Now is the time of the year when we put the output capabilities, efficiency and quality-assurance capabilities of our manufacturing operations to the true test. It is the peak of the door and window manufacturing season. Orders are pouring in, and there are only so many hours in the day. One cannot afford to get too far behind and disappoint our customers. As we work through these tough production days, it’s also a good time to evaluate our production machine to see if it’s road-worthy for 2016. What must be changed to accommodate the challenges that continuing growth will bring?

It’s important to analyze our production facilities to see what we can do to optimize production flow and maximize efficiency while maintaining the highest degree of quality at the same time.

So here are four important questions that come to mind:

  1. Is it time to invest in new equipment?
  2. Is it time to re-arrange the production flow?
  3. What degree of automation do we need to increase output while allowing the company to maintain the highest degree of quality?
  4. What must be done to train and maintain the most proficient workforce so that we can meet the challenges that 2016 will bring?

The new-equipment question is critical. I often hear, “Yes, that glass cutter or glass washer is old. But I think we can squeeze one more year out of it.” Well, if you are even pondering that question, then perhaps now is the time to be putting an order in for a new one.

The pool of pre-owned equipment isn’t what it used to be, and new-equipment sales have been steadily on the rise. Lead times are being stretched. It’s best to get your order in now so that you can have the new machine built and installed next January or February with minimal disruption to production flow before the spring selling season kicks off. If you wait until the first part of the year, you’ll find yourself installing new equipment just as the spring busy season is getting underway, and this may interrupt production flow. Check with your finance company to see if they have any programs such as “Buy now with no payments until 2016.” Besides, there may be tax advantages to buying and installing equipment before the end of the year. An example is the Section 179 Deduction. See www.section179.org.

Production flow is the second important factor. With your manufacturing people being pushed to the limit, now is the time to hire someone, perhaps a third party, to analyze the production flow to determine where the bottlenecks exist. Production pace cannot exceed the efficiency of the tightest bottleneck. Sometimes the bottleneck is also the greatest source of manufacturing errors as people who are stretched to the limit also try to find shortcuts in efforts to meet the demanding output requirements. Bottlenecks are also usually the areas where cross-training may be of great benefit. This is because bottlenecks are usually areas that require more challenging skill sets or perhaps a certain degree of finesse. Therefore, anytime that you can teach and cross-train replacements, then you can have a backup person fill in for someone if they suddenly fatigue or become absent. Examples of this might be a hot-melt gunning or a gas-filling station.  These are also areas where investing in automation or semi-automated equipment may prove to be a smart move, which brings me to my next point.

So, perhaps it’s time to invest in automation.  With manpower these days becoming increasingly hard to find, train and maintain, maybe this is the last production season we want to go in full manual mode, and it could be time to put an order in for some automated machinery for 2016. There is no doubt that automated equipment represents a substantial investment up front. But today’s automated machinery can help your company reap substantial benefits in the form of increased efficiency, improved quality and fewer manpower issues. It is also quite possible for the sales and marketing teams to leverage these advantages to gain increasing market share with a higher-quality image, and this translates to an improved profit picture in the long run.

The last point is perhaps the most critical. People are the lifeblood of any organization, but everywhere I travel, I am hearing frustration from door and window fabricators about their inability to find and maintain a quality workforce.  With labor becoming increasingly hard to find, what must be done to remedy the situation? Is it as simple as offering higher wages? If we invest in automation, does it mean we offer fewer jobs, but these jobs require greater skill sets, pay more, and are more enticing, thereby netting more applicants than the lower-paying jobs which involve lesser skill sets?  Is it time to reflect upon the company culture? Does your company invest in the community and have a strong reputation? Is the company a desirable place to work? Is the company in a bad location and should a relocation be considered?

So as we get through the busiest time of the year in the fenestration industry, it’s time to push through existing production challenges and do whatever it takes to ship quality doors and windows to our customers on a timely basis. But it’s also time to appoint somebody to analyze these four important considerations and decide what needs to be done now to put the company in the most competitive position possible as we head fresh out of the gate into 2016.

One thing is for certain: The door and window industry is getting increasingly competitive, and 2016 will pose even tougher challenges. So as Mike Buffer says before the start of each wrestling match, “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!”

 

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