The European door and window industry, including countries such as Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria, has implemented new manufacturing processes in order to expand its capabilities, reduce waste and improve overall quality, according to Steve Waltman, vice president of sales and marketing for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based, Stiles Machinery. Attendees of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) technical conference were able to share anecdotes of Waltman’s experiences, which featured the latest European trends in the industry. DWM special projects editor, Megan Headley, also accompanied and documented Waltman and the tour group’s experience.

In an effort to improve the U.S. industry, Waltman said he and fellow company officials have completed about 40 tours to date of companies around the world to learn about the differentiating practices and cultures, and what are the similarities and variations of stresses and strains endured by door and window businesses. In March 2012, Waltman said he went on his latest venture to door and window plants throughout Germany and Switzerland for 10 days.

“We wanted to explore what was going on in a different culture all together,” Waltman said. “I did not want this to be a machinery commercial–that wasn’t the intent. The intent was to get a better experience on a number of things. It should appeal to use of materials, design, manufacturing, distribution, energy consumption and how these things work together.”

The first stop on the trip was to “vertically-integrated” Nestle Fenster in Waldachtal, Germany. Waltman said many of the manufacturers he visited with his company affiliates were not “mammoth” but depended more so on local sourcing. He said in some instances, Germany was regionalized as is often the case within the U.S.

“We saw small regional manufacturers like Nestle that had about 20 people in the factory but were highly automated and customized and the quality was extremely high,” Waltman said. “Not only did some manufacturers produce but they also loaded the products onto trucks and made local deliveries and installations.”

On their visit to the Riwag Turen AG in Arth, Switzerland, Waltman said he and other tour members were able to witness “full-scale automation.”

He said the plant was manufacturing 300 passage doors a day and each was different. Equally impressive was the fact that there was one worker operating in a 5,000 square foot space full of machinery. It was a spectacular way to get started,” said Waltman.

Additionally, he said the passage doors were made out of different materials and varied in look, thickness, surface and size.

Other plants that Waltman and his touring group visited included Huber Fenster in Herisau, Switzerland; Schindler Fassadenlösungen in Roding Germany; and Jeld Wen in Oettingen, Germany. They also ventured out to Germany’s Fensterbau, a trade show that features door and window machinery.

Stay tuned to for more WDMA Technical Conference updates.

For more on the tour see Headley’s in-depth report from the tour which appeared in the May issue of DWM magazine.

by Erica Terrini,

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