At a recent meeting of the Association for Corporate Growth, one of the key topics was remaining competitive in today’s manufacturing environment. Among the ways to do so was digital manufacturing. Digital manufacturing sounds just enough like an oxymoron to get your attention and represents a series of powerful steps that all door and window manufacturers should take to remain competitive. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have been around for many years. Recent advances in their functionality and networking capabilities have brought them to the forefront.

At the philosophical level, digital manufacturing systems are designed to monitor, gather and create data from the manufacturing environment and then convert that data into usable information. That information, in turn, is used in making better decisions which hopefully result in greater operating profits. These systems go beyond the occasional computer terminal-controlled machine on the shop floor. In the manufacturing environment of the future, tablets and other devices will gather information about every aspect of the manufacturing environment. Thus, digital manufacturing starts with connecting all the machines and processes of a given manufacturing facility. The next stage is connecting all of a company’s various manufacturing facilities. In the highest stage of digital manufacturing, all of a company’s facilities are connected to all of its suppliers and all of its customers. At that stage, companies benefit from nearly perfect visibility at every stage from the forest to the pre-hung door.

Other topics that are part of digital manufacturing include adding enhanced material handling equipment to the plant. In many door and window manufacturing operations that I’ve toured, I see one or two workers attempting to lift a large door or window and carry it in an unsafe manner. In addition to the possibility of damaging the product, the greatest risk is that of worker injury. No injury is acceptable, but this type of improper lifting leads to back injuries, one of the most costly types of common injuries.

What’s that? You don’t want a digitalized door and window manufacturing facility? Respectfully, companies no longer really have a choice in that matter. Since the largest companies in the industry have raised the bar by taking digital manufacturing to the next level, every other company in the industry has little choice but to follow suit. Door and window dealers that carry one of the large national brands, as well as local and regional brands, will become accustomed to the visibility and open communication they enjoy with larger suppliers. Local and multi-regional companies will have little choice but to follow suit.

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