Miller Bonded Inc.

Mechanical contractors have to produce a lot of pipe and sheet metal duct, so if they are going to be profitable, the efficiency of those operations is critical. With that in mind, Miller Bonded Inc. started building a new $1.7 million pipe fabrication facility next to its Albuquerque, N.M., headquarters in March 2010 to meet the needs of a recovering economy.

“Even in the downturn of the economy, we started the expansion because we know it’s going to turn around,” says Tom Payne, business development director. “Our planned completion date is the end of 2010, and again timing-wise, we think we’ll be ramping up around that time. It’s already turning around a little bit. We hope it will start going strong sometime next year.”

The company expects its increased capacity will enable it to supply additional projects even if the construction is not awarded to Miller Bonded. Although Payne says Miller Bonded has had outside duct sales for years – and has delivered millions of pounds of metal for some of its top competitors – the pipe fabrication for external customers is a market segment that the company hasn’t actively developed in the past. 

“So, now if we happen to not get a particular project, we still get a piece of it, and we’re able to benefit our fellow contractor by producing a high quality product at a lower cost than they can and still making a profit,” Payne adds. “It’s a win-win-win all the way through.”

The 16,000-square-foot, one-story metal building is approximately 30 feet tall to accommodate a bridge crane that allows fabrication of larger pipe products. The hook of the crane is approximately 18 feet above the factory floor. 

The site next to the headquarters was purchased in 2007 by Miller Bonded after many attempts and negotiations beginning in 1992. Approximately $200,000 in new equipment is being installed in the facility in addition to what is being moved over from the existing pipe fabrication shop.

Efficient Manufacturing

Miller Bonded designed for LEED Gold certification for the new building and is installing many energy-efficient features to meet the goal. One key feature is a slab hydronic heating system fed by solar panels located on the roof. Even in the winter, the solar is available an estimated 85 percent of the time to satisfy the heating needs.

Instead of using a heat exchanger to recover temperature from the conditioned exhaust air, the exhaust is filtered, sent through a particulate separator and then reintroduced to the building. “So it is very highly efficient because we don’t have the loss of efficiency through a heat exchanger,” Payne explains. 

An evaporative, dual-inlet cooler is employed in place of refrigerated air conditioning. It uses a fan and pump instead of a compressor to save energy and is suitable for the warm, dry climate in the southwest United States. Low-flow water fixtures will be installed throughout the building, preferred parking spaces will be marked for hybrid cars and racks provided for bicycles. Showers already are available for employee use.

Fab Four

The fabrication shop allows Miller Bonded to realize production efficiencies unavailable on-site. The company can produce modules called batteries in which the plumbing for multiple toilets and sinks are assembled in the factory and shipped to the job site where they simply need to be anchored to the poured concrete slab and tied in to the water supply and sewer for speedy operation. The company manufactures duct from raw metal as well as fabricates actual piping runs with all the welding, grooving and flanges. This can be done with accuracy because of the 3-D capabilities of Miller Bonded’s building information modeling (BIM) processes.

“One of the things that we pride ourselves on is our processes, and that’s being able to take a project from conceptual design through our detailing process, which is creating 3-D modeling, coordinating that modeling with the other trades, and then being able to fabricate as much as possible within our shops in a controlled environmental condition,” Payne adds.

To do this for an existing site, accurate 3-D modeling of the site must be obtained. This also is a specialty of Miller Bonded, which uses 3-D laser equipment that scans approximately 960,000 points per second. It is operated on-site to create a “point cloud” that can be converted into a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing. 

“When we go to the fabrication process after having multiple trades sign off on it, we can actually make that 3-D model work for actual construction,” Payne notes. “This was done in the past by sending people out to take measurements and photographs, and they’d spend weeks out there and then weeks drawing it, and inevitably they didn’t get some measurements they needed, and they’d have to go back.”

Something often was missed that remained undiscovered until the project was under construction and multiple trades were on-site. This process helps eliminate that possibility. Also, because pipe and duct can be produced while construction continues at a site, construction schedules can be met or improved upon.

“We can cut the field time and drawing time down to one-fourth of what it was with accuracy down to one-eighth of an inch,” Payne says. “Our fabricators work in heated and air conditioned space where they’re comfortable and productive.”

He estimates that 95 percent of problems with pipe or ducting not fitting on-site have been eliminated with the 3-D BIM process. The 3-D modeling service also is offered to other companies including architects, engineers, building owners or property managers.

“The whole BIM process is going to be used more and more and be required more and more,” Payne predicts. “That’s another reason we felt we needed to stay on the forefront of it.”

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