Skilled to Work: Inside an architectural sheet metal fabrication shop

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- There are a few great examples of architectural sheet metal in the Quad Cities with sleek, modern sheet metal and glass exteriors. For example, the new IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union headquarters on the Moline riverfront makes stylish use of the material.

"It is becoming more popular, it's a lot higher-end aesthetic though," said Tom DeMuynck, estimator and project manager for Hornbuckle Heating.

But the majority of architectural sheet metal being made at area fabrication shops include gutters, roof edges and other kinds of trim. The process requires a lot of hands-on attention.

A friend encouraged pre-apprentice Ricardo Morales to try it.

"He kind of told me, you know, you could use your head a lot more," Morales said.

He could be seen working on gutters for Assumption High School one morning at the fabrication shop, adding stiffeners that will help them stand up to heavy rains when they get installed. Sheet metal workers use a mix of techniques and tools to achieve clean, precise results.

Traditional breaks are still in wide use to bend metal into shape, but new autobreaks have been a game-changer for efficiency. There are a lot of jobs pre-programmed into the machine's computer.

"One of the big joys about this machine is every piece comes out identical," said journeyman sheet metal worker Adam Eckstein.

In the architectural sheet metal fabrication shop, the headwork is just as important as the handiwork.

"I really like how you can work with your hands and you know, use your head to make things work," said Morales.


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