Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is building two new paint shops in Michigan, and SMACNA contractor Partlan-Labadie Sheet Metal Company of Oak Park, Mich., is a crucial part of that growth.
“We’re installing the ventilation system, providing basic comfort for the future workforce,” says Partlan-Labadie President Craig M. Pessina. “It’s like heating and cooling a home.”
To Craig and many of his staff, complex and bigger systems may seem simple – like heating or cooling a home – but of course, industrial plants require much bigger ventilation systems than any home. For this project, Partlan-Labadie purchased 42-inch round duct and fabricated the necessary 232-inch rectangular duct and specialized fittings in-house.
“The rectangular duct is outside the maximum range of SMACNA guidelines,” Pessina said. “We had to calculate the correct proportions ourselves. For a project of this magnitude, we closely follow SMACNA design standards to ensure high quality results.”
Installing 10,000 to 12,000 linear feet of duct into a million square foot paint shop might sound like a big project for many contractors, but it is smaller in scale compared to past plants worked on by Partlan-Labadie.
“We’ve done paint shops before,” said Pessina, “some three or four times larger than this one.” Ironically, the smaller construction sites like this one pose the most serious challenges for completing these projects on schedule. “In some ways, these small facilities are less challenging projects because they are not as spread out as our previous paint shop jobs,” Pessina explains. “The equipment is packed into a much smaller footprint.”
For previous paint shop jobs, Partlan-Labadie would bring in large crews as the work progressed, peaking at 40 or 50 craftspersons on-site. With these more compact plants however, this tried-and-true strategy backfired.
“About a fifth of the way into the project, we realized that we had too much manpower, and it was detrimental to our success,” Pessina said. “It wasn’t just our own people we had to take into account, but also the 500-600 other tradespeople who were working at the same time. We were tripping over each other.”
The crowded conditions slowed Partlan-Labadie’s progress, and raised the risk of injuries. “We stepped back on manpower and refocused on road-mapping the most efficient ways to go forward.”Materials handling also proved to be unique. A crane hoisted the air supply houses to the 110-foot high roof access, but then the team had to move them to their final location 80 feet above ground level.
Increased planning and foresight were crucial to success. “We had to maneuver them back down through different levels of the building,” says Pessina.
Adjusting the work crew and detailed planning paid off. “The Detroit plant is now 95 percent complete,” Pessina said. “We are in the thick of the second facility in Warren, Mich. I’m glad we had the two projects back-to-back, because we were so well-prepared for the second job. Things are going much more efficiently for the second facility. That will wrap up around April.”
With business booming, Pessina appreciates his work force. “We are fortunate to be a union shop,” he said. “Labor is always a challenge, but Local 80 includes a vast array of very qualified sheet metal workers. They have experience working here in Michigan. We have a solid crew of labor.”
Partlan-Labadie just celebrated their 130th year as a family-owned business. “There aren’t too many challenges that we haven’t seen,” Pessina said. “We pride ourselves on providing solutions for our customers. We do our best to ensure the entire team, not just sheet metal workers, with a successful project.”