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New tools, old school

Awnings & Canopies, Management | September 1, 2013 | By:

A long-term family business embraces new methods to set the stage for future growth.

Awning Works Inc. serves customers throughout our home state of Florida and nationwide. We recently expanded into general contracting with a new start-up firm called ABuilt Inc. Using today’s tools to build on a strong company background has made growth possible and profitable.

Bidding basics

The bidding process is on a fast track today and requires efficient delivery with computerized programs. Awning makers used to use scale rulers to measure the awnings on blueprints. Blueprints are not as common today as almost all of the drawings we receive are either on CD or an FTP download site. Now, drawings can be measured with a variety of computer and web based programs, typically called take-off programs, accelerating the bidding process. Many different project coordinating websites are utilized to complete a bid, and whenever possible a computer-generated photo rendering is produced to enhance the proposal.

With some basic computer experience, virtually any awning design professional can easily create a photo rendering featuring an awning structure. However, these types of programs are limited in their ability—for example, placing objects in the scene or being able to get an accurate view of the rendering from different vantage points. To get the most out of a rendering, a professional program is required; to get the best results, a skilled specialist must be employed.

Jobsite survey

Quite often the best process to insure an accurate job survey is to physically go to the jobsite for measuring. The advancements in tape measure technology have made it possible to use lasers that assist in measuring projects. My standard for measuring projects for most applications today is the laser. A laser enables you to measure multi-floor projects from the ground without using a ladder or lift. To obtain the most accurate reading, a laser can be attached to a tripod with a special mounting bracket.

Better quality laser meters do the geometric math for you, speeding up the measuring. New lasers also have Bluetooth technology allowing you to transfer all the data to your smart phone or computer. Keep in mind that you’ll spend several thousand dollars on a laser measuring device accurate enough to provide production-ready measurements. A tape measure is still the least expensive way to get an accurate measurement.

Shop drawings

The industry’s younger generations may not even realize that in the old days project drawings were done with graph paper and a pencil—both time consuming and cumbersome. Again, computer programs make life easier; all of my drawings are on my computer in Acrobat (.pdf format) or CAD (.dwg format), allowing me to integrate with an architect’s drawing easily. It is particularly helpful when an architect calls and needs a specification or a drawing change for their project. Computer programs also make our shop drawings more accurate and will translate into a more efficient manufacturing process.

Fabric manufacturing

The most versatile fabric manufacturing tool is still the sewing machine, but enhancements in technology have helped our seams become waterproof even in canvas fabrics. Fabric welders started out as radio frequency (RF) bar sealers. Now there are hot air, wedge, and impulse welders. The hot air welder uses compressed air blowing across electrical heating elements. The hot wedge welder has a precisely positioned wedge at the weld point that provides the heat for film or fabric to be joined. Both the hot air and wedge are available as a push welder or a sit down welder similar to a sewing machine.

Fusing with welders increases production and cuts costs because most of the time it is a one-person operation, and bar welders typically take two people to operate. The impulse welder is still a bar, so it only allows straight seals, which limits its capabilities. The impulse welder creates heat by pulsing energy through the heating element in the top and bottom bars for the duration of the weld.

In my opinion, the most versatile of those machines is the hot air welder. The benefit of the hot air welder is that the seam is sharper than a traditional RF bar welder and is able to go around curves. The molecular bonded seam on both a hot air welder and wedge welder is welded from the inside instead of over the two outside layers, significantly improving the seam appearance.

Another advantage of both the hot air welder and the wedge welder is the lack of stray radio frequency energy, eliminating the distance limitations from surrounding electronics, i.e. printers or office equipment. Most printers and other machine manufacturers will dictate that their equipment be at least 15 meters away from any radio frequency device. As we add more electronic equipment to our workplaces this feature is essential.

The only downside of all these welders is that you can’t complete a standard traditional awning with wings (closed fabric ends) since they can’t seam the main body to the wing without puckering down the valance area of the awning. These types of welders are great for the main body, rope and lift flaps that secure the body to the frame on larger awning structures.

All in all, fabric welders are a must-have for any awning manufacturing shop, alongside heavy-duty sewing machines.

Frame manufacturing

Awning Works uses aluminum for all of its frames in Florida because it does not rust and is light weight. Aluminum will oxidize over time but that actually provides a protective coating on the aluminum, preventing any structural deterioration. There are awning professionals who believe you need to use steel for large structures. I disagree. We have built very large engineered structures out of aluminum that spanned over 60 feet unsupported.

We use two types of welding processes for aluminum: TIG (tungsten inert gas) and MIG (metal inert gas) welding. Historically, the TIG machine welds look cleaner than MIG machine welds; however advancements in technology created the pulsed MIG welder which can produce a weld just as precise as a TIG weld. We can substitute Pulsed MIG for TIG on aluminum because it maintains structural penetrating welds and aesthetics weld beads. The pulse process increases travel speed, lowers heat input while increasing our production.

Advancements in MIG machine technology have transformed the way aluminum wire reaches a welded piece. We used to use an MIG gun with small spools that delivered the wire to the aluminum. Now push/pull guns are becoming very popular. Push/pull guns use larger wire spools, which reduce change out time and are able to get into tighter areas of the framework. Investing in a new pulsed welding machine increases production and will quickly pay for itself.

Like all business owners, we evaluate new machinery, computer software programs, and hire the best skilled employees. By expanding our knowledge, joining trade organizations like IFAI, and continuing to work hard, we’re delivering the best, most efficient results to our customers and weathering the economic storms. Beyond all of the new technology and machines, always remember that your company’s most essential “tools” for a better business has two constants; quality workmanship and customer service.

Jarrett Schechner is vice president and second generation of the family owned and operated Awning Works Inc., Clearwater, Fla., started in 1985 by his parents and three employees. It has since grown into a diverse corporation that not only manufactures awnings, but also houses Refueled Inc., a web development and programming company.

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