020 and up and running by the next month. In an interview with NB Handy’s Tony Bonavita, vice president of supply chain, he explains why investing in Mestek Machinery’s Cut-To-Length sheeting machine was the right decision.

What was the thought process behind procuring the Cut-To-Length Line now? Our growth exceeded the serviceability of our previous partner, and it was time to integrate ourselves and take our future in our own hands.

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The machine that we purchased from Mestek is designed to support the architectural metals segment of our business. Our business has grown substantially, doubled in the past five years. It got to the point where our manufacturer was having a hard time being able to service and keep up with our demand. Knowing that we already have a steel processing facility in Lynchburg with another Mestek Cut-To-Length line for the galvanized portion of our business, it was natural for us to work with Mike and the team on finding a second machine for us that allows us to integrate and take over the purchasing and servicing component of our painted metal program. This Cut-to-Length line was designed and engineered to support the painted metals and roofing side of our business more than on the HVAC side.

It’s been fantastic for us. We now procure the painted coils ourselves, a process that moves those sheets in Lynchburg through the new Cut-To-Length line and utilizes our current trucking and distribution network to get those to our customers in a timely manner.

So the entire impetus for us has really been to take over the serviceability and continue the level of serviceability that our customers expect.

When you bring a process like this in-house, are you saving any time on the process? Where does the customer benefit most? It really is about serviceability and lead-time for our customers. Whereas our previous partner who did all of this for us really grew unable to handle the volume, the scale and the breadth of all of the things that we do. So from a time savings standpoint, it’s not necessarily time on our end as much as it is predictability and dependability for our level of commitment to our customers. That way, it’s on time for our customers.

How was the transition process from outside procurement to in-house production? We used an outside processor for a period, so it was certainly a transition. We had built up excess stock to supply as we were waiting for the Cut-To-Length Line to be delivered in the near-term as we phased out the old material and began processing the new.

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Did you have to move some space around for this machine? Our processing facility in Lynchburg had some underutilized space so it was a great fit for us. We didn’t have to add any square footage. It fit perfectly in the area that we have.

What advice would you give another distributor or anyone who is looking to bring a service in-house? Well I do think that any investment needs to be measured against the impact it has on your customer base. That could be the ability to do something faster. It could be the ability to do something at a lower cost basis, to expand your capability to do other processes that you didn’t do before, and you create more of a one-stop shop. Whenever you are evaluating a machine that is going to change how an organization does something internally, you really need to think of the customer and work backwards.

Have you figured out why has this portion of your business been growing so much? We consider ourselves a metals company. We absolutely love metals, and our dedication to the architectural segment is built upon our dedication to roofing and our dedication to metals. To be honest with you, we love making the investments. To be in this game, you have to have dedication to an extreme level of service and a ton of different inventory. With that commitment, we have been rewarded with our customers giving us stronger portions of their business.